In each of his first three seasons, Donovan played for a team which went out of business. He started out with the first Baltimore Colts, who folded after his rookie season in 1950, followed by the New York Yanks in 1951, and their successor, the Dallas Texans, in 1952. After the Texans franchise was moved to Baltimore in 1953 and became the second Baltimore Colts, Donovan played with that team. He became one of the stars in an outstanding defense and was selected to five straight Pro Bowls, from 1953 through 1957. The Colts won back-to-back championships in 1958 and 1959. He was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968.
During his career, Donovan played in what many believe was one of the most important games in NFL history, the 1958 title game between the Colts and the New York Giants. The contest between the two teams took place on December 28, 1958 and ended in a 17-17 tie. Because it was the championship game, it went into overtime, the first NFL game to do so. Donovan made an important tackle during the overtime, stopping the Giants and allowing Johnny Unitas to lead the Colts on an 80 yard scoring drive to win the game.
"The NFL’s first overtime game, witnessed by 40 million viewers on nationwide television, captured the public imagination and became known as the “greatest game ever played.” Donovan was one of 12 Hall of Fame players to take part - six of them Colts - but at the time he was not aware of the game's significance"
He published an autobiography, Fatso, in 1987. He was noted as a jovial and humorous person during his playing career and capitalized on that with television and speaking appearances after retiring as a player. He owned and managed a country club near Baltimore. Donovan also appeared ten times on the Late Show with David Letterman, telling humorous stories about his old playing days and about other "old school" footballers he played with and against. He relayed a story that he played without a helmet and in fact is shown on football cards without a helmet. Letterman wore Donovan's No. 70 Colts jersey in the famous Super Bowl XLI commercial with Oprah Winfrey and Jay Leno.
He was co-host of the popular 1990s program Braase, Donovan, Davis and Fans on WJZ-TV in Baltimore with Colt teammate Ordell Braase. The trio talked more about Art Donovan's fabled stories than contemporary NFL football, but the show held high ratings in its time slot. He was also a pitchman for the Maryland State Lottery and ESPN.
Donovan was married to the former Dorothy Schaech for 57 years. Since 1955 they owned and managed the Valley Country Club in Towson, Maryland. Although he was the owner, Donovan was known for doing manual labor at the club to include painting and working in the kitchen washing pots and pans.
Donovan died August 4, 2013 at Stella Maris Hospice in Baltimore from a respiratory disease at age 89. He was surrounded by 15 to 20 family members. At the time of his death, he was survived by his wife; a sister; a son, Arthur J. Donovan III of New York City; daughters Debbie Donovan Smith of Towson, Maryland; Christine Donovan of McLean, Virginia; Mary Donovan O'Hern and Kelly Donovan-Mazzulli, both of Lutherville; and seven grandchildren.
"With the death of Art Donovan this past week, sports lost one of its last genuine characters, in every sense of the word. A lot of guys try to get our attention. Donovan was that rare guy who didn’t have to try. He was as good on the field – he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his second try - as he was off it. He appeared on “Late Night with David Letterman” and “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and reduced both hosts and their audiences to howling in seconds. Often the jokes were at his expense. Self deprecation is not a quality prevalent today. Like many athletes, who were part of the Greatest Generation, he left football during World War II and joined the Marine Corps fighting in the Pacific Theater including Iwo Jima. His former teammate, Raymond Berry, told NFL.com that he once asked Donovan about the war. “He said to me, ‘Raymond, I got shot in the ass on Iwo Jima.’ ” If you are young enough to have missed Donovan during his heyday on the late night circuit, head to YouTube.com and check out some of his old clips. If you are old enough to remember Donovan, you should head to YouTube as well, just to refresh your memory. Donovan died last Sunday at age 89. He was a player and a great storyteller and we’ll never see another guy like him. That’s sad for us, but it’s a darn good epitaph".
*Tied for 1st place in their division, but since there was no tie-breaking system in 1965, a game was played to determine who went to the conference championship. The Colts lost the divisional playoff game.