By Dr. Ken 


Two events related to professional football made an impression on me this weekend and both were negative. The most obvious was the passing of Arthur Donovan, the former Pro Football Hall Of Fame defensive tackle who like most of his peers, also played some offense in his early days in the National Football League. The other was the induction of the newly minted class of 2013 into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame where approximately twenty-five percent of the Hall’s living members somehow could not find their way to Canton, Ohio for the festivities. Unfortunately, so many of the Hall Of Fame members, both college and professional are of an age that they have recently passed away or perhaps will within a relatively short period of time. However I prefer to believe that the high percentage of those “unable to attend” was a reflection of being “under whelmed” by the quality of the new inductees rather than serious illness. Our HELMET HUT columns and features could, relative to the number of recently deceased players, spotlight one of these greats monthly if not more frequently, and while we are saddened as fans, occasionally as acquaintances, and at times personal friends of those players who brought us so much enjoyment in the past, it would be impossible to present features about the lives and playing accomplishments of all of them.



Art Donovan was a player and personality that was larger than life in many ways. While my father was in fact acquainted with a number of professional football players due to his “second job” as a night club manager in the New York City area, Art Donovan was not one of them. However, even long before his days as “Fatso,” the ex-NFL player who regaled late night television audiences and NFL Films followers with hysterical stories of his days as a player, Donovan was often a topic of conversation among his peers and I was privy to many of those conversations. He was a highly respected and well liked player, and a highly respected and well liked man off the field. Like most of the players of his era, one whose social and financial parameters that would be far beyond the understanding of today’s professional athletes, Donovan had not only an off-season job, but an in-season job that saw him heading off to work at the conclusion of a day’s practice at the Baltimore Colts facility. That his job involved hobnobbing with tavern owners and fans as a beer company representative was a bonus, but still the hard and stressful work of a salesman. Donovan was such a winning personality that it came naturally to him and he was successful. What the average fan forgets though was that Donovan was also one of the larger and stronger players of his day at a stout 6’2”, 270 pounds, who was not to be trifled with on the field. He played hard and tough at a time when the NFL was not money or statistically driven, but a harsh physical game where the emphasis was on contact and every player had mastered the fundamentals of blocking and tackling. In short, Art Donovan was a Pro Football Hall Of Fame player in a game where each individual on the field was guaranteed physical confrontation and collision on almost every play, and when the rules were not “rigged” to prevent maximal punishment.



I am certain that every generation views the one or two following it as “softer,” “less competitive,” or otherwise finds flaws with most traits and actions of the “younger generation.” Football as it is played today is an obvious sore spot for those of us interested in the tradition and history of the game. It has become almost unfair and exceedingly frustrating to compare today’s version of football to the game we grew up playing and watching throughout the 1950’s and into the end of the 1970’s. As noted above, during the Hall Of Fame playing career of Art Donovan that spanned the years 1950 through ’61, one would not be given time on the field without the ability to block, tackle, and have a willingness to make contact with an opponent on each and every play. As a health care professional and reasonable individual, I certainly am aware of the dangers inherent to the contact of the game and the potential for catastrophic head and cervical spine injury [ refer to Helmet News/Reflections columns from February 2004 through December 2004 ]. However, money/greed, protection of those offensive players most responsible for fan attention and attraction, and the opportunity to provide the most “satisfying fan experience” have led to changes in the rules that have made superstars out of good, but far from “star” players. I would state that run blocking by both offensive linemen and backs is a lost art but in a game dominated by passing, most also cannot pass block. The “equalizer” of course is that most defensive front-seven players while being superb pass rushers, do not know how to make contact, either while engaging another lineman or when tackling. The football game we now watch is an exercise in speed rushing by the defensive players and attempts at misdirecting them by the offensive counterparts. For every “kill shot” tackle in the open field, there are eight or ten missed tackles that are so blatantly horrid to watch, that it would have brought immediate removal from the game in eras past.


Let’s compare Pro Football Hall Of Fame running back Jim Brown to recent inductee, well, perhaps we can’t!


With absolutely no disrespect meant towards the recent recipients of Pro Football Hall Of Fame honors, nor to single out this year’s class, their induction to the Hall reflects the new game. More receivers have been voted in, primarily because they are statistically top-heavy relative to the numbers put up by past greats. When you compare the running backs of yesterday and today, the former blocked, rushed, most often caught the ball well when called upon to do so, and were integral to the success of their team. The backs that have been inducted in the past ten years have the rushing numbers but this too will change with the emphasis on the passing game. Some of this year’s inductees are players I enjoyed watching, respected their abilities, and thought highly of their skill. However, like the past number of classes, in my opinion, they do not compare to the players at the same position from years ago. Is this a function of “the older generation” looking down upon the new or a reflection of the new NFL that has relegated physical contact and a reliance on the fundamentals that made the game what it was for more than six or seven decades, to the pile of obsolete notions? I have in my columns made mention and reference to The Hall Of Very Good, a concept presented by The Professional Football Researchers Association [ www.profootballresearchers.org ]. The recipients of their honors are men who have not received the ultimate recognition of Pro Football Hall Of Fame induction, though some members have in fact later, found their way into the Hall. However and unfortunately, when we view the careers of men like Art Donovan and his teammate Gino Marchetti, Dick Butkus and Jim Brown, Johhny Unitas and Deacon Jones, Paul Brown and George Halas, we view careers that made a difference in and for the game, men who pushed it forward through their deeds and men who compelled the public to pay attention. I for one do not note the same impact from those that now populate this same Pro Football Hall Of Fame.