One bad thing about being a sports follower in the Age of the Internet: What’s planned as a peek into a rabbit hole can turn into a multi-hours journey to the center of the Earth.
I was writing last week on St. John’s prospect Ben Bartch and wanted to check on the earliest NFL draft selections for MIAC teams. That list was topped by Hamline’s Dick Donlin, an end taken by Baltimore in the second round, No. 21 overall for 1956.
Donlin was 6-5 and 215 pounds, a Region 5 champion in the 440 for Excelsior High School and a basketball player for Joe Hutton’s mighty Hamline Pipers.
In other words, he had size, speed and hands, enough so to catch a record 18 passes against St. John’s on Oct. 8, 1955.
“We lost,” Dick said last week.
Donlin was also a first-team end on the Associated Press Little All-America team in 1955. That put him among 11 players (separate offensive and defensive teams started in 1964) from those hundreds of colleges that weren’t considered “major.”
Unfortunately, the rabbit hole was quick to take a Googler to an article penned by Gil Brandt that used Donlin as a leading example of the informal nature of the NFL draft in the 1950s.
According to Brandt, the Colts’ information on Donlin was completely second hand. Brandt wrote: “[Donlin] was a basketball player, a track athlete and a football player, though he wasn’t especially good.”
Donlin was the youngest-ever inductee at the time he entered the Hamline Hall of Fame in 1966. He earned 11 letters in three sports, and he helped Hutton’s Pipers to their second-place finish in the 1953 NAIA tournament.
He injured a knee in his third day of workouts with the Colts in July 1956, came home “for personal reasons” in early August, worked out in Baltimore that fall, and then was released.
Donlin signed with Winnipeg in 1957, played in one game … and then?
“Bud cut me,” he said, laughing, meaning coach Bud Grant.
As for Brandt’s theory that the Colts had no firsthand knowledge of him, Donlin said: “That’s a lie. I had met with them at a game before the draft.”
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• Dick Donlin’s “personal reason” for returning to the Twin Cities in August 1956? Jan Cook. They have been married for 63-plus years.
• Donlin : “The Colts drafted me that high because they weren’t sure Raymond Berry was going to make it as a receiver. He turned out OK.”
• The first three rounds of the 1956 draft were held in late November 1955. Reason? So the NFL could “compete with Canada” for top players.