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Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Football as footnote
By Joe Goldstein
Special to

Friday, Dec. 7, marks the 60th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It also marks the 60th anniversary of the Brooklyn Dodgers' 21-7 upset of the New York Giants -- in football -- at the Polo Grounds. The two events had more than the date in common.

Many military officers were among the record crowd of 55,051. One of them was Colonel William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan, a former backup quarterback at Columbia (to future baseball Hall of Famer Eddie Collins). Donovan, who got his nickname not for eccentric behavior but because he shared his name with a major league pitcher of the time, was also a Columbia Law School classmate of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And he was one of the most decorated officers of World War I, winning the Congressional Medal of Honor -- among others -- while serving under Douglas MacArthur and alongside the famed poet Joyce Kilmer. Donovan later became a Wall Street attorney entrusted with sensitive intelligence assignments.

Polo Grounds
Many military officers were attending a football game at the Polo Grounds when they learned about Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.
But on the afternoon of Dec. 7, Donovan was just another football fan at the Polo Grounds. In the middle of the game, he heard the plea of public address announcer, Arthur Daley (the New York Times sports columnist who would later win the Pulizer Prize): "Colonel Donovan, please go to the box office at once." Donovan left his seat but paused at the exit to watch Pug Manders plunge across the goal line for the Dodgers' second touchdown. As the crowd cheered, Donovan made his way down to the box office, where a telephone lay uncradled on the desk. An awed Giants employee told him, "The White House calling, colonel."

Donovan picked up the phone, and at the other end of the line was James Roosevelt, FDR's son. "The President wants to see you at once," he was told. "It's an emergency."

The extent of the emergency soon became known to the crowd -- and to the players. One of them was Ace Parker, the Dodgers' passer, lead runner and punter, as well as a former infielder for the Philadelphia A's. "I knew it was serious when I heard the pages for the admirals and generals," says Parker, now 89 and living in Portsmouth, Va. "I found out about Pearl Harbor in the locker room at halftime. I truthfully didn't know where Pearl Harbor was."

As for Donovan, he was named chief of the OSS, the intelligence agency that would become the CIA.

Those of us still alive will never forget that day. And Donovan never forgot that football game. In his later years, he recalled the play that preceded his page: "Pug Manders had just bust through the middle on a spinner play, as the Giants linemen were mousetrapped -- he gained 29 yards for a first down on the four-yard line."

No wonder he was the head of U.S. intelligence in World War II.

Editor's note: Pro Football Hall of Famer Ace Parker will be a guest Saturday morning on ESPN Radio's The Sporting Life with Dick and Jeremy Schaap.

Joe Goldstein, ageless sports publicist and historian, remembers watching Red Holzman play for City College.

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