A defensive end at Stanford, Pat Donovan was stunned to be chosen by Dallas in the 1975 NFL draft.
“It was the last thing I expected. I knew they had both Harvey (Martin) and Ed (“Too Tall” Jones) returning, so it just didn’t seem like there was any place at all,” said Donovan. “So I was really surprised.”
The surprises were just beginning. Donovan thought that he’d continue playing defensive end in the NFL. But after three days of training camp, the Cowboys moved him across the line of scrimmage to offensive tackle.
“I think they always had that in the plans. Rayfield Wright was getting older and so they kind of needed somebody on the offensive side and nobody on the defensive side. And to their credit, Dallas was more interested in drafting athletes at that point. Especially position players,” Donovan said.
“I wasn’t very happy about moving. When you’re a defensive player, I don’t think you’re ever interested in playing offense. Defensive end is a lot of fun to play, but I figured I’d just check it out and see what came of it. The problem is training camp your rookie year is no time to learn a new skill.
“Also in ’75, they hadn’t made the playoffs the year before for the first time in umpteen years so it was slated as being a rebuilding year. We had 103 rookies in training camp, so they were obviously going to make a move.
“That was probably the reason I made it – it was a rebuilding year. They kept 12 rookies. They didn’t go to the playoffs the year before and we ended up going to the Super Bowl that year.”
When the Cowboys played in and won Super Bowl XII two years later, Donovan was starting at right tackle after replacing Wright, who had injured a knee.
“Stepping in for Rayfield was something you just never think you’re going to do,” Donovan said. “And there was a lot of trepidation on their part, I’m sure. I’d really only played on special teams. My defensive background I suppose helped that, and being a little quicker than most of the offensive linemen. But yeah, I was covering punts and kickoffs and all that stuff for two years and then started my third year. I’m sure everybody was nervous about that.”
If they were indeed nervous, they were likely less so the following season when Donovan became the starter at left tackle and helped Dallas reach Super Bowl XIII.
Then beginning in 1979, and for the next three years thereafter, he and left guard Herb Scott became the “Dynamic Duo,” as both finished each season in the Pro Bowl.
Given the league-wide recognition it seemed that left tackle was Donovan’s ideal position.
“Yeah, it suited me a lot better. Maybe not because I was any better at left tackle than right tackle, it’s just that left tackle is so hard to play and everybody always had their speed guy over there,” said Donovan, who was named to a fourth-consecutive Pro Bowl in 1982. “There were guys that were reinventing that outside linebacker/defensive end position at the time. The sack leaders in the NFL historically have always come from that end of the line.
“Also, even if a guy gets only one sack, that could be the end of your quarterback if you’ve got a right-handed quarterback. But Roger (Staubach) was incredible. He had that third eye and just phenomenal mobility, which made him correspondingly easier and harder to block for. You never knew where he was so you were always on your toes. It was so instinctive for him. He would just take off and he rarely made the wrong choice.
“The other thing that really helped my career was that Tony Dorsett was a certain kind of back. We were not three yards and a cloud of dust; he just broke the game wide open when he came to the team. He was another guy you never knew where he was going to end up.”
Where Donovan ended up after he retired following the 1983 season, his ninth with the Cowboys, was in real estate development in the Dallas area. However, after the market took a chop-block to the knees in the late 1980s, he looked to his past to focus on his future.
“Montana was where I grew up and I’d always thought about coming back,” said Donovan. “The idea was to do some real estate investment or development. We came up here in ’91 and got involved with a golf course residential subdivision called Iron Horse [ironhorsemt.com] in Whitefish.
“It’s a private golf community. We have 325 home sites and an 18-hole golf course. We started with a piece of property that was 400 acres of just raw land, and turned it into what’s now the No. 1 rated golf course in Montana.”Since Iron Horse’s properties sold out, Donovan has concentrated on other real estate projects and is a partner in the Sotheby’s International Real Estate company [glaciersir.com] in Whitefish, which is where he makes his home with his wife, Sherron. They have two children, Marcus and Scarlett, and three grandchildren: Lucy, Dash and Jackson.
“Whitefish is a super, super fun place. If you’re an outdoors person, we’re 20 miles from Glacier National Park, and 60 miles from Canada. We’ve got lots of lakes and rivers and golf and there’s a ski hill four miles away.”