Mark Donahue remembers how excited he was when Brother Rice earned the right to play St. Laurence in the Chicago Catholic League championship game at Soldier Field on Thanksgiving Day in 1972.
Donahue’s excitement was tempered a bit, however, when conference Player of the Year, Kevin King, stole the show.
“He kicked our butts,” said Donahue, who was a standout two-way performer for the Crusaders’ football team. “I still remember the headline in the Sun-Times after they beat us: King for a Day. He was awesome and was a fabulous running back. I played defense, too, and apparently my skills were much better on offense because I couldn’t touch him.”
Little did he know at the time, but Donahue would eventually go on to be roommates with his former rival for four years at the University of Michigan where they forged a friendship that continues today.
On May 5, Donahue was inducted into the Chicago Catholic League Hall of Fame, the same honor his former nemesis and now friend, King, had received the year prior.
“It’s a well-deserved honor for Mark,” King said. “It was fun to see him inducted. We’ve always been tight. He was such a great player. He was always so highly motivated to do well and was just always really into everything he did. He was a very hard-working player and one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.”
Retracing His Footsteps
Donahue, a 1974 graduate of Brother Rice, would go on to have plenty of success in football.
He proceeded to become a two-time consensus All-American offensive lineman for the Wolverines and then was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the National Football League.
He owes much of that glory to his days at Brother Rice.
“I grew up several hundred yards away from the school at 95th and Keeler and my older brother went to Brother Rice,” said Donahue, an Oak Lawn native. “A lot of neighborhood kids went there, and I never thought of going anywhere else.
“Brother Rice is a wonderful place to go as a young guy. The teachers and coaches were wonderful mentors and could be looked up to as role models. They were people you wanted to emulate when you got older because of how they conducted themselves.
"It’s difficult to go wrong when you have adults building that kind of foundation. Brother Rice has always had a strong athletic history, even back when I was there. It’s a special place to be if you believe in Catholic education and support it. The school can have such an influence on young men’s lives, and I believe it’s even better today.”
Donahue’s passion for the school never wavered.
He was one of the earliest members of the Alumni Association and is currently on the school’s board of directors.
Being enshrined in the Chicago Catholic League Hall of Fame as alumni of Brother Rice was special.
“It’s a wonderful honor,” Donahue said. “When you think of all the terrific individuals that played and coached in the Catholic League over the years, many of whom are famous, it’s a great honor just to be associated with those individuals. It makes you reflect back on a great experience. I played on winning teams and with a lot of great guys. My (Hall of Fame) coach Tom Mitchell was a class act and a strong and positive role model. I’m also thankful for all the support my parents gave me over the years as well.”
Donahue didn’t begin playing organized football until he was an eighth-grader at St. Germaine Elementary School in Oak Lawn.
“They opened their doors to students in 1964 and it grew each year,” Donahue said. “My eighth-grade year was the first year they had organized sports, like basketball and football. It was my first introduction to organized sports. My first year playing football was a shock to the system when you haven’t played it before, but I liked it immediately.”
When it came time to pick a college after his stellar high school career, Brother Rice’s strong ties to Michigan played a role in his decision.
The Crusaders had a number of players go on to play for the Wolverines, including Tom Coyle, who was a captain at Michigan.
“I wasn’t aware how many schools were interested in me when I was in high school,” Donahue said. “Tom Mitchell kept that information away from us and wanted you to focus on the team. I didn’t know how many schools were recruiting me until after my senior year, and then you’re hit by a barrage of interest. There were guys older than me from Brother Rice I knew that went there, I had a great visit and just knew it was the place for me.”
Donahue was a three-year starting left tackle for the Wolverines and played in three bowl games.
Michigan played in the Orange Bowl his sophomore season, which was the first year Big Ten schools participated in any other bowl game than the Rose Bowl. The Wolverines lost to Oklahoma 14-6, but finished the season ranked No. 8 nationally by the Associated Press.
The Wolverines then earned a share of the Big Ten championship and played in the Rose Bowl his junior and senior seasons.
Michigan (10-2) lost to the University of Southern California 14-6 and ended the season ranked No. 3 his junior season and then fell to Washington 27-20 in Donahue’s senior season when the Wolverines (10-2) were ranked No. 9 in the country.
“Michigan was a wonderful experience,” Donahue said. “We were very successful and had great camaraderie and leadership. It was as good as it gets and most importantly, we beat (major rival to this day) Ohio State my last two years.”
Donahue became just the 13th player in the program’s rich tradition to become a two-time consensus All-American, earning high praise from legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, who considered Donahue one of his all-time best linemen.
“Bo Schembechler was a wonderful coach and great role model,” Donahue said. “Michigan had a lot of very good offensive linemen, and I think he identified me as a hard-nosed, good offensive linemen from Chicago. You never let that kind of praise go to your head when you were there because he kept you focused on your current role and status, but it’s always nice to hear wonderful praise from such a great coach.
"A true test of a coach is when you ask his former players about him and he’s universally loved and well thought of by all ex-players. That was Bo.”
Dream Come True
Donahue, who played at 6-3, 245 pounds in his senior season at Michigan, was selected in the 11th round of the 1978 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.
He played two professional seasons, more than enough to establish lifetime memories.
“Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, you had hopes and dreams of playing in the NFL and having a professional career,” Donahue said. “It was fun playing a couple of years with the Bengals. It was a great experience lining up against legends like (Hall of Famers) Randy White of the Dallas Cowboys and (Mean) Joe Greene and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The first time you’re in a stance against them, you’re almost too excited to hit them. You get over that real quick when you realize there is no hesitancy at all on their part on hitting you hard.”
Donahue was released by the Bengals after his second season. The Cleveland Browns picked him up, but he decided it was time to try something different.
“It was time to move on and do something outside of football for me,” said Donahue, who is the staff vice president of insurance company Anthem BCBS. “I was an education major in college with a social studies and history focus and thought I might be a teacher. Instead, I’ve been in insurance for the last 31 years.
"When I reflect on my Michigan career, it was a fabulous experience for football, but Michigan guys in general graduate and go on to have successful lives. I wanted to be part of that, too.”