Channel 3 Sports Director and radio voice of the Browns, Jim Donovan, is taking a leave of absence to undergo a bone marrow transplant. Remarkably, the ebullient Donovan has been battling chronic lymphocytic leukemia for over a decade – his colleagues, viewers, and listeners unaware all this time.
Donovan made the announcement on his Channel 3 sportscast last night, stating, “My goal is to get healthy and be back covering Cleveland sports as soon as possible. I’m going to really miss my job. I love what I do.”
Donovan has been the media face (and voice) of the Browns since their return in 1999. Much like Nev Chandler to the previous generation, Browns fans who have grown up in this new era over this past decade have an instant connection with Donovan.
After particularly late nights out on Saturdays in college, I can remember waking up on Sunday mornings unable to drag myself to the nearest sports bar with satellite TV. My fellow roommates from Cleveland and I were sentenced to little football icons moving up and down a field on NFL.com accompanied by Donovan’s call over the internet. These were the nascent days of NFL.com – free audio and crude graphics simulating the movement of the ball on what seemed a 5 minute delay.
The Browns, as we’re all aware, were terrible. But Donovan’s enthusiasm cracked us up and kept our rapt attention as another hopeless Sunday afternoon progressed. We loved talking about how he made every 3 yard gain by Travis Prentice/Ben Gay/(Insert long lost name) sound like the most exciting achievement.
In that way, he’s been the perfect voice for this particular era of Browns football.
It’s not that he’s uncritical or over-enthusiastic, his natural affect is just more enthusiastic than yours. Out of affection, we loved cracking on his constant enthusiasm, thinking Gay had just broken off a 25 yard run only to hear him finish that sentence with… “for the 4 yard gain!!!” But, we loved cracking on it – just that, enjoyment – not out of frustration or mockingly because we thought he was bad, but because we loved that he was our announcer. He may not have as long a history here like Tait, Coleman, Chandler, Score, and Hamilton – but like all of those guys, he’s ours.
His call defines what I think has been the most exciting moment at the new Browns Stadium – the call itself making it the most exciting moment in this decade devoid of them. Of course, I’m talking about William Green’s 60 yard run down the sideline and into the 2002 playoffs. The “Run, William, Run!” makes a rather above-average moment into a memorable moment.
Browns President Mike Holmgren issued this statement last night:
“On behalf of everyone here at the Cleveland Browns, I’d like to wish Jim a speedy recovery. Jim has been a respected voice in the Cleveland sports scene for many years, and his association with our organization is held in high esteem. His name has become synonymous with the Browns and we consider him a part of our family. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family during this process.”
It’s astounding to think all that enthusiasm and professionalism he brought to his job during a rough era of Browns football was done while he suffered from leukemia. Amazing. Incredible. What a pro’s pro.
His recovery from the transplant is expected to last five months. He hopes to be back behind the mic for the coming Browns season.
Whenever a Cleveland sports team creates that memorable postseason moment, the fan wants to experience and relive it in every way – most importantly through the tenured men we identify as the voice of those teams. We want race home to hear (and replay on loop) Tait’s call of LeBron’s shot; Hamilton’s call of Belle’s homer.
The internet has boomed and developed. I’ve moved on to the NFL Ticket, RedZone, text alerts, and a host of internet aids on Sundays now. But if, and when, there is a particularly glorious Sunday afternoon – such as the New England game last fall – I have to check in after the game to hear how Donovan called it.
Get well soon. If the Browns ever do create that memorable postseason moment, we’ll want you there. After this past decade and upcoming year, it’s likely no one deserves it more.