WESTLAKE, Ohio -- Jim Donovan, the voice of the Cleveland Browns since 1999, was honored with the Dino Lucarelli Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2013 Northeastern Ohio Chapter of National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete Awards Banquet at La Centre Banquet Facility in Westlake on Tuesday evening.
“It’s amazing because that man that it’s named after, Dino Lucarelli, is the classiest, nicest, most honest, most giving person that I’ve ever met since coming to Ohio, just a friendly face that always wanted to do something good for everybody and is certainly a great ambassador for the Browns and Cleveland sports,” Donovan said of the award. “It’s a great honor and it’s just wonderful to be recognized.
“Others who have been the voice of the Browns before me took it very, very seriously, and I think it’s a position that not a lot have had, so it’s a small club, but it’s a great club to be a part of. If that carries with it the responsibility to be the ambassador of Cleveland Browns football, I accept the challenge and the responsibility. I really do believe when the Browns become a regular winner on Sunday afternoons, it will be one of the great renaissance American sports stories in a long time.”
Winning the award was especially meaningful for Donovan because of a personal battle he has been fighting for more than a decade. He was diagnosed with a form of leukemia in the summer of 2000, but battled through many forms of treatment and remained in the broadcast booth until May of 2011.
Donovan took a leave of absence at that time to undergo a bone marrow transplant. Despite the long road to recovery following the transplant, Donovan made it back to the Browns’ broadcast booth for the team’s home opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 11, 2011.
Donovan described overcoming leukemia as “the greatest, greatest win of all.”
“I don’t think we could’ve ever gauged the love and the care and the prayers that came our way and how much they really helped us at a time when we really needed a lot of help and a lot of shoulders to wrap our arms around,” Donovan said. “I don’t think we will ever forget that. I know I will never forget that. It’s something that really helped me through some tough times. I just thank the people of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio for accepting me and keeping me in their prayers because those prayers really helped me.”
Donovan was introduced at the banquet by his radio partner of 14 years, Doug Dieken.
“He has a passion, and is an amazing talent,” Dieken said. “He is truly an amazing talent. The big thing about Jimmy is he’s a winner. When he does his sports, he wants to beat everybody else, and you admire that competitive attitude that he has, but it was tested 12 years ago when he was diagnosed with leukemia. He never complained about it, and that takes a hell of a person. My hat’s off to him because you can’t find anybody better than him. There’s been some great ones, and Jimmy’s right up there with the best of them.”
Donovan came to Cleveland in 1985 and served as WKYC Channel 3’s weekend sports anchor. He later became the station’s sports director, and was named the co-anchor of Channel 3 News’ 7 p.m. broadcasts.
During his career, Donovan has hosted national coverage of the All-American Soap Box Derby from Akron, broadcast coverage of the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, including the swimming and soccer competitions in 1992, as well as the World Cup in 1994. In 1995, he received an Emmy award for the Best Sportscaster in Cleveland.
Before coming to Cleveland, Donovan, a graduate of Boston University, broadcast basketball, baseball and hockey games in Burlington, Vt., and later became the sports director at WJON Radio in St. Cloud, Minn.
“Something clicked, and I made a connection with the community, all the traditions, high school sports, college sports, and their affection for their pro sports teams,” Donovan said. “I latched onto that because there’s a bit of Boston in that. You’re very, very, very attached to your teams.
“I thought the sports teams drove the mood of the community and I liked that. I felt that and I wanted to be a part of that, so it’s been a real lucky time for me. I met my wife here. We’ve had a wonderful life here together, raised a beautiful daughter here and been a part of Cleveland sports.”