Jim Donovan didn't know how he'd get there, but he always figured he'd be back in his hometown of Boston by the later part of his career.
The voice of the Cleveland Browns grew up engrossed with the Celtics, Bruins, Patriots and Red Sox. His father took him to all of their games and he modeled his craft after the numerous, famous voices that were forever engrained with the town's storied franchises.
"Anybody that does what I do probably would always like to go home and do it in front of their family and friends they grew up with," Donovan said. "It was definitely a goal of mine."
Plans change. So do circumstances that are completely out of your control. Donovan, a cancer survivor, knows this all too well.
Shortly after he arrived at Cleveland's WKYC in March 1985 via Burlington, Vermont, Donovan took on an extra gig calling NFL games for NBC radio. He met his wife, Cheryl. They had a daughter, Meghan. He covered the 1994 World Cup and 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
Slowly but surely, Cleveland became Donovan's home. When he took on "the job of a lifetime" as the Browns' play-by-play radio announcer alongside Doug Dieken in 1999, the bond was strengthened tighter than he ever imagined.
"Cleveland's been the greatest lucky town for me," Donovan said. "I just can't think of a place that could do anymore for me than Cleveland has."
Donovan will be honored tonight with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 16th annual Greater Cleveland Sports Awards. The 16 is one short of the number of seasons Donovan has been at the helm as the Browns' play-by-play radio announcer.
"It's unbelievable when I look back to everything that fell in place for me," Donovan said. "I've been in Cleveland and Channel 3 for 31 years. It's just amazing."
Though Donovan primarily worked in radio during his days in Vermont, he found time for a little TV on the side. Somehow, a tape of his got in the hands of a producer at WKYC, and it was impressive enough to get him a job in a top-20 market before he turned 30.
Donovan had twin passions, though, and he was initially concerned his new job would take him away from the radio. Those fears were alleviated in 1987, when he took on the role with NBC radio calling NFL games in the regional area.
When the Browns departed in 1995 and announced their 1999 return shortly thereafter, Donovan set a new goal. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of Nev Chandler and Casey Coleman and become the voice of the Browns.
"As great as it was to be traveling around the country doing regional football for NBC, the fact of the matter was I always wanted to be the voice of a team and be with one team," Donovan said. "When I finally got the job, it was one of the great days of my life. It really was."
One year into his time with the Browns, Donovan fell ill with leukemia. He privately battled the illness for 10 years, only coming public with the ailment when it was clear he needed a bone marrow transplant.
In the days leading up to the July 2011 surgery, Donovan received a call from then-Browns president Mike Holmgren. He was assured the job would be waiting for him whenever he was healthy enough to be back in the booth next to Dieken.
As he talked to his nurses and doctors leading up to the surgery, Donovan learned he needed to set a goal to keep his spirits up. The ambition that guided him in his career carried over to this particular goal. He wanted to be ready for the September season opener against the Bengals, and that's exactly what he did.
"I just kept pushing myself to try and feel better and it was the most amazing feeling when I walked back into the stadium," Donovan said. "I didn't feel 100 percent driving down to the stadium and I was very nervous and I wondered if I had enough stamina to do the game. But for the three and a half hours I was in the booth that day calling the game, I never knew that I had leukemia or that I'd gone through a bone marrow transplant."
To this day, a chill runs down Donovan's spine whenever he's introduced as the voice of the Cleveland Browns. That certainly will happen tonight when he takes the stage to thank those who have guided and supported him throughout a journey that has docked in Cleveland.
"The people in Cleveland took me in," Donovan said. "When I arrived, I was just a guy coming in from Burlington, Vermont, and you wonder if people will get to know you, and they really did."