NASHVILLE – As a young boy growing up in Nashville, long before he became known simply as "Duke", Mike Donegan heard the sounds from the loudspeakers at Vanderbilt's Dudley Field while playing football in his yard.
Donegan's childhood home sat where Dragon Park is located today, roughly three blocks from Vanderbilt Stadium.
The voices he heard in his head back then proved to be a sign of things to come for Donegan, the public address announcer for the Titans organization since the 1998 season.
"That's probably why I wanted to do what I do," Donegan said this week, "because I heard that as I was growing up."
Donegan, who worked the first Tennessee Oilers game during the 1998 season played at Vanderbilt Stadium, has also been the voice Titans fans have heard every game – preseason, regular season, and playoffs -- since the team began playing at Nissan Stadium in 1999. The Nashville native said it's been a dream job.
On Sunday, when the Titans face the Detroit Lions, Donegan will be honored as the Honorary 12th Titan. This will be his final season as the team's public address announcer, and he said he's loved every minute of it, from player introductions to his touchdown calls.
"I've pinched myself a lot over the years, and thought: "Oh man, How did I get this job?'," Donegan said. "And to be able to do it in your hometown. It has been amazing.
"I have decided to hang up my headphones (after this year). I feel like I have been hogging the microphone for 22 years, so it's time to give somebody else a try. It's been a pretty amazing ride."
Donegan, a 1969 graduate of Hillsboro High School who played guard on the football team for one season, got his first taste in radio when he worked as a Red Cross volunteer at Veterans Hospital. The hospital had a closed-circuit radio station back then, and he'd take music requests, and do shows. He worked at Nashville's WMAK when he was 16 years old, and later worked for WSM, and WKDF, where Carl P. Mayfield insisted on giving everyone a nickname, and he became "Duke". Donegan also worked at WGFX, and the broadcast journalist eventually found his way into yet another dream job when the Houston Oilers moved to town.
"I think I got the job simply because I knew there was such a job from hearing the loudspeakers in my yard," Donegan said. "I really don't know that too many people knew about it."
Donegan, whose parents owned a bakery in Green Hills when he was younger, admits he first learned how to do the job on the fly. He found out it took a lot of preparation -- and help from his spotters.
He got plenty comfortable, and he's had a lot of fun with it.
"I can't ever tell if it impacts players," Donegan said, laughing. "There's a lady who used to sit in the crowd right in front of me and she was real loud and she would always yell, 'Get him! Get him!' And I've always wondered if the players hear her say 'Get him!' and then say to themselves, 'OK, I'll go get him!' … I don't know if the players are impact by my job, but it does seem to get the crowd excited, and that is really important and fun."
Donegan has really enjoyed the introductions, and not just because he's been able to call the names of Steve McNair, Eddie George, Jevon Kearse, Keith Bulluck, Chris Johnson, Derrick Henry and so many more, over the years. He's also loved belting out "thiiiiiiirrrrrd dooooooowwwwn."
"Any time I get to introduce players, that is exciting to me," Donegan said. "Bruce Matthews was always "Bruuuuuuce" and of course Michael "Roooooos" and "Dreeeew" Bennett. How you say the name is always fun."
One of his favorite memories, of course, was the playoff win over the Buffalo Bills during the 1999 season, which is known simply as the Music City Miracle.
"The crowd was so loud when that happened, they drowned me out," Donegan said. "I actually remember two crowds – the fans that were still in the stadium and the ones who had left, that were on the bridge. So, there was this initial cheering from the fans in the stadium, and then there was this second wave of fans and the loud crowd from the bridge, and that was amazing. I'll never forget that. … A lot of people had left, because they never expected that to happen – neither did the Bills. So that is one of those great moments."
Donegan said he has countless great memories from games over the years.
When he tells someone during the week what he does on Sundays, he's been asked to belt out "thirrrrrrd down" on the spot.
"During the Super Bowl year in Atlanta, I wasn't at the game," said Donegan, smiling again. "So, this guy hired me to do the public address announcements at his house. … It was kind of weird, I guess. I was sitting on his couch and would yell out 'Touchdown Titans!' like I was at the game, doing the PA."
This Sunday, Donegan will be back in his familiar spot at Nissan Stadium, in a booth around the five-yard line on the North side of the stadium.
He'll be introduced this time, as the Honorary 12th Titan. Donegan, of course, hopes this season will keep going into the playoffs after the team's final regular season home game.
He's not quite ready for his last call just yet.
"The first thing I asked them when (they asked me to be the 12th Titan) was, 'Do I get to announce myself?," Donegan said. "And they said Mike Keith is going to do it. And I said, 'Great, you can't get anybody better than Mike Keith to do something like that. So, this is a real honor for me.
"I have to tell you I've loved this job. After this year, I want to go to the games and not have to work. But I love the job, always have. There's something really special about it, and I know I've been very lucky. You get chills up your spine doing it, you really do. It's been a whole lot of fun."