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McCarthy cracks jokes, gives important tips

Laura Baumgartner | Friday, November 17, 2006

Public service announcements often go unnoticed, but when retired Indiana state trooper Officer Tim McCarthy comes on the PA system at Notre Dame Stadium, his standard “May I have your attention, please” is greeted with a cheer before the crowd falls silent so they can hear the safety warning and joke that follows.

At the end of each third quarter, McCarthy relays an often-humorous cautionary message to fans that’s become a staple after 46 years. But in the beginning, he said, he would simply remind fans to be alert on the roads as they returned home.

“I was promoted to sergeant of safety education – now called a public information officer – and inherited the assignment from the troopers that did it before me,” McCarthy said. “But I was the one who started using the quip or joke line because when I started giving [the announcements] straight and formal, no one paid attention to them.”

McCarthy’s first stint as a football personality was at the second-to-last home game in 1960.

“We were having a lot of traffic trouble at that time,” he said. “So the next year I thought I’d try something a friend, who was a Chicago policeman with a safety education assignment, used.”

That something became McCarthy’s first joke line: “The automobile replaced the horse, but the driver should stay on the wagon.”

This first creation elicited what has become the traditional “laugh and groan” from the crowd that now erupts after all of McCarthy’s announcements.

But after a few years of using jokes in his safety address, McCarthy decided during one game not to follow his message with a witty remark because he thought people were getting tired of them.

“The crowd stayed quiet waiting for the joke, and afterward people asked me if the PA system had died,” he said.

McCarthy has provided comic relief at every home game since but emphasizes the importance of his words are not his clever punch lines, but rather the safety warnings. He said, the “idea wasn’t to make fun of the announcement, but to use [jokes] as a gimmick to make people pay attention.”

“The big thing is trying to get people to focus on traffic safety, and I know that’s hard for them to do after an exciting day of football and tailgating,” McCarthy said. “I think it has been working … I really feel we overall have a great safety record as far as accidents are concerned.”

The importance of McCarthy’s announcements became obvious Nov. 4 – after Notre Dame defeated North Carolina – when a car struck Indiana state trooper Thomas Zeiser Jr. as he was directing traffic at the intersection of Indiana 933 and Cleveland Road following the game.

“The people who are really important are the police officers standing out on the corners directing traffic,” McCarthy said, “and I did that before I started to go up to the press box.”

According to a Nov. 6 South Bend Tribune article, Zeiser suffered only minor injuries after 39-year-old Dewayne Lodholtz of Lacrosse, Ind, hit him with his vehicle.

“[Lodholtz] wasn’t a football fan, just someone going through the football traffic,” McCarthy said.

After serving 25 years as a state trooper, six as a county sheriff and 12 as a county assessor, McCarthy is now retired, but said he was pleased when the police and the University asked him to continue to make the traffic safety announcements at all home games.

Over 250 punch lines later, McCarthy continues to generate laughs no matter how the team is playing on the field.

“I watch the whole game from up in the press box” he said, ” … the only drawback is being away from the crowd.

“You talk about loyal fans over the years, Notre Dame could be six touchdowns ahead and hardly anybody would be leaving that stadium, it’s amazing how many people stay for the final second of the game.”

As the years have passed, McCarthy’s third-quarter announcement has become as expected as an Irish win in Notre Dame Stadium.

McCarthy said he gets his inspiration for his collection of one-liners from anyone and anything. “I watch for play-on-words throughout the entire year, and I jot them down,” he said, “Before football season I sit down and try to put [the jokes] together.”

While he creates most of his work on his own, McCarthy said many students have offered him suggestions over the years as well.

Earlier this season outside the Joyce Center, McCarthy said he ran into leprechaun Kevin Braun who proposed the line: “If you drive when you’re blitzed, you might get sacked,” which McCarthy used in a following game.

“It was a great line,” McCarthy said, “I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before.”

A long time Notre Dame fan after growing up in a predominantly Irish Catholic neighborhood in Forty Wayne, McCarthy said he is happy to remain a presence in the stadium for years to come.

“I certainly don’t get paid for it – never did – and I wouldn’t take money for it, I just enjoy doing it,” he said.