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Football: Announcer breaks football record

Chris Masoud | Thursday, November 11, 2010

Catholics vs. Convicts. The Game of the Century. The Bush Push.

Public address announcer Mike Collins has seen it all during his tenure as the voice of Notre Dame Stadium. And while Saturday’s matchup against Utah doesn’t have quite that hype surrounding it, Collins is anticipating its arrival nonetheless.

The Pittsburgh native will cue the microphone for his 171st consecutive home game announced, breaking the record held by former football PA announcer Frank Crosiar. Although Collins wraps up his 29th season in the PA box, he has no signs of slowing down.

“Let’s be honest about it — I want to stay until Notre Dame’s in the BCS championship game,” he said. “I have a National Championship ring from ’88. I think if that happens, I’ll walk away. I wouldn’t want to tempt fate. I’m so proud of that ring, I can’t tell you.”

While that championship ring is emblematic of the success of a single season, Saturday’s game represents a lifetime of dreams fulfilled for the kid who used to watch Pirates games on television and listen to the announcer in the background.

“I thought the coolest thing to be when I was a kid was a public address announcer,” Collins said. “From the first time I ever heard a voice at old Forbes Field at Pittsburgh, where the Pirates played — you couldn’t see where that voice was coming from, you just heard it on the speakers. I thought that was the neatest thing.”

Collins’ journey to the record books began in 1982 when he was still doing his first stint as the hockey PA announcer. Two days before the start of the regular season, Collins received a call from then-sports information director Roger Valdiserri. Crosiar had decided to call it a career, and Valdiserri needed a replacement for the first game of the season against Michigan.

Collins aced the “audition,” the first coast-to-coast, primetime television broadcast of a regular season college football game, and kicked off a career that has spanned eight coaching tenures and generations of Irish fans.

“One of the nicest things in recent years is people have become more familiar with who I was or my voice,” he said. “I’ll get an email, a couple each year, saying that they watch all the home games on NBC and listen to my voice in the background because it makes them feel like they’re back home.”

Collins said the key to his success has been the ability to separate his love as a fan from his responsibilities as an announcer. Collins brings a professional attitude to every game, as he provides context to the action on the field without getting in the way.

“There are some PA announcers who think they are part of the entertainment,” he said. “I like to say I’m professionally enthusiastic. I am not a cheerleader. I have to ride the wave of the fans. If we are losing, that’s when my job is very difficult.”

But there are tricks to the trade. Collins has developed a few subtle techniques over the years to “breathe life into the crowd,” including emphasizing the down and distance on critical third and fourth down plays for the opposition. Yet his most recognizable contribution is one that Irish fans have associated with the game day experience for years.

“It was about 15 years ago,” Collins said. “The only thing I can remember was it was a big game. I don’t even remember who it was. The team comes out of the tunnel, and I blurted out at the top of my voice, ‘Here come the Irish.'”

Collins was also responsible for giving longtime friend and Indiana State Police Sergeant Tim McCarthy a permanent slot opening the fourth quarter with a safety quip, which had previously been announced whenever time allowed.

“He’s a professional’s pro,” McCarthy said. “He’d be very hard to replace. The man’s got the brains, he’s got the know-how, and he’s got a great voice for stadium announcing. I don’t think people realize how much he has to prepare himself for each game.”

In between swiping cards at South Dining Hall, Collins puts in the hours each week before a home game mastering pronunciations and going through depth charts. Reflecting on his career, Collins said his favorite player pronunciation was Jerome Bettis, and the most exciting player he ever watched was Raghib “Rocket” Ismail.

While the success Bettis and Ismail brought with them seems like a distant memory to Irish fans, Collins is confident Notre Dame will return to the pinnacle of college football — and that he will be in the Stadium to announce it.

“I am positive we’ll be back for Notre Dame football,” he said. “I was in the news business, so I don’t make up stories, but Coach Kelly is on the right track. He knows where we are, where we have to go and the route we have to take. I truly believe that. Those days are coming back.”