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Tim McCarthy promotes safety with humor

By LESLEY STEVENSON | Thursday, October 17, 2013

“May I have your attention please? This is Tim McCarthy with the Indiana State Police.”

A thunderous cheer roars up from the student section, followed by a chorus of shushes raining down upon the crowd of more than 80,000.

Through the open window of the Public Announcement (PA) box at Notre Dame Stadium, Sergeant Tim McCarthy hears it all. After 53 years of delivering a safety tip in between the third and fourth quarter at Notre Dame football games, McCarthy has seen it all too.

“I always got a kick out of the crowd noise. In the old press box, I used to stand on what I’ll call the outside balcony with all the television cameras and so forth just to get the crowd noise,” McCarthy said. “I used to look and watch the students and that was always a lot of fun.”

McCarthy said his superiors at the police department were the first ones to encourage him to deliver a safety message to fans during a home football game.

“1960 … There were two games left in the season when I got the assignment, and so I gave the safety announcement very formal like a state trooper should, I guess,” he said. “I was very nervous about it. It went over pretty decently, but nobody listened to it with the crowd noise and all.”

McCarthy said he decided after the 1960 season to try a different approach that might make the crowd listen to his safety message.

 “I told [my superiors] … I’m going to start using a quip at the end and see what happens, and the following season – that was in 1961 – in the very first game there was a discussion among the referees for something and the crowd was unusually quiet. 

“So I gave the thing. The message gave a pitch on drinking and driving. And I said, ‘Remember, the automobile replaced the horse, but the driver should stay on the wagon.’ And I got a lot of groans and boos and things like that.”

The next game McCarthy said he tried to focus on driver attitude and said, “Remember, some drivers are like steel – no good when they lose their temper.” McCarthy said more boos followed this announcement, but over time the crowd began to look forward to his sayings.

“About the end of the season I noticed a kind of quieting down because everybody’s waiting to see how corny the quip line was going to be. And I just started it off from there; got to be fairly popular at the games,” McCarthy said. 

McCarthy said he now gathers ideas and listens for plays on words during the offseason. As games resume, he organizes them into quips that vary from season to season, although some lines do get repeated.

“Last season … there was an awful lot of construction around the South Bend area and we focused a little bit on that for a couple games,” McCarthy said. “Generally, I have one on the site in case of rainfall … I have one for snow too, but we haven’t had snowfall for a long, long, long time … This is my 54th year of doing it, so I have run into repeats from time to time.”

McCarthy said he carefully prepares to deliver the quips because he fears making a mistake in front of a crowd of 80,000.

“I do get nervous, I’m always nervous,” he said. “I have three-by-five cards and I just write the whole message I’m going to give on the three-by-five card. It’s everything, you know, I even write my name on it so I don’t mess up. You never know what’s going to happen.”

The students not only support his puns but also maintain the energy of the stadium as a whole, McCarthy said.

“They’re the ones that kind of keep the excitement of the game going, I think, students,” he said. “In my opinion they’re No. 1 every season. They really do a good job for Notre Dame in cheering the team.”

McCarthy said he used to direct traffic with the police during home football weekends in addition to speaking during the games. He said he retired from the police department in 1979 and served two terms as Porter County sheriff.

“[Now] I’m just kind of retired, and the Notre Dame thing is kind of a hobby,” McCarthy said. “I sure enjoyed my career with the state police, and it makes me feel a little bit a part of it again.”

When asked how long he wants to continue delivering safety messages, McCarthy said he has plans for the long run.

“I wish forever! Because I love it,” McCarthy said. “It’s a lot of fun, I’ll tell you.”

Contact Lesley Stevenson at lsteven1@nd.edu