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From the Archives: “May I have your attention, please?”: Celebrating the life and legacy of Tim McCarthy

, , and | Monday, October 12, 2020

Diane Park | The Observer

Famous for his stadium-silencing lead-in — “May I have your attention, please?” — and punny public safety messages, “Notre Dame game day legend” Tim McCarthy passed away at the age of 89 earlier this month.

Former sergeant of the Indiana Police Department, McCarthy served as Notre Dame’s voice of traffic safety for 55 years. He retired from live announcements in 2015, but thanks to an archive of recorded messages, his voice has and will continue to echo through Notre Dame Stadium for years to come.

This week’s edition of From the Archives honors the life and legacy of Tim McCarthy, the Fighting Irish’s safety spokesperson who captured our attention and our hearts.

McCarthy recounts origin of safety messages, looks toward future

Nov. 1, 1985 | Phil Wolf | Researched by Chris Russo

On Nov. 1st, 1985, Observer sports writer Phil Wolf chronicled McCarthy’s long-standing relationship with Notre Dame football. Highlighting the impressive influence of McCarthy’s voice among stadiumgoers, Wolf painted a picture of a raucous game quieting at the sound of McCarthy’s voice.

“The crowd roars,” Wolf wrote. Then, following McCarthy’s iconic opening question — “May I have your attention, please?” — a stadium full of football fans falls silent. 

“Yes,” Wolf continued, “almost 60,000 people, during the fourth quarter of a Notre Dame football game, shut up.” 

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McCarthy’s tenure in the soundscape of Notre Dame Stadium began in 1960, when the young officer first stepped into the stadium’s broadcast booth, at the request of his superiors at the police department. At first, Wolf noted, McCarthy delivered standard safety messages, much like his predecessors. These initial announcements — “straight, very formal and very sincere,” in the words of McCarthy — “didn’t go over very well” for Notre Dame football fans.

It was not until one year later that McCarthy first implemented the safety-related wordplay that he’s known for today. On Sept. 30, 1961, in an effort to combat drinking and driving, he delivered his first punchline, reminding fans that “[t]he automobile replaced the horse, but the driver should stay on the wagon.”

Following an overwhelmingly positive response from the stadium, the punchlines became a permanent fixture of McCarthy’s announcements.

Initially, McCarthy’s puns were penned by a late friend who gave traffic reports for WGN in Chicago. Later quips would come from friends, acquaintances and, of course, McCarthy himself. 

But McCarthy’s catalog of wisecracks was not endless. By the end of the 1985 football season, McCarthy began recycling his punchlines due to a lack of content. But many fans didn’t seem to mind — at the first game of the season, former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps told McCarthy he “ought to go back to some of the old ones.” 

At the time of the story’s publication, McCarthy had recited punchlines at over 100 home football games, telling The Observer he didn’t plan on stopping anytime soon — as long as he was welcome in the broadcast booth.

“It’s the best seat in the house,” McCarthy said, “so why not?”

Senior nostalgia: Sgt. Tim McCarthy’s lasting impact on the Notre Dame community

Nov. 29, 1973 | John Fineran | Researched by Uyen Le 

Lamenting his final football game as a Notre Dame student, John Fineran (‘74) wrote that above all, he would miss Sgt. Tim McCarthy’s mid-game safety addresses.

Though the energy of the large crowd and cheerleaders was exhilarating, for Fineran, nothing quite compared to that anticipated moment between the third and fourth quarters. A beloved tradition, Sgt. McCarthy’s address was always met with the utmost respect and excitement from Notre Dame students.

Observer archives, Oct. 17, 2013

“I guess you could say Sgt. Tim McCarthy is a lot like a football game. You never know what to expect,” Fineran wrote. “When he talks, you can almost hear a pin drop in the Stadium, and when he finishes, only Bob Hope could appreciate that kind of audience response.” 

In a time when civilian relations with law enforcement were tense, the friendship fostered between Sgt. McCarthy and the crowd was refreshing for Fineran. For him, graduating meant leaving behind this relationship that he valued so dearly.

“… it is pleasing to see this one-to-one feeling fostered between McCarthy and the Notre Dame student body,” Fineran wrote. “It is certainly going to be tough not to be a part of this feeling anymore.”

As a final tribute, Fineran provided several self-written puns for McCarthy’s use, based on Notre Dame’s future football opponents. One such quip, intended for a game against Navy, went as follows: “People who drive with a lot of spunk end up like an enemy ship … SUNK.”

Not sunk, however, would be Sgt. McCarthy’s impact on Fineran and countless other Notre Dame students.

Irish icon: McCarthy recounts struggles and joys of legendary role 

October 17, 2013 | Leslie Stevenson | Researched by Maggie Clark

McCarthy served as a traffic safety spokesperson for 55 years, his voice quickly becoming a source of excitement within the packed stadium. His safety messages, garnished with pun-riddled humor, are now a time-honored tradition at Notre Dame football games. 

Extreme thought and care went into McCarthy’s puns, noted news writer Lesley Stevenson. Although McCarthy’s announcements only occurred at football games, his job was not seasonal — he cultivated his jokes all year. Stevenson highlighted McCarthy’s dedication, nothing that he “gather[ed] ideas and listen[ed] for plays on words during the offseason.” Safety never takes a holiday, and neither did McCarthy. 

Even in his final years of announcing, McCarthy maintained the excitement of a newcomer. Despite his extensive experience, McCarthy still “carefully prepare[d] to deliver the quips because he fear[ed] making a mistake in front of a crowd of 80,000.”

And despite his strong and confident voice, McCarthy wasn’t immune to stage fright. “I do get nervous, I’m always nervous,” he admitted, detailing a preemptive game day ritual of his: writing the day’s message on a three-by-five card, just in case he needed it.

“… I even write my name on it so I don’t mess up,” McCarthy continued. “You never know what’s going to happen.”

McCarthy loved his job and was truly passionate about providing Notre Dame Stadium with safety messages — and the students were his favorite part of the experience, he said. 

“[The students] are the ones that … keep the excitement of the game going,“ said McCarthy. “In my opinion they’re No. 1 every season.”

When asked how long he intended to deliver his safety messages, McCarthy showed no sign of stopping: “I wish forever! Because I love it,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun, I’ll tell you.”

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About Evan McKenna

Evan is a graduate of the Notre Dame class of 2022 with majors in English and psychology and a concentration in creative writing. He served as The Observer’s Managing Editor for the 2021-2022 term, and is currently rekindling his relationship with the Oxford comma. Reach him at [email protected] or @evanjmckenna on Twitter.

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About Uyen Le

Uyen is a senior at Notre Dame, studying English and Gender Studies. She is currently serving as the Leader of the From the Archives Project. Though she loyally follows AP Style in The Observer, on all other platforms, she is a strong proponent of the Oxford comma.

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About Maggie Clark

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