The man behind Notre Dame Stadium safety tips, and quips, retires

Jeff Parrott
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — His third-quarter traffic safety quips, prefaced by that familiar, "Can I have your attention please?" were so bad, they were good.

But after 55 seasons of leaving Notre Dame football fans laughing and groaning with his puns and other bits of humor while urging football fans to exit the parking lot safely after the game, former Indiana State Police Sgt. Tim McCarthy said Wednesday he is retiring from that role.

Here are some examples of what he delivered to fans over the years:

• "Remember, no one relishes a pickled driver."

• "Weaving in and out of traffic can make you a basket case."

• "Driving half lit is not very bright."

The Fort Wayne native and lifelong Notre Dame fan, who also served until 1987 as Porter County sheriff, still lives in the Valparaiso area. On Wednesday he shared his thoughts with The South Bend Tribune.

Question: How did the first time you ever did the announcement happen?

Answer: I was promoted to sergeant. At the time they called it safety education officer, and it's actually public information officer nowadays. That was one of my assignments to do the traffic safety announcement at the Notre Dame games. The one I succeeded was Al Hartman, who was a South Bend native, who was promoted to district commander at Dunes Park. He told me one thing, to be articulate, and don’t mince my words or they’d laugh me right out of the stadium. That, I didn’t want to happen.

Q: Did he make his comments similar to yours or did you start a new thing?

A: None of them ever did it with a quip. We were having a lot of accident problems with people coming to and from the home games. I did the first two and it was toward the end of the (1960) season when I took it over, and it was obvious to me that nobody was listening to it. In fact, when I used to direct traffic, I’d be sitting in the stadium and occasionally I’d hear Hartman giving the safety message, and I thought, 'Jeez, nobody even listens to this.' I thought, people go to a Notre Dame game and they want to have a weekend of fun and they sure don’t want to hear some state trooper tell them not to misbehave on the way home.

So the next season I started using quips. I thought, I’ll try that out and see if I might hit something there. The first one I did was a pitch on drinking and driving, and the punchline was, “The automobile replaced the horse but the driver should stay on the wagon.” I was lucky at that time, the referees were having a discussion on the field and the stadium was kind of unnaturally quiet so people heard it pretty well. The boos and groans and catcalls I got after that amazed me. So the next game I tried it again. More boos, more groans. By the end of the season the boos and groans started to settle down a little bit and it ended up that people were listening to the meat of the message, which was really the serious part of it. What they were doing was waiting to see what kind of corny quip I was going to give that game.

Q: How did you come up with what you would say each game?

A: Through the year I would watch for a play on words and if I thought it could be turned into something kind of catchy, I’d jot it down, and then by the beginning of the season, turn it into some kind of quip. Then I had people send me ideas in the mail and on the telephone, and some of those were pretty good.

Q: Were you ever stressed to come up with something or did you always have a lot of them in reserve?

A: I tried to have some in reserve but sometimes you would look at them and say, no, that’s not that good. It would all work out but sometimes, the week of the game, I was getting kind of desperate to get something. Eventually I was able to put something together.

Q: Do you think you’ll miss it at all?

A: Oh yeah, you always miss something like that. But I’ve been doing it for 55 years. After a while it’s time to kind of slow down and back off.

Q: How does it feel to know you have such a fond place in the hearts of so many Irish football fans?

A: It’s kind of humbling, I’ll tell you. I really appreciate their interest. But it’s kind of overwhelming sometimes when I think about it.

Q: Did you ever expect it to grow so popular?

A: Never, never thought of it. In fact, when I retired from the state police was when (former ND athletic director) Moose Krause asked me if I’d like to keep on doing it, I said sure. It’s been a long run but a fun run. One of the things I enjoyed about it was I ended up getting involved in a lot of university activities, like The Shirt unveiling and the pep rallies. A lot of times students would interview me for a project they had in their class. It was always a lot of fun and enjoyment when you did anything with those students, because they’re just No. 1 in my book.

Tim McCarthy