Notre Dame Stadium PA announcer Mike Collins warms up for his victory lap
Before he knew how and when the dream would end, Mike Collins took a test drive of sorts on what it might be like.
By his own admission, the 75-year-old ND graduate — and wife Melissa — fumbled in their trial attempt to be regular fans in the stands during ND’s 21-17 Citrus Bowl victory over LSU on Jan. 1, 2018, in Orlando, Fla.
“I’m serious when I say this, Melissa had to tell me when to stand up and cheer, because I trained myself not to cheer,” the Notre Dame Stadium public address announcer since 1982 said in a phone interview this weekend from the couple’s home in Sarasota, Fla.
“And Melissa? Well, when Miles Boykin caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Ian Book, she was in the ladies’ room. So at least I saw it, even though I didn’t know how to react to it.”
Perhaps Collins can take some mental reps at fandom this fall while taking a victory lap in his 39th and final season as the voice of Notre Dame Stadium.
That is if there is a season, an eventuality Collins has pondered during the COVID-19 global pandemic.
“I don’t know. Nobody knows. I saw what (ESPN analyst) Kirk Herbstreit said,’’ Collins said, referring to Herbstreit’s recent view that a 2020 college football season being played would be a shock to him.
“Not that he’s a scientist, but let’s look at this. You’re going to have to get the all-clear to let 75,000 people be elbow to elbow in the same building, and a bunch of sweaty athletes all in the same locker room.
“So I don’t know when that kind of all-clear will come. I’m not trying to disappoint people. I’m not clairvoyant, but whatever happens, happens. There are bigger things.
“You know, my parents lived through the Depression and World War II. Melissa’s dad was yanked out of Notre Dame and ended up being parachuted into Normandy on D-Day.
“Those are bigger things. We’ll get through this.”
Ideally, the other side of COVID-19 will include a scenario in which Collins takes his place in his private working box on Sept. 12 for the Irish football home opener with Arkansas. He didn’t get to finish his last game, Notre Dame’s 40-7 Senior Day rout of Boston College on Nov. 23.
Some mild episodes of nosebleeds in the days leading up to the game turned into a scary episode of uncontrollable bleeding at halftime of the BC game.
Notre Dame assistant director of marketing Darin Ottaviani filled in during the second half, a contingency that had been put in place earlier in the week when Collins began to experience problems.
“It was somewhere between a nosebleed and hemorrhaging,” Collins said. “As it turns out, I am susceptible. It turns out my Achilles’ heel is my nose. But I’m seeing specialists, and it’s all healed now. It’s the onset of cold weather that turns out to be the problem.
“The medical care in and around Notre Dame Stadium is unbelievable. I think 11 people worked on me, from nurses to EMTs to doctors. And it wasn’t because it was Mike Collins. It was because they heard there was an emergency upstairs.”
The episode had nothing to do, Collins said, with making 2020 his final season.
He had been thinking about the proper timing of his exit and next chapter for a couple of years. The medical episode reinforced to him his passion for the role.
“I sort of examined myself. ‘Do you have the energy and the mojo and all of that to continue?’ So I started with that,” he said. “And my answer to that question was, ‘Yes.’
“But I thought it through. If Father Hesburgh retired at 75, I was kind of thinking the PA announcer should too. I just didn’t want to either be — or be perceived to be — somebody who was hanging on too long.”
Sportscaster Frank Crosiar, Collins’ predecessor, was perceived as having done that, which later, Collins says, was attributed to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Then-Notre Dame assistant athletic director/sports information director Roger Valdiserri made that decision roughly 48 hours before the Irish 1982 season opener with Michigan, which also happened to be the first night game in Notre Dame Stadium history.
Collins at the time was in the midst of a roughly 40-year run in television as a reporter, news anchor and news director (before his retirement in 2007) when he got the call from Valdiserri.
“I said yes, and I never told him I had never done football in any way shape or form in my life,” Collins said. “My high school was too small for a team. He told me first, it was going to be a one-game tryout, and then after that he said, ‘How about one season?’ It turned into 39.”
During the first 38, Collins outlasted head coaches Gerry Faust, Lou Holtz, Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis, and athletic directors Gene Corrigan, Dick Rosenthal, Mike Wadsworth and Kevin White.
He also developed some favorites:
• Favorite opponents: Pittsburgh and Penn State, for the Ellwood City, Pa., native.
• Favorite moment: Pat Terrell deflecting Miami’s two-point conversion attempt in 1988 to preserve ND’s epic 31-30 victory over the No. 1 Hurricanes.
“The only way I could see that back corner in that end zone was that I had to lean out of the booth,” Collins said. “I was so excited when he knocked it down, I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, I might fall out.’ ”
Favorite players: Offense, Jerome Bettis; Defense, Manti Te’o; Wild card, Mike McGlinchey.
“Just adored McGlinchey, and he said the nicest things about me after his final game,” Collins said. “We’ve had so many good players who were also good people, and that’s what means the most to me — the really good guys through the years.”
When Collins made the decision to make 2020 his final season, he sent out emails to everyone at Notre Dame who he felt needed to know. He excluded Notre Dame president John I. Jenkins from the list because he didn’t want to bother him.
Collins received a heart-warming response from Jenkins anyway.
Collins also sent an email to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization letting them know he would like to continue to serve as their PA announcer during spring training games in Bradenton, Fla.
“I told them, ‘The only way I’m leaving spring training baseball is if you actually carry me out.’ ” he said. “It’s my dream. Here I am with palm trees and sunny skies and baseball in front of me, and it’s like going to the candy store with your parents’ credit card.
“I’ve wanted to be a PA announcer since I was 8 years old. In my basement in Pittsburgh, I would introduce starting lineups. ‘Batting third for the Pirates and playing right field, No. 21 Roberto Clemente.’
“However, the voice wasn’t that deep then. But I always wanted to be a PA announcer. It doesn’t pay the mortgage off, but it’s the best job you can have.”
The one constant is when the dream did become real, Collins got nervous before the game. Still does.
“Especially before the home opener each year,” he said. “You’ve got to keep in mind that the home opener is 9 1/2 months since the last game I worked. You really don’t want to be around me in the morning.
“I really get worked up. And I follow the same regimen every year, every game. I have to be upstairs and in my seat a minimum of two hours before kickoff. And I don’t want anybody bothering me when I first get there.
“Let me set up. Let me get everything in place. Let me go over one more time, and so that’s just the way I am. Once I start my routine, it’s like everything is calm and cool now.”
And eventually, the signature “Welcome to Notre Dame Stadium” gets uttered, complete with a weather forecast and sometimes a pun.
“Somehow it turned into a big deal for the fans,” Collins said, “and it seems like they love a terrible weather forecast, which there are plenty for a game in South Bend..
“But my wife said — and she’s right — when you blast out there that ‘Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,’ it’s like, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to play football.’
“The crowd goes nuts, and it means the world to me.
“So this year,” Collins says, his voice cracking with emotion. “This year, when football comes back, can you imagine? Can you imagine?”