Notebook: Notre Dame PA announcer Mike Collins caps memorable career with an Irish win

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Joined by his wife Melissa in his last game as the voice of Notre Dame Stadium, Mike Collins received two different standing ovations.

Midway through the first quarter before the No. 2 Irish (10-0, 9-0 ACC) defeated Syracuse (1-10, 1-9) on Saturday, 45-21, Collins received a standing ovation from the home crowd. Their applause came after a tribute to Collins’ career played on the stadium's video board.

Later, after the clock expired in the fourth quarter, the video board showed Collins again. The crowd saluted him again after he said goodbye.

“I promised I wouldn’t cry. I am,” the 75-year-old Notre Dame graduate told the crowd. “I’ll leave you with the words of Father (Theodore) Hesburgh, ‘God. Country. Notre Dame.’ Godspeed. Godspeed to all of you.”

Those parting words ended Collins’ 39-season run as PA announcer for Irish football home games. He served the role for 233 straight home games after starting on Notre Dame’s season opener with Michigan in 1982.

In an interview with the Tribune hours before Saturday’s game, Collins reflected on what the job meant to him. He used a sports comparison that he heard from a friend this week to describe his decision to retire from the role.

“You want to go out like the great running back Jim Brown. He was still the best running back in the NFL,” Collins said. “Rather than go out like Willie Mays, who literally stayed two seasons too long in Major League Baseball.

“While I am neither Jim Brown nor Willie Mays, I’d like to get out a little bit early rather than finding out myself I got out too late.”

And what a way Collins went out.

Collins saw the Irish accomplish plenty of historic feats this season. Notre Dame clinched a berth to the ACC Championship Game in its first and only year in the conference. For the first time in program history, the Irish won 10-plus games for a fourth consecutive season. Earlier this season, Brian Kelly (102) became the second-winningest Irish head coach ever. By beating the Orange, Ian Book (30 victories) became the winningest Notre Dame quarterback in history.

“It’s easier to be a PA announcer when your team is winning than when your team is losing,” Collins said. “There have been times in the past where I thought my job was to wake up the dead. Even with the fewer people in the stands, I could ride the wave of the crowd. I don’t have to scream at them, ‘Will you get up, please?’ So it’s special.”

There were good times. There were bad times. Collins saw it all. He outlasted former Irish 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.

Perhaps Collins’ most meaningful contribution was coining the popular phrase, “Here come the Irish.”

“I got here in 2010, and Mike Collins was already a fixture here in terms of PA announcer,” Kelly said. “So I’ve kind of learned about Mike each year. I’ve got an easy name to pronounce, so he always pronounced my name pretty well, but I didn’t know that this was kind of part of the whole legacy here. It’s been fun to listen to him, and him being part of this history here at Notre Dame. We wish him the best in retirement, and the next up will be somebody, I’m sure, interesting and we’ll have a new legacy to talk about.”

The legacy Collins leaves started in his childhood basement in Pittsburgh. Collins said he dreamed of being a PA announcer at a young age and would often pretend to introduce the starting lineups for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Collins remembers his father taking him to Notre Dame games at the University of Pittsburgh throughout childhood. He graduated from Notre Dame in 1967 and worked locally at WNDU-TV as a news anchor and reporter for 27 years and later at WSBT-TV for 10 years.

“For years growing up, the only thing I knew was listening to Notre Dame on the radio,” Collins said. “I didn’t even know where South Bend, Ind., was. I eventually found out when I got here for the first time, I couldn’t pronounce Mishawaka. Then it became part of my entire adult life. All of my adult life, there has been a connection to Notre Dame. That is the difficult thing for me. But I’m leaving with my head high.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Collins hosted his last game in front of the smallest crowd in Notre Dame Stadium history (6,831 fans). Attendance had been capped at 15,525 all season in the 77,622-seat facility.

With Notre Dame’s students done for the fall semester, attendance against Syracuse was limited to just faculty, staff and the immediate members of their households as well as players’ families.

“Something like 285,000 of my fellow Americans have died from COVID-19,” Collins said. “Countless of thousands of others are either suffering with it or suffering because of their loved ones. Someone like me and the others who have not been directly touched by this have no right to whine or complain about anything. So a nearly empty stadium is nothing to whine or cry about.”

Instead, Collins will dwell on a few memories that stand out to him. He said his favorite experiences were from the Shamrock Series games.

“I did something that no one else has ever done,” Collins said. “I was the PA announcer for three of the most iconic buildings in American sports: Notre Dame Stadium, Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park. Nobody can say that.”

Whether Collins will remain attached to Notre Dame in some capacity remains to be seen. But he said he plans for his PA announcing days with the university to be over. He wants to support his successor. He wants those two standing ovations to be his last.

“The only scenario I can think of is whoever comes next gets sick or something and can’t do a game or two,” Collins said. “Then Notre Dame calls and says, ‘Can you fill in for them?’ I hope that doesn’t happen to a person. And it’s none of my business who they put in there.

“The only recommendation I’ve given if anybody has been listening is, if you are going to audition people, make sure you also audition some women. And it will be 2021, so it won’t kill you to audition some women too. But that’s their call all the way.”

Book makes Golden Arm watch list

Earlier his week, Book was named to the top 10 for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. 

The Golden Arm recognizes the nation’s top senior or fourth-year quarterback. The winner will be announced on Dec. 21. Sam Ehlinger (Texas), Justin Fields (Ohio State), Mac Jones (Alabama), D’Eriq King (Miami), Trevor Lawrence (Clemson), Kellen Mond (Texas A&M), Brock Purdy (Iowa State), Kyle Trask (Florida) and Zach Wilson (BYU) also made the watch list. Book made the top 10 cut last year.

Through the first 10 games this season, Book passed for 2,382 yards and 15 touchdowns with two interceptions, while rushing for 465 yards and eight scores. Against the Orange, Book finished 25-of-37 for 285 yards and three touchdowns with an interception, while turning eight carries into 53 yards and two scores. Irish wide receiver Javon McKinley caught all three of his touchdown passes.

Book’s lone interception came in the third quarter. From the season opener with Duke until that moment, Book went 266 straight pass attempts without throwing a pick. He passed Brady Quinn (226) for the Irish record.

With his two rushing touchdowns, Book (16) leaped Everett Golson and Joe Montana (14), and the late Paul Hornung (15), to move to fourth all-time in scores on the ground from an Irish quarterback. He is now tied with Terry Hanratty, Joe Theismann and Brandon Wimbush.

Transfer news

Former Notre Dame reserve nose guard Ja’mion Franklin will play next for Duke, he announced via Twitter on Friday.

Franklin made public on Oct. 29 the news that he would transfer from the Irish football program. In that announcement, he cited the impact that contracting COVID-19 had on him. He tested positive in late September and posted on social media about his struggles.

The 6-foot-1, 310-pound Franklin only participated in the South Florida game this season. He appeared in nine games last season and recorded four tackles. Franklin suffered a quad injury that required surgery in his lone game (Wake Forest) as a true freshman in 2018.

The Ridgley (Md.) North Caroline High product came to Notre Dame as a three-star recruit in the 2018 class. Duke offered Franklin a scholarship during the initial recruiting process.

Squibs

• Notre Dame extended the FBS’ longest active winning streak to 16 games. The Irish also completed their third undefeated regular season in the Kelly Era, joining 2012 and 2018. There have been 14 undefeated, untied regular seasons in Irish history.

• The Irish extended the second-longest active home winning streak in the FBS to 24 games. Book is 15-0 as a starter at home.

• Saturday was the first Notre Dame home game in December since the Irish hosted SMU on Dec. 5, 1953. The last time Notre Dame ended a home game in December came against Boston College in 1993.

• By accounting for 110 yards on 20 attempts against Syracuse, Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark on the season. Josh Adams (2017) was the last Irish running back to accomplish that feat.

• True freshman running back Chris Tyree recorded a 94-yard touchdown run, the third-longest rushing score in Notre Dame history. Former Irish running backs Josh Adams (98 yards in 2015) and Dexter Williams (97 yards in 2018) tallied are the players with longer touchdown runs. Tyree turned 19 on Saturday.

• Notre Dame generated the most turnovers (four) in a game all season against Syracuse, recovering three fumbles and collecting an interception.

• Irish defensive lineman Daelin Hayes hauled in the first interception of his career. Defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa forced his first career fumble, while linebacker Marist Liufau recovered his first fumble.  

• Book represented Notre Dame as a captain for the opening coin toss.

Notre Dame Stadium PA announcer Mike Collins, third from right, reacts after a tribute video in his honor played during the game between the Notre Dame and Syracuse. Collins retired Saturday after 39 seasons in that role.