Kathleen Lopez ‘99 profiled Sgt. Tim McCarthy for the Nov. 3, 2001 game program. Sgt. McCarthy died Thursday at the age of 89. The following article is reprinted with permission of the author.
In 1960, a fresh-faced Indiana State Police sergeant set out to make his mark on the Notre Dame community.
He hoped his driver-safety tips would leave a lasting impression on those in attendance at the game.
“I was petrified,” former state police sergeant Tim McCarthy said about his first game.
His nerves rose not only from the size of the crowd in attendance at the game, but also from a bit of advice he received from his predecessor.
“He told me, ‘Tim, you have to be careful because if you muff one word, they will laugh you right out of the stadium,’” McCarthy said.
McCarthy recently had been assigned to the safety-education post with the Indiana State Police. Part of the job included delivering messages at all Notre Dame home football games about driving safety, a post previously held by his supervisor.
McCarthy finished the 1960 season without problems, but he realized no one was listening.
In the off-season, McCarthy decided to regroup and add his now famous punch lines.
With a little help from the fans, who McCarthy recalls were for some reason quiet at the time, he unveiled his new format at the start of the 1961 season. After he delivered the punch line of the message, “The automobile replaced the horse, but the driver should stay on the wagon,” the crowd erupted into cheers.
It was there and then McCarthy realized he had a winning formula.
One time, he decided to eliminate the last line from the announcement, feeling the punch lines were too humorous for his driver-safety announcements. He reported as usual to the press box and delivered his announcement. When he returned from the announcer’s booth, people asked him if the microphone was broken because they did not hear the punch line.
And it was then McCarthy realized how much people looked forward to his clever statements. After 40 years of delivering them, he still gets those same jitters he had the first time.
McCarthy proudly states that while he does get nervous, he rarely ever gets tripped up on the words. He only recalls one or two occasions when he has stumbled, one of which he blames on Mother Nature.
The officer cannot recall the exact year but does remember how biting cold it was that day. Notre Dame was playing Navy and McCarthy prepared to give his announcement from the old press box.
“There were no heaters in the old box and it could really get cold,” McCarthy said.
“This one year it was absolutely freezing. I stumbled on this one word because I was shivering.”
Despite struggling with the cold and the words, McCarthy prevailed. He believes the key is to keep going no matter what.
McCarthy, himself, has kept going. In fact, after retiring from the state police in December 1978, after being elected sheriff of Porter County, he still continues to deliver his message.
“The best part of this is after I retired, the state police and the university kept me on to do this,” McCarthy said.
After several years of service with the state police, McCarthy was elected sheriff of Porter County. He later became the county tax assessor. Now, McCarthy is retired and runs his own business of commercial and industrial tax appraisal work.
While McCarthy no longer has to help conduct traffic prior to and after the games, safety is still the foremost thing on this mind. He considers his trademark punch lines nothing more than a “gimmick.”
It is a catchy gimmick that draws the utmost attention of the fans in attendance on Saturdays.
“He is the only person I know that can get 80,000 people to shut up at a football game,” Doug Weglarz, Notre Dame class of ’89, said. “I think that is just amazing.”
McCarthy uses the gimmicks to deliver the meat of his message about driving safely.
In the 40-plus years of giving his announcement, McCarthy admits that he has missed some games. He admits missing almost an entire season as well, due to a reassignment.
McCarthy says he does have some personal favorites, but he also has some he wishes had never left the drawing board. In fact, McCarthy and Mike Collins, Notre Dame public address announcer, can gauge the success of the announcements immediately after McCarthy is finished delivering them.
“Every time within five seconds of Tim finishing, we can rate them,” Collins says.
“We give them anywhere from a five to a 10. He will know right away which ones really work or which ones sort of work. There are never announcements which do not work because we always know from their reaction they are listening.”
With more than 40 years of fourth-quarter reminders, McCarthy now goes hand-in-hand with Notre Dame tradition.
“I always look forward to that part of the game when Officer McCarthy comes on during the game,” Hugh Sonk, Notre Dame class of ’77 and ’79, said.
“He has been doing this since I was a student. We always know there is going to be a little bit of corny humor there to lighten spirits along with a reminder to drive home safely. It is one of the true traditions here at Notre Dame. It has been around as long as I can remember. It is really one of the parts that make up gameday here at Notre Dame.”
McCarthy always starts his fourth-quarter announcements with six simple words, “May I have your attention, please?”
Many are beginning to question if that is even necessary any more based on the hush that falls over the stadium. McCarthy contends that there is no need to stray from the format that has worked for more than 40 years.
“The greatest thing that has come from this is being associated with Notre Dame in some way,” McCarthy said.
Ask any alumni on campus and they will confirm that McCarthy, with more than 40 years of service, has left an enduring mark not only on the school but also on all that come and go on football Saturdays.