Notre Dame safety puns may be over but Tim McCarthy leaves a legacy
"May I have your attention please! This is Tim McCarthy with the Indiana State Police."
After 55 years, Notre Dame Stadium will have an awkward silence after the end of the third quarter. When Notre Dame takes on Navy this weekend, it will be without the traffic safety message—always complete with a pun—of Sgt. Tim McCarthy.
McCarthy, who has only missed a few games since the 1960 season, officially retired after the 2014 football season. Saturday, however, will mark the first time this season McCarthy won't be involved in some fashion. Against Massachusetts, McCarthy was honored on the field and reused his first ever quip from 1961: "The automobile replaced the horse, but the driver should stay on the wagon."
Although it had become custom for Notre Dame fans to remain dead silent for McCarthy's messages and erupt at the punch line, it hadn't always been that way.
"In 1960 when I received the assignment, there were two home games left," McCarthy said. "I gave the announcement very formal, right down-to-earth, just like an Indiana State Trooper should do it. And it was fine, but I realized no one was listening to it."
Given the idea to use a drinking and driving quip by Len Baldy, a friend and fellow cop who used them on his daily traffic report for WGN in Chicago, McCarthy got lucky during the first game of the 1961 season when the stadium went unusually quiet due to the referees discussing a controversial call.
"There wasn't a lot of background noise, so I was heard by the stadium crowd—so I gave my quip line to boos, and jeers, and groans," McCarthy said. "I thought, 'Gee, they sure heard that.'"
As the years went by, those groans were turned to hearty laughter when McCarthy would deliver his corny message. He almost retired from the post in 1979 when he departed the state police to become sheriff of Porter County, Indiana. Moose Krause, then Notre Dame's athletic director, approached McCarthy about staying on. McCarthy accepted, and stayed another 36 years, with his legend growing all the while.
As McCarthy become one of the more popular figures on campus, he started to get a steady stream of recommendations from students and other fans. In 2013, he was honored with a Notre Dame monogram. He even inspired a short-lived twitter account ( @YourAttnPls) to document a few of his gems:
"Remember, the reason we hammer about safety is to keep you from getting nailed," and "Remember, if you have coffee instead, there's always grounds for safety," were just two of McCarthy's more than 300 messages.
For someone that was booed early on, McCarthy's puns became Notre Dame tradition, like pushups after touchdowns or the alma mater at the end of a game.
"I'll tell you one thing, it's very humbling," McCarthy said. "I never believed it would last this long and never believed it would have the impact in the stadium that it had."
Brian Plamondon is SI's campus correspondent for the University of Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter.