May I Have Your Attention Please... excerpt

Author: Mike Collins ’67 & Sergeant Tim McCarthy


An excerpt from May I Have Your Attention Please . . . Wit & Wisdom from the Notre Dame Press Box

Safety and Smiles

Too many cold ones . . . could put you on ice.

At the start of the 1961 home season I was looking forward to giving the fourth quarter safety messages the entire season. When doing it for the first time the year before, there were only two games remaining in the season. The messages at those two games went well, but I found it was going to be difficult to break through the usual constant noise of the stadium, even though stadium announcer Frank Crosiar tried to slip me in at the best time possible, which was generally during a timeout. I also thought that in trying to promote traffic safety it might be beneficial to steer away from a typical dry and mundane-type safety message to something that would attract some attention. That’s when I began thinking about the humorous quips Len Baldy used occasionally while giving his trafficopter reports over WGN radio.

From the half dozen quips Len gave me a few years before, three of them seemed to be ideal for the football games. My idea was to try one and see how it would go. At the first game of the season I was ready with a message cautioning football fans about the risk of drinking and driving that ended with a quip. Just into the fourth quarter of the game, Crosiar picked a break in the action and handed me the mike. Frank noticed the crowd was unusually quiet because of a discussion between the referees and mentioned it was a good time for the announcement. Frank gave me the cue and I have the message on drinking and driving that ended it with, “Remember: The automobile replaced the horse . . . but the driver should stay on the wagon!” Crosiar started laughing and so did Ted Wilson, his spotter. There was also a reaction from the crowd below that was a combination of laughs, groans, and boos.

Fortunately, and because the stadium was on the quiet side at that particular time, it went better than expected so I decided to try it again. At the next game the message regarded the driver attitude ending with, “Some drivers are like steel . . . no good if they lose their temper!”

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

That also went well, including the groans and booing. Thinking I might be on the right track, I did the remained of the season using quips and found the stadium noise beginning to quiet down so they could hear the quip. Many of the quips were so corny that the booing increased, particularly from the students. I never thought I would appreciate being booed. It didn’t bother me because while the stadium crowd was quieting down they were listening to the entire safety message to hear what the quip was going to be. Better than ever anticipated, the quips became a surprisingly good gimmick in getting the stadium crowd to quiet down enough to where they listened to the focus of a message that encouraged safe driving. That was the objective, reminding people to think about the importance of getting home after the game, safe and sound.

Following too close . . . is not the way to make ends meet.

Going into the third season with the quipped messages, I noticed the students were not booing as much. In fact, the cornier the quips, the more they seemed to like it. I even detected a few cheers. People began asking where I get the quips. That’s an easy question to answer, anywhere I can. Actually, nearly all the quips come from listening for a play on words during the year, jotting it down, and as the football season begins, trying to put it together into a quip that can relate to traffic safety.

The hardest part is finding quips that can relate to a specific traffic situation. Once in a while someone will send me one in the mail. A big surprise came when I received one from a student at Notre Dame, the first of a few received over the years from students at both Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College.

If you drive to beat up the band . . . you may ending up playing a harp.

The best received from a Notre Dame student was during the 2006 season. I was in the Joyce Center before a game as the iconic Irish leprechaun, cheerleaders, and pom squad were performing for and working up the crowd to cheer for the Irish. I met the leprechaun during a break in their routine, a senior named Kevin Braun. The leprechaun for the season is always a senior who is selected by a panel of judges for being at the top of the list after a rigorous and competitive selection process. Kevin mentioned he had a quip he thought I could use. It was aimed at drivers who had too much to drink and could end up getting arrested. It even had a football theme to it. It was a good one and I promised Kevin it would be used later in the season. His quip was, “If you drive when you’re blitzed . . . you may get sacked!” It brought a good response from the crowd and as I looked down on the field at leprechaun Kevin, he appeared very happy.

Listening to radio and television talk shows and even commercials are good sources for sometimes catching phrases that can be worked into a quip. An example was the long-time wine commercial by the legendary actor Orson Welles who would end the ad by saying, “The fine wine improves with age.” I converted is into, “Remember: Fine wine that improves with age…is only sour grapes in traffic!” It went well, but afterwards I began to think about the possibility of repercussions from the wine industry. That bothered me, because I always try to avoid even a remote possibility of a quip being negative or offensive, or infringing on anyone’s rights or feelings.

Safety first . . . makes you last.

Though giving safety messages during the fourth quarter at each Notre Dame home game for so many years, I still get nervous about it each and every game. I never forget the words of my predecessor and menton Al Hartman, “Muff one word and they’ll laugh you out of the stadium.” I always thought I did fairly well, but there was one game I’ll never forget. It was late in the season in mid-November and the weather was horrible on that Saturday. It was freezing, but hardly anyone left their seat even though the Irish were leading by a good margin. Typical dyed-in-the-wool football fans were in the stadium that day. The stadium PA booth in the old press box was almost totally open-air. There was no heat in the booth except for a very small electric heater. That little heater only put enough warmth on your feet to let you know how cold the rest of your body was. It was so cold that the people present in the usually crowded open balcony area were only those that had to be there. To make matters worse, the PA system was cutting off and on at times, much to Frank Crosiar’s aggravation. When my time came, he handed me the mike, gave the cue to begin, and all went well until I got to the word “never.” I was shivering so bad it came out, “ne, ne, ne, never.” One of the troopers later kidded me about stuttering the “never” word. I told him, “I did not stutter the word. It was a vibration caused by the PA system cutting in and out from ice that had gotten into the wiring system.” It was a good try, but I don’t think he believed me.

Driving under the weather could mean . . . a fine today, the cooler tomorrow.

After using the quips four seasons, I began to wonder if it might have run the course and it was time for a change. If was for no particular reason except thinking the quips might be getting too much on the humorous side for a safety message. I decided to return to the more formal safety message at the next game. The stadium quieted down as I went into the message and when it was over, they stayed quiet. They were waiting for the quip that never came. Later several persons asked what happened and if the PA system went out. When I told them why there was no quip, it was strongly suggested (by my boss) that to have the stadium crowd attentive to the safety reminders, it might be best to stay with the quips. So after that advice, the quips continued.

Our purpose is not to give you the needle . . . only that you get the point.

The traffic safety message runs approximately twenty-five seconds. A day or so prior to the game, I type it out on a 3×5 index card. I have always used the same format, and every word to be said is printed on the card. I never counted how many of the messages I have given — it’s been quite a few, but I continue to be as nervous as the first time I gave one. No one likes to make a mistake before 80,000 plus people. I’m so paranoid I even type my name on the card to avoid any possibility of messing that up. An example of the 3×5 is:

This is Tim McCarthy for the Indiana State Police.
Fans . . . please keep your trip home as safe as possible
By driving with caution, courtesy, and common sense.
Take your time, stay alert, and above all, do no mix drinking and driving.
Remember: Driving half lit . . . is not very bright!

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