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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Observer

‘How lucky can you get?’: Mike Collins, the voice of Fighting Irish football team, to retire after nearly four decades

When students, alumni and fans attend a game at Notre Dame Stadium, they are greeted by the same familiar voice, commencing the event with the cheer of “Here come the Irish!” as the team runs out of the tunnel. 

Michael Collins is that voice. After 39 years as the Notre Dame football public address announcer, Collins recently announced the 2020 season will be his last. 

Courtesy of Michael Collins
Michael Collins has been the football PA announcer since 1982. He recently announced his plans to retire after the 2020 season.

Collins attended Notre Dame and graduated in 1967. By the end of the next football season, he will have announced at 233 straight home football games, according to a report by the South Bend Tribune. 

Despite his long tenure as PA announcer, he came into the job essentially by accident, when his predecessor resigned two days before the first game of the 1982 season. The game was the first-ever college football night game — besides bowl games —  televised coast-to-coast: Notre Dame vs. Michigan. 

“When they asked me I didn't have the heart to tell them that I had never done football in any way, shape or form before because my high school was too small for a football team,” Collins said.

Collins was told it was an emergency. What began as a one year audition for the job turned into a 39 year career.

Over the years, Collins has tried to make the games as fun as possible by integrating quirkiness into his commentary. Once, a group of students on a broadcast said what they liked about Collins was that he was “a bit unconventional,’’ which Collins remembers today as a big compliment.

“I think number one is, let's remember, it's a football game,’’ he said. “This is not ‘War and Peace.’ And so, you know, I like to have a little fun up there.”

Despite the fact that Notre Dame’s record varies from year to year, Collins‘ strategy for announcing games remains the same.

“No matter who we play, no matter whether we’re having a good year or a so-so year, I always keep in mind there’s people in the stands that day, that it might be their first time at Notre Dame stadium, and they deserve the best effort I can give them,” Collins said. “And so it doesn't matter whether we’re playing Clemson or Western Michigan — I’m going to do it exactly the same way.”

His favorite memory of his time at Notre Dame was the last time he ever saw former University president Fr. Ted Hesburgh before he died in 2015. The two developed a friendship in Hesburgh’s retirement. 

“The last time I saw him when he was in the home, he called me aside as I was leaving, and … he said, ‘Michael, I just want to thank you, not only for your years of service, but your lifelong dedication to Our Lady’s University,’” Collins said. “And literally, I was speechless.”

Collins also works as the spring training announcer for the Pittsburgh Pirates in Florida, and expressed his gratitude for getting to work for two of his favorite teams. Since his childhood in Pittsburgh, Collins has been “a diehard Pittsburgh Pirates fan’’ and grew up loving Notre Dame.

“How about this, I ended up with those two jobs,’’ he said. “How lucky can you get? So you know, I've always thought that I was doing this job primarily for our Lady’s University, not just the athletics department.”

One of his favorite contributions from his time as PA announcer was his starting the “Here come the Irish!” at the beginning of each game. He said though it has become part of Notre Dame football lore, he began the tradition on a whim. 

“It was a big game, and they came out of the tunnel and I just blurted it out,” he said. “And after the game, my wife just said to me, ‘Boy, I really liked that.’ And I didn't even know what she was talking about. And she said, no, that ‘Here comes the Irish.’ She said they went bananas. And she said, ‘You should do it every game.’ Well, I've done it every game since.”

When asked what he was going to miss most, Collins jokingly said “free hot dogs.” But he also said the energy of the games means a lot to him. 

“I am going to miss the rush I got from the live broadcast, play-by-play of the game,” he said. “That just energizes the heck out of me.”

In his retirement, Collins plans to continue announcing for the Pirates in Florida, in addition to serving his community. He has already committed to serving with Meals on Wheels, inspired by the Notre Dame mission of service. His advice for students? Prioritize helping others.

“Whenever, after you graduate, you are in a position where you have a little bit of spare time — reach out to people who could use your help,” he said. “And always remember the ethic[s] courses you took, the morality that you got from your theology classes and bottom line, please just go out there in the world and ... make a difference for others, and to live a quality life, as I used to say, that would make Fr. Hesburgh proud of you, too.”