Editor’s Note: A version of this story originally appeared for The Observer on Sept. 4, 2015.
For many students in college stadiums across the country, the voice resounding through the stadium’s speaker system is the most exposure they’ll ever have to the public address announcer. Rarely does the average student meet the person to whom that voice belongs.
Let alone have him swipe them into the dining hall.
But Mike Collins, entering his 34th season as Notre Dame’s public address announcer for football games, does just that.
Monday through Wednesday every week, Collins sits at the entrance of South Dining Hall (SDH) doing a job he started six years ago.
“I was bored [during the week]. I had a couple of offers to do something, and I heard about this,” Collins said. “It’s just a joy for me to be on campus and around the students. It’s rewarding to me.”
Saturdays, however, Collins occupies quite a different post, wearing a set of headphones, sitting in front of a microphone and perched in the press box high above the field in Notre Dame Stadium.
When Notre Dame and Texas meet Saturday night to kick off their respective seasons, Collins’s voice will sound throughout the stadium for the 200th time, 30 more games than any other PA announcer in Notre Dame history.
“[Two hundred] means a lot to me. It really does,” Collins said. “It’s a milestone. I would imagine there can’t be too many Division I college PA announcers who have done more.”
Collins’s first game was Sept. 19, 1982: the first-ever night game at Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish defeated Michigan, 23-17.
“And here I am doing this with no previous experience as a football PA announcer,” Collins said.
Getting his start
“I really got the job because, and I’m not kidding when I say this, there really wasn’t time to interview anybody else,” Collins said. “My predecessor retired 48 hours before kickoff of the 1982 season. They called me up out of the blue.”
Collins had never called a football game before that night, but he was previously the PA announcer for the Irish hockey team.
The spot for hockey opened up some years before his transition to football, and Collins, who was already at the games keeping stats, decided to inquire about the position.
“I went to the coach at the time, Lefty Smith … and I said, ‘Hey, I’d like to have a shot at that,’ and I don’t think Lefty wanted to spend any time finding a PA announcer so he just gave me the job,” Collins said. “It was like he got it off his desk.”
So, a few years later when former Notre Dame sports information director Roger Valdiserri asked Collins to announce the Michigan game in 1982, Collins said he “got all unnerved.”
“I was so stunned when Roger Valdiserri called me up,” Collins said. “When he said can you do the game Saturday, my mind kept telling me, ‘Why are we having a hockey game in September?’ And he told me, ‘No, I mean the football game.’”
Originally Collins said it was only a one-game deal, meant as a place-stop to buy the University time to find a new announcer. Eventually, one game turned into one year and then another.
Now, 34 years and 199 games later, he’s still at the helm.
Preparing from a young age
Most elementary-age boys dream about becoming an astronaut, a firefighter, an elite athlete or a superhero. Not Collins.
“I’m the only person I know who, when they were seven years old, actually wanted to be a PA announcer,” Collins said. “My dad took me to my first baseball game, and there are a lot of things that a kid can be fascinated with at his or her first baseball game, but I was stunned by this voice that seemed to come out of nowhere.”
From that moment, Collins said, he was hooked.
“I used to go into my basement in Pittsburgh and read starting lineups out loud for baseball. That’s how much it meant to me.”
A member of Notre Dame’s class of 1967, Collins spent his first two years in Cavanaugh Hall and Morrissey Manor before landing a room in the old Fieldhouse.
“There I was hanging out with all these athletes, so I thought I was a big shot even if I wasn’t,” Collins said.
Collins said he owed everything to two men: sports information director Charlie Callahan, who got Collins his first two jobs in broadcasting, and Valdiserri, the man who hired him as the PA announcer that day in 1982.
He also got his first job in the press box during his time as a student.
“My job was getting the writers their cigarettes and booze and delivering it to them,” Collins said, laughing at the thought of his former position. “When you consider what the media was like then, I thought it was a very important job.”
His own personal touch
Collins lays claim to starting a couple of his own Irish traditions, including announcing the home team’s charge out of the tunnel before each game. He said the tradition began against Florida State at the start of a No. 1 vs No. 2 matchup in 1993.
“I’m all pumped up, and the team came out of the tunnel and I just opened up the microphone and went, ‘Here Come the Irish!’ Collins said. “After the game my wife said, ‘I really liked that,’ and I had no idea what she was talking about. … She said, ‘You have to do that for every game.’
“I haven’t gotten any kickback on the T-shirts that say ‘Here Come the Irish,’” Collins joked. “I should have taken out a copyright on that.”
Matching the theme to the game, weather or time of day, Collins also reads off song lyrics before the pregame weather report, varying from Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” to Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September.”
“Now I have people who stop and ask me what I’m going to do, so now I’ve put this incredible pressure on me,” Collins said.
Although he could recall a number of lyrics over the years, one particularly stands out to Collins: Van Morrison’s “Moondance” before the night game against USC in 2013.
“‘It’s a marvelous night for a moondance ‘neath the cover of an October sky,’” Collins said. “And I swear to God, in the first quarter a full moon came over the stadium, and I hadn’t even checked the phases of the moon.”
The Campus Crossroads project is now radically reshaping the traditional picture of Notre Dame Stadium. Collins is far from the least affected, but he’s taking it in stride. He’s also already envisioning how to pair himself with a video board for the team introduction pregame.
“The team’s now gathered in the tunnel, before they burst out. But right before that, on the video board we have that video we have of Knute Rockne in the locker room going, ‘Boys, you gotta fight, you gotta go, you gotta do this, you gotta do that!’ And then they burst out of the tunnel and then I say, ‘Here come the Irish!’
“I’m telling you, people will be dancing in the aisles. Their tears will be flowing. … The video board is going to be a great asset. I think Notre Dame is going to use it wisely, not like the debacle I saw in Dallas with their video board.”
Collins got to live out one of his other lifelong dreams this spring: being an announcer for his hometown Pirates at their spring training park in Florida. Again, though, he said just happened to walk right into the opportunity.
“It was a case of being in the right place in the right time and not enough time to interview anyone else,” Collins said.
He had sent an email a few months prior asking to be kept in mind if the Pirates needed any help in the spring.
“Eight days before the start of the spring season I got an email from them and it said, ‘Are you still interested in interviewing? The other guy just quit.’”
Collins said he enjoyed his time with the Pirates, and got what he described as “a lot of swag” from the organization: all sorts of different articles of Pirates apparel. He also got an offer to come back next spring.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m a kid in a candy store with his parents’ credit cards,” Collins admitted. “I have my two dream jobs: the Pirates spring training and Notre Dame football.”
As for his gig at SDH though, Collins again returned to the students.
“My wife and I have made lifelong friends of students over the years,” he said, also mentioning the Thanksgiving dinner the couple hosts each year with students primarily from overseas.
What’s more, Collins said, there’s another perk of working in a dining hall.
“Never underestimate the value of free food or beer.”