A Conversation with Tony Roberts, The Voice of Notre Dame Football

Tony Roberts has been “The Voice of Notre Dame Football” for almost my entire life. Unfortunately, at least at present, Tony is no longer broadcasting ND Football Games. To say that something seems amiss if I don’t hear Tony’s voice during a Fighting Irish Football radio broadcast would be an understatement. His voice, if it’s possible, is an iconic part of Notre Dame Football.

Today it is our enormous pleasure and honor to present our Q&A with Tony Roberts.

HLS: When you think back on all the time you’ve covered ND, what one moment was the most thrilling for you?

Tony: There have been many thrilling moments in the 26 years I broadcast Notre Dame football so it is difficult to select one defining moment over another. Perhaps the first was the late Harry Oliver’s 51 yard field goal to defeat Michigan.

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The Rocket’s back to back kick off returns agains Michigan at Ann Arbor.

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Tim Brown’s heroic effort leading the Irish to victory over Southern California on a muddy Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum field when they rallied from 17 down in the 4th quarter. Rick Mirer’s two point conversion pass to Reggie Brooks in the closing minute of the “snow bowl” at Notre Dame stadium to defeat Penn State. The victories over Miami of Florida and Florida State. Each game ended with the opponent having possession of the ball and the Irish thwarting a game winning pass attempt on the final play.

HLS: What was the most heartbreaking?

Tony: Not being able to hold the lead against Tennessee in Notre Dame stadium in 1991 and losing 35-34. The loss to Boston College in the 1993 regular season finale, 41-39 cost the Irish the national championship. The Rocket’s punt return for what would have been the game winning score in the closing moments of the 1990 Orange Bowl also cost Notre Dame yet another national title.

HLS: What people in the sports/radio industry have you always admired and respected?

Tony: My all-time favorite was Bill Stern who was at peak in the ’40′s and 50′s. Harry Wismer was another, Chris Schenkel was a native of Bippus, Indiana. In his heyday, most of the network sportscasters worked out of New York. Here was a broadcaster who made his mark coming from a small town no one ever heard of (no offense). I had some conversations with Chris during his last years and he was very complimentary. Little did I know I would win the award which bears his name and is the key to entry in the College Football Hall of Fame. Yankee broadcaster Mel Allen and Notre Dame grad Jack Quinlan were among the best. He broadcast the Cubs and Bears games in the ’60′s and died at a relatively early age. He was killed in an auto accident. I worked briefly with Lindsey Nelson. He was a class act in every respect. I can recall reading where Vin Scully graduated from Fordham and became the Dodgers play-by-play broadcaster. If he could why couldn’t any of us who aspired to those broadcast heights?

HLS: What are your expectations for the coming season?

Tony: It’s difficult to peg any team, college or pro, when their quarterbacks are all inexperienced. Their is talent on this team and the coaching staff has been upgraded. Notre Dame could well lose each of the first 8 games but they won’t. The Irish should finish strong and win the last four. Navy, in that group will be dangerous. Mids coach Paul Johnson gets as much out of his material as any field boss in the country. He is very underrated. Corwin Brown’s defense may turn out to be the key to any success Notre Dame might realize in those first 8 games. He has instilled a new spirit among his charges and when players embrace a coaches philosophy good things happen. Perhaps most interesting will be the kind of game Coach Wies calls now that Quinn, Samardzija and McKnight are gone.

HLS: What are your thoughts on Charlie Weis? As a Head Coach and as a person?

Tony: What you see is what you get. He may be a bit Parcellish or Belichecky with the media but he HAS mellowed somewhat since he took over. Personally, I like the game he calls, the regard he has for his players and his love of Notre Dame. There are no phony bones in that big body and you have to respect him for that. He does all he can to put the team in a position to win and the same goes for his players. He guides them towards success on and off the field. He is honest when it comes to whether or not they can succeed at the next level (NFL) and if not it is time to get on with the next phase of life. I’ve been with him in a social setting and he is as genuine in that arena as he is in the locker room or on the playing field. Matter of fact he tends to be quite charming just by being Charlie Weis. I think Mrs. Weis (Maura) may have something to do with that.

HLS: What is your favorite aspect of calling Notre Dame football?

Tony: It has been 457 days (May 15 to August 14) since I was relieved as Notre Dames play-by-play announcer. What I have missed most in that time was being on campus mingling with Irish fans and friends and partaking in the Notre Dame experience. I’ve been in this business a long time and there is no place in America like Notre Dame not only on a football Saturday but any day. The ghosts of Irish greats past, the Golden Dome, Touchdown Jesus, the Basilica, etc. When you enter the campus on Notre Dame drive the tree lined street frames the Golden statue of Our Lady. There is no prettier picture and there is only one Notre Dame.

HLS: What does Notre Dame football mean to you?

Tony: It means being part of a great university whose tradition extends beyond the classroom and onto the gridiron. You become part of the glory of the past and the present. People hang onto your every word and they and you feel akin to the Rock, Leahy, the Gipper, the Four Horsemen, Lujack, Connor, the Rocket, Ara, Lou and now Charlie. There’s the feeling of being part of something special. During each home game visit the process begins anew and the Spirit of Notre Dame manifests itself. The closest I’ve come to the Notre Dame experience was broadcasting Navy football for 7 years. Navy is unique in a different way.

HLS: What can fans do to help get you back on the air?

Tony: From what I have been told, the mail I’ve received, interviews I’ve done, and what the columnists have written, Notre Dame fans have already spoken. Does that mean I’ll return? Not necessarily. I don’t foresee a decision being made until the conclusion of the upcoming season. Notre Dame and its new broadcast partner will handle this with class. 40 years with Mutual/Westwood One will still have meaning through whatever bowl game Notre Dame is invited to play. It is no secret my greatest desire is to return. Notre Dame knows it, the new broadcast partner knows it, the fans know it and most important, Our Lady knows it.

HLS: If you could pick one game that you called and call it your best, which game would that be?

Tony: My choices would be Miami of Florida in 1988 and Southern California in 2005. I think I was at my best both those Saturdays.

HLS: Which ND player was the most exciting for you to call?

Tony: The Rocket. The reason being anytime he touched the ball the possibility existed he could go all the way. No Notre Dame player in this modern time was as exciting as the Rocket. I truly believe had he remained in school and played his senior year he would have won the Heisman AND joined the legendary ranks of Rockne, Leahy and the Gipper.

HLS: Which players/coaches did you get a chance to meet in person, and which have you never met but have always wanted to? Any funny/interesting stories about interacting with the players/coaches over the years?

Tony: Working out of Washington, D.C. and living in Virginia I’ve enjoyed only a modicum of contact with the coaches and players. And that is not all bad. First of all coaches are very secretive. They rarely reveal game plans. Players are often off limits and being 500 plus miles from campus and arriving in South Bend on Friday doesn’t help. I had contact with 6 Notre Dame coaches. Lou Holtz would take you into his confidence from time to time. I got to know Blair Kiel quite well. Distancing myself from the coaches and players was not by design but more by circumstance and logistics. The benefit was it allowed me to be objective during my broadcasts.

Tony: My love for Notre Dame football is understandable. It made my career and enabled me to get into the broadcast wing of the College Football Hall of Fame. Along the way I met many of the Irish gridiron luminaries and found them to be kind, gracious and giving of themselves. They wore their love for Notre Dame as they say “on their sleeves.” For six Saturdays every fall for 26 years I was on the Notre Dame campus and it was like being home. You are embraced by the surroundings, the fans, the students, the Golden Dome, Touchdown Jesus, Our Lady and the ghosts who made a Notre Dame Saturday so very special over the past two centuries. It was the place to be and I was so fortunate and honored to be a part of it all. I hope and pray Our Lady will welcome me once again.

Thank you, Tony. We can’t wait to hear your voice again on Saturday afternoon very soon!

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  • rays15

    Excellent interview. IMO, Roberts’ broadcasts only flattened out (a little) when Tom Pagna was banished for being too honest about the coaching deficiencies he was witnessing. I would love for Roberts to come back, and if Pagna was available that really would be fabulous.

  • Trey

    I never listened to ND football on the radio and I live too far away to have received it anyway, but this interview shows how in touch Roberts is with the team. For those that would listen, I hope yall get him back. I have sort of a similar situation that happened with me and Atlanta Braves baseball. TBS tried to push Skip Caray and Joe Simpson off TV one year, all us fans made a huge stink about it and got em back by the all-star break. Dont give up on this if you really want him back.

  • R.J. Doyle

    All ND Fans want Tony back.

    R.J. Doyle

  • Richard M. MAGNONE

    I WE LOVE TONY !! ROBERTS & PAGNA = ND football & THE ND MYSTIQUE. TONY HAS LIVED IT & SHARED ALL WITH HIS AUDIENCE. HE UNDERSTANDS ND GO IRISH

  • http://hirejimessian.com Bad Kermit

    Trey, Skip Caray? Really? The only thing worse than listening to Skip Caray is listening to Chip Caray. The only thing worse than that is having to listen to both of them together. Wait. They ARE together? Sorry.

    Harry is spinning in his grave right now. Probably because he’s drunk.

  • http://none Frank Henninger

    Tony Roberts should of course come back! And–speaking as a most inexpert though five-decade listener–Tom Pagna was the one commentator who made what was going on in a game the clearest to me; I really miss him.

  • http://www.fivebuckstofriday.com Bullfrog

    Wow, nice interview guys. That 457 thing really drives it home that he should still be there. I don’t even remember things that happened six days ago.

  • D. Gavigan

    Is there anybody who does NOT want Tony Roberts back? For God sakes! Bring the voice of ND Football back!

  • Mick

    Nice interview, Q.

    My favorite line: “The benefit was it allowed me to be objective during my broadcasts.”

    That cracks me up. Tony Roberts is one of the most homer broadcasters ever, and I love him for it.

  • domer.mq

    To be fair, Biscuit did this interview. I just posted it because Biscuit is busy trying not to drown in rain water in Hawaii or something. But thanks all the same.

  • http://ndnation DD

    I echo the call for Tony to return to broadcasting ND football for as long as he wants. It was my hope when Westwood dismissed him that NBC would be smart enough to put him in the TV booth calling their home games. That would have been a great opportunity to get those haters, Hammonds and Haden out of there. The only problem with that is we would only hear Tony calling the home games and he should be calling all of them. Let’s hope the powers that be listen to us and return Tony as the voice of ND football as soon as possible.

  • Mike B.

    Tony, you will always be the vioce of ND football to me. Turning off the TV audio and listening to you and Tom Pagna on the radio is a fond and cherrished memory for me. Bring back Tony & Tom and you will truly “wake up the echoes” again.

  • ForeverFaust

    I will never listen to Notre Dame Football on the radio until Tony comes back. Really pissed me off when he was let go!

  • Dan S.

    Tony Roberts is truly an iconic figure in ND broadcasting. His enthusiasm never overtook his professionalism…it was never forced nor phony. The only drawback with the return on Tony Roberts would be the loss of Don Criqui. That’s the man that NBC needs to contact. His calls of the big moments of 2006 were outstanding.

    All things considered…GO IRISH!!!

  • http://herloyalsons mickey

    What proof is there of tom hammonds and pat haden being ND haters? Pat haden grew up catholic rooting for ND. His mom wanted him to go there, but somehow ended up at usc. Was dick enberg a hater? I hear chris collinsworth is. There are a couple others who’s names escape me.

  • John Lushis, Jr.

    Tony Roberts belongs back in the radio booth. Don Criqui beliongs in the television booth. Say goodbye to Hammond. It’s that simple.

  • Trey

    Kermit, Im not sure if you’re a Braves fan, but if you are, you’d be in a very large minority if you didnt love Skip. The ’92 NLCS, the “worst to first” comment, the world series final catch were all given to us by Skip. I agree with you about his son, though. I despise that guy.

    Anyway, my comment was meant to show that if you keep at it and have enough support for the guy, it IS possible to bring him back.

  • Mick

    How the hell did JT land this interview? You think you know someone, and then all of a sudden I find stories of him talking shop with Lou and Ara, and now he’s kicking it with Tony Roberts.

    I got to move to california, i guess.

  • http://hirejimessian.com Bad Kermit

    Trey, I might be thinking of someone else, if Skip is beloved. Chip is, of course, horrid, so even if Skip is outstanding, he loses points for spawning Eyebrows.

  • Reuben

    hi nice post, i enjoyed it

  • http://www.antizook.com The Biscuit

    Mick, I am big time now. Big time. West COAST.

  • Vic

    While Criqui’s call was decent, just think how Roberts would have called the end of the UCLA game. Would have been one for the ages along with Harry O, Rocket, etc.

    Same goes for the MSU comeback.

  • Tom

    I sure hope that both Tony Roberts and Tom Pagna come back. Then put Don Criqui on NBC. Why shouldn’t NBC have an ND calling ND games. Criqui is a professional. I don’t think non-ND fans would be rankled by this.

    Thanks!!

  • Jim N

    Muting the t.v. and turning up the radio was an “obsession” passed on to me from my father…all for the love of hearing Tony Roberts’ broadcasts. Being in the military and moving from place to place, my wife has endured me blaring static from the AM radio in a frantic search for Tony’s voice. Bring him back!

  • Tim C

    Tony, You are our Vin Scully. How can anyone ever replace you in the booth calling Irish football games. As I watched the Gameday Primer this first Saturday of the 2007 season on ND.com, I was overwhelmed with emotion listening to some of your greatest calls for the Irish. You are truly part of the Notre Dame football experience and I dearly miss your voice on Saturday afternoons in the fall. Please find a way to come back home to Our Lady.

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