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