Oct. 1, 2004
In his 25 seasons as the play-by-play voice of Irish football on the Westwood One Radio Network, Tony Roberts has seen more than his share of memorable moments. However, it took just one game for the veteran broadcaster to understand that Notre Dame has a mystical quality all its own.
“In my first game back in 1980, the Irish were playing Michigan on a very windy day at Notre Dame Stadium,” Roberts recalls. “Harry Oliver was getting ready for a long game-winning field goal attempt, right into the teeth of that wind. And just as he lined up, the wind died and that ball had enough to get through and win the game. I’m sure Knute (Rockne) and the boys had something to do with it and that was my first experience with the magic of Notre Dame.”
A native of Chicago, Ill., Roberts is a decorated and respected broadcaster who has covered the National Football League, Major League Baseball, auto racing and golf, not to mention the past six Olympic Games for Washington, D.C.-based Westwood One. He has won no less than seven reporting awards from the Associated Press, as well as being named Sportscaster of the Year seven times. In addition, he will be inducted into the Indiana Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame next April.
Roberts graduated from Columbia College in Chicago with a journalism degree before beginning his nearly five-decade radio career in 1957 as the sports director at KCLN in Clinton, Iowa. Three years later, he took a similar post at WWDC in Gary, Ind., where he covered both Indiana University and Valparaiso University football. He later moved to the Washington metro area, where he broadcast U.S. Naval Academy football and became the play-by-play commentator for MLB’s Washington Senators (now the Texas Rangers) and the NBA’s Washington Bullets (now Wizards).
In 1975, Roberts began doing freelance play-by-play work for the Mutual Broadcasting System, which led him to a full-time post at the network four years later (Mutual became known as Westwood One). Besides his current duties with Notre Dame, Roberts also hosts a trio of daily sports features for Westwood One and broadcasts numerous postseason events in the NBA, NFL and NCAA.
Despite a vast resume covering multiple sporting events, Roberts is emphatic when it comes to discussing his favorite sport.
“I believe baseball is the greatest game ever invented,” he says. “However, since I’ve been broadcasting Notre Dame games for so long, I’ve come to see that Irish football is now about equal with baseball in my eyes.”
Entering the 2004 season, Roberts has worked more than 275 Notre Dame football games and has described the exploits of nearly 700 student-athletes, including such familiar names as Tim Brown, Tony Rice, Autry Denson and even his current broadcast partner on Westwood One, former Irish All-America running back Allen Pinkett. So the broadcaster’s choice for his favorite Notre Dame player might come as a surprise to some.
“I loved watching Reggie Brooks run the ball his senior year,” Roberts remembers. “I always thought he got shortchanged by the media and the Heisman voters that year, even though I looked it up and he has more touchdown runs of at least 40 yards than any other player in the country. But he never even got a nibble for the Heisman and some of that may have been political.”
It’s apparent that Roberts is firm in his convictions when it comes to Notre Dame football. He’s also steadfast in his resolve to continue painting pictures of Irish victories for radio listeners across the country for years to come.
“I’m on a one-year contract with Westwood One and each year, I always talk to the Blessed Virgin and tell her that I’ve put it in her hands,” Roberts says. “Until now, she’s always guided me back for another year, but at some point, she’s liable to say no. But until she does, I’m planning to be here for the foreseeable future. I’ve been fortunate enough to cover the Irish for 25 years and I’m looking forward to doing it for at least another 25 years.”
Veteran Notre Dame play-by-play broadcaster Tony Roberts makes his call on the five greatest Irish football games he has called in his 25 years behind the microphone:
1. #4 Notre Dame 31, #1 Miami 30 – Oct. 15, 1988
“Beating Jimmy Johnson and the Hurricanes that day was about as magical as Notre Dame football gets.”
2. #2 Notre Dame 31, #1 Florida State 24 – Nov. 13, 1993
“I really thought this game set the Irish up for one of a couple of other national championships that Lou (Holtz) should have won during his career at Notre Dame.”
3. Notre Dame 38, at #17 USC 37 – Nov. 29, 1986
“The Irish were down by 17 points in the fourth quarter and Steve Beuerlein threw a couple of touchdown passes to get us back in the game. Then John Carney kicked the game-winning field goal on the last play and it set the stage for what was to come under Lou’s watch.”
4. at #8 Notre Dame 17, #22 Penn State 16 – Nov. 14, 1992
“It was played in a snowstorm and Rick Mirer hit Reggie Brooks in the back of the end zone with the two-point conversion to win the game. The conditions and the drama were what football is all about.”
5. #1 Notre Dame 27, at #2 USC 10 – Nov. 26, 1988
“I remember Lou had sent Tony Brooks and Ricky Watters home the night before the game for being late to a team meal. Everyone thought the Irish would be in trouble without them, but Mark Green stepped up and scored two touchdowns and Notre Dame dominated all the way to put itself in the Fiesta Bowl to play for the national championship.”