Paul Finebaum, antagonist extraordinaire

One has to wonder what the Alabama – Auburn rivalry would have been over the last 30 years without Paul Finebaum.

News broke Tuesday that Finebaum’s silence would soon cease, as the ultra successful talk show host will soon join ESPN. The marriage will include a new show broadcast from Charlotte, North Carolina, a television simulcast on the coming ESPN owned SEC Network (in 2014), and 100 television appearances a year on the network.

But how will this move impact the climate between the two schools that the nation loves to watch hate one another? This may seem like a silly question, but dig a little deeper and it makes perfect sense to ask.

Finebaum’s show will likely air on 97.3 The Zone in Birmingham, which is an ESPN affiliated partner. But AL.com reported a source saying WJOX 94.5 could still make an aggressive bid to get his show back on the air.

Still, it’s an interesting question of how this affects Alabama and Auburn.

Paul Finebaum came on the scene in Birmingham in the early 1980′s, as Paul W. Bryant was bowing out and Pat Dye was stepping into the ring. That period of history, also known as “the beginning of time to Auburn fans,” was colossal to say the least. Two decades of utter Bama domination came crashing down with 23-22 in 1982, and 23-20 in 1983. Bo over the top…and seemingly anywhere else he wanted to run…was stoked by this bald writer from New York who studied at the University of Tennessee.

Later came run-ins with the brash Ray Perkins, and later Paul’s public ridicule of the sham known as Bill Curry. Paul’s opinions, then as a columnist for the Birmingham Post-Herald, and as an occasional radio/television guest, made headlines that were bigger than the headlines. Everybody wanted to read what “that jerk Paul Finebaum” had to say, and they couldn’t help themselves…no matter how angry it made them. There are crack addicts with greater control over their problem.

Finebaum then evolved into becoming a talk show host in the early 1990′s, slowly but surely building dominance of the local airwaves. Fueled by NCAA scandals, besmirching the good name of tiny tot Terry Bowden, and a personal friendship with Steven O. Spurrier, Finebaum slowly built a momentum local radio had never seen. His fame would take him into the Dubose years (and scandal), more NCAA trouble with Phil Fulmer and Alabama, through the Tuberville-Shula years, into a public feud with former Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried (really his wife), and into the arrival of present day Nick Saban and Alabama domination. Not to mention possibly the biggest story in Finebaum history…Harvey Updyke.

Through it all, the littlest big man in SEC country has made his living stoking the fires amid the rivalry between Alabama and Auburn. His show created a public forum where folks from both sides could call in, speak their minds, revel in successes and slowly move the Alabama – Auburn relationship from a rivalry into a downright hatred. That’s not to say Paul Finebaum is solely responsible for the intensity of the rivalry…it’s always been intense. But let’s just say, he’s been the bartender that helped fuel the liquor-filled brawl.

Through the years Paul has mastered the art of pitting one side against the other, seemingly changing colors like a chemeleon. Make no mistake, it has been his bread and butter in an era where both schools have seen some unbelievable extremes. His show has been national for a while, gaining callers from Boise, Idaho to his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. But Finebaum’s new marriage with ESPN takes him to heights that his ultra successful show has never enjoyed, or imagined.

ESPN will spend millions pimping Paul Finebaum to the masses, and while his show will most definitely have a college football base, one has to wonder how much time he will devote to stoking the fires between the University of Alabama and its little brother. One has to wonder what effect his trail of tears of joy (and truckloads of cash) to Charlotte will have from here on for people wearing crimson, and orange and blue?

Tuesday I attended the Alabama – Auburn baseball game at the Hoover Met, seeing the Tide top the Tigers 6-3. But while there I couldn’t help but remark to a friend with me that it was the most uncontentious Alabama-Auburn game of any sport that I could remember. There was no jawing, no taunting, very little reveling by either side in the highs and lows of the game. And though Finebaum’s absence from the airwaves likely didn’t impact this particular game (it was likely instead the lowly current position of both baseball programs), one has to wonder: Is this the future between the two fanbases without a professional antagonist?

As I watched a grown man who happened to be an Auburn fan wrestle a foul ball away from a child, who happened to be wearing Alabama gear, the bewilderment I have for that orange and blue subculture will likely always be there. But one has to wonder if a permanent absence of the Finebaum we’ve come to love and hate will fuel a more civil co-existence between “us and them?”


(Follow ITK on Twitter for Bama news, commentary and smack.)

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8 Responses to “What will Paul Finebaum’s move mean to Alabama, Auburn?” Subscribe

  1. phylomatic May 22, 2013 at 2:10 am #

    Down and out, which can’t be helped, there’s a lot of it about. With, without and who’ll deny that’s what the fighting is all about. Get out of the way, it’s a busy day and I’ve got things on my mind.

    • ITK May 22, 2013 at 10:00 am #

      Pink Floyd. Nice.

  2. The Conduit May 22, 2013 at 8:49 am #

    Personal question here; As a college football fan and Alabama fanatic, should I be listening to Finebaum? I watch two shows on TV (both are about to be off the air), but I listen to radio and internet broadcasts every day. I’ve listened to Finebaum maybe four times and it was about 90% commercials repeated and bad phone reception of cromagnon-men talking more about hate than anything else. But should I seek out Finebaum once his show goes live on ESPN radio and the SEC Network?

    I think the SEC Network alone will help fuel SEC rivalries—-I’m sure they’ll be rebroadcasting games from the past to fill some air time, particularly some of the bigger and more heartbreaking games (which inevitably will feature many Alabama wins). Add Finebaum to the mix and I bet it will make rivalries stronger than ever, especially Alabama-Auburn (note, the rivalry is appropriately named Alabama-Auburn, not Auburn-Alabama, big brother first, always).

    The SEC Network could be bigger than anyone expects. They sure are betting on it at both ESPN and the SEC. Building the headquarters in Charlotte where the only football team is one of the worst NFL programs in the league makes me wonder how long before NC adds a team to the SEC, but it also means more SEC coverage in another non-SEC state, and NC isn’t alone there.

    To me, that means more SEC-everyone else rivalries.

    The Alabama-Auburn rivalry will never disappear as long as Auburn holds on to their mantras of “us against the world” and other cult commandments, but the rest of the country is about to get even more SEC coverage on top of the coverage they already can’t seem to stand. Ohio hates the SEC, and they’re about to hear more from the SEC than ever before. Sure, teams like tOSU will never, ever schedule an SEC team, but that doesn’t mean they won’t hate the SEC more once the SEC Network gets its wings, and Finebaum will be the voice of a lot of the controversy that fuels more hate for and jealousy of the SEC from other conferences.

    And I can’t wait. Roll Tide.

    • ITK May 22, 2013 at 9:55 am #

      Conduit, the early days of Finebaum were worth the listen; he was an investigative journalist who happened to also be on the air, and still hungry. The later years he has in a sense had it on cruise control. For instance, the early Paul Finebaum would have been on the Cam Newton scandal from day one. Think Clay Travis with more journalistic integrity.

      As for if you should listen, it depends on if he adopts his present approach to his game, or reverts back to being more aggressive in what he’s doing on the air. My thoughts is he’ll up his game, being on ESPN. But mind you, Paul knows very little about sports, but a whole lot about the effects of sports (and rivalry, hatred) on our culture. And he knows even more about how to get the reactions needed to make himself a millionaire over a game he’s never played.

      • Crassus May 22, 2013 at 7:26 pm #

        Finebaum was bought off during the Cam Newton scandal. The rumored money man for Auburn bought a huge chunk of advertising on Finebaum’s show for his dog racing track and thus Finebaum stayed mysteriously quiet except for one ludicrous attempt to blame the entire deal on Mississippi State and Flurduh. Money talks and you know what walks so out walked Finebaum’s journalistic integrity (at least in that matter). Personally, this move to Charlotte reminds me a lot of the great Pete Franklin (the man who practically invented sports talk radio) moving from Cleveland to New York. He bombed. Finebaum might do the same. Not to say that I hope he bombs because his show can be entertaining at times but it’s mostly geared for the Alabama market. Format changes will be needed for it to succeed on the national scale.

  3. BamaDon May 22, 2013 at 8:04 pm #

    Finebaum had good football guests on his
    show but letting Harvey Nutcase on his show
    and that crazy Auburn fan Tammy it really
    made the state of Alabama look bad!! Paul
    was just playing both sides against each other
    and laughing all the way to the bank!!
    RTR

  4. Elmo May 26, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

    I would like to offer my perspective on this… based on my long time experience with the Show and Paul. I agree that the show has been in a free fall for the last 4 years. What was a great talk show that prized intelligent conversation…. degenerated into a mostly white trash take on Football. I guess Paul and Pat decided that if they lowered the show to the lowest common denominator …. it would be a success. They were right. For those of us that wanted the show to be somewhat true to it’s beginnings… Intelligent conversation … compelling topics …. we were cast aside or pushed to the shadows. The morons gradually took over. I think Shane’s death was a real turning point…
    This is what I think the show will become. The old show format- the old show callers – they are gone. There will not be any time for them. It will follow the ESPN radio format – 30 minutes of commercials per hour. There will be hard breaks. Guests will be part of the ESPN empire. If there is any communications with the audience…. it will be mostly e-mail – texts – tweets… there is no time for phone calls. ( Imagine Tammy trying to write a coherent sentence ! ) I think that people that has listened to him for years – they will be shocked at what they are going to hear. You will hear only SEC talk – I think ultimately – the radio show will be a failure. Paul will serve out the rest of his contract on Television.
    My only hope is that Paul got Pat Smith a job with ESPN. That would be really pathetic if he screwed him.

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