So every afternoon at three, my television automatically tunes into the Paul Finebaum show on the SEC Network. For people who didn't grown up in the America Southeast, fair warning: basketball is second only to football, and our college teams are MUCH more important than the professional ones. Living in Ohio was familiar to me from the beginning, because Ohio might as well be an SEC school judging from its *cough* occasional successes and rabid fan base. But even Buckeye fanatics have no clue what a Saturday down south is like every fall.
Football is king. Period. Until March, when basketball takes over for about four weeks. Then it's back to football.
At any rate, last year when I was recovering from back...no wait, knee surgery, the SEC Network was about to debut, and ESPN put Paul Finebaum's show on one of their channels for a couple of weeks before the launch. Due to the paucity of entertainment to be found at 3 in the afternoon in Ohio, I started watching the show.
And I got hooked.
I knew who Finebaum was, of course. Any child of the South knows about Paul Finebaum--UT grad who worked as a journalist in Alabama, including a call-in radio show that became a staple for any SEC fan once it hit Sirius. The asshat who poisoned the giant, lovely old oak trees at Toomer's Corner at Auburn University called Finebaum to confess his crime. (Talk about hanging yourself! Confessing to that sort of crime on a nationally syndicated radio show? Dumbest move ever!) But having Finebaum on TV? In Ohio? Surely the football gods were on my side! Took me a few months to call in, but once I'd called once that was all she wrote. Now I call in frequently. Not daily. Hell, some people call in more than once per day and STILL have nothing to say that's worthwhile. And that's what got me hooked.
Ever hear the word "deadpan"? If Paul Finebaum's face isn't by the definition in the dictionary, it should be. He has mastered deadpan to such a degree that I'm not even sure the man blinks. But none of that matters next to his encyclopedic memory of collegiate sports, and especially the Southeastern Conference. After two decades trapped in the Big Ten swamp in which I currently live, the prospect of daily SEC talk was alluring.
I never reckoned on the callers though. Or the Twitter wars. I've been blocked repeatedly by some good ol' boy in Alabama for pointing out the illogical nature of calling in to a radio/TV show and saying it's 'unwatchable'. I mean...if it's unwatchable, then stop watching. Stop listening. Stop calling. Stop monitoring Twitter. Just go watch the People's Court or some less challenging programming instead of tuning in every day to a show that bothers you so much.
Well, maybe that old coot doesn't like the show, but I sure do. I'm learning a lot--about other programs, other players, other traditions besides the familiar and beloved ones at UT. I enjoy hearing the debates between callers, the sweet, soft voices of Southern ladies that call up just to talk to Paul, the interviews with other journalists as well as coaches and players. And you gotta love a man who, after a couple of weeks commenting on how Ohio State was going to be trashed by Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, turned around the day after and took a plethora of calls from Buckeye fans, eating his crow pie with a dash of Old Bay sprinkled on top and never losing his cool.
That makes it especially fun when he DOES lose his cool. Words of advice: don't try to challenge Paul Finebaum on anything having to do with Alabama's legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant unless you are dealing with facts. Because if you do, he will verbally eviscerate you in a manner that impresses the heck out of me.
Since verbal evisceration is one of my favorite hobbies.
Today that same good ol' boy that thinks the show is unwatchable called not once, but twice. Both times, he was lamenting (read: yelling) that Paul Finebaum has changed. He's lost his purpose. He's apushover. He's a mouthpiece regurgitating the ESPN line. *sigh* Finebaum tried to explain the difference between TALK SHOW HOST and COLUMNIST, but that went right over the caller's head. After all, yelling is more fun, especially when you're watching a show that is allegedly unwatchable, right?
But here's the thing. `The platform that Finebaum provides on his show is designed to embrace callers of all sorts: men and women, young and old, Tennessee and that other school whose name I will not mention. Sports fan and sports fanatic. There's a slew of regular callers that have been associated with Finebaum since his show was a local show in Brimingham. And yet, he is courteous to first time callers. He also doesn't suffer from the delusion that many sportscasters have of thinking that women just don't understand sports and certainly can't comment intelligently upon them. Sure, he has a stable of cheerleader callers, but in the Finebaum forum they're always entertaining on some level. And when Finebaum turns serious, it's impossible not to respect the man for what he's done and for what he's trying to do.
So in the end, the choice to have the Paul Finebaum Show on every afternoon for four hours wasn't a difficult one for me. I enjoy listening to whatever might turn up, and no one--not even Paul or his producers--is ever quite sure what that might be. Yes, I've gone back to writing full time, and I'm getting in my eight hours a day every single day. But I have that four hour block every day that take me home again--without the heat and humidity. Paul Finebaum can make me nostalgic for the South, and optimistic for the future. That's no mean feat. Straddling that line between entertainment and education is difficult for any journalist, and the fact that Finebaum can do so with the grace and class he exudes on camera speaks volumes for not only him, but his staff as well.
So between 3 and 7 pm, Monday through Friday, don't call me, don't come by my house, and don't expect me to Skype unless you want to talk UT offensive lines and the respective values of the spread offense or 3-4 defense. I'll be back home, listening to the voice of the South, and getting mentally ready for football season.
Thanks, Paul, for bringing me home.