This is an historic occasion, y’all – the day I wish The New Yorker had been a little more condescending, a little more dismissive, toward the South.
As it is, Reeves Wiedeman’s 2012 profile of Paul Finebaum – titled “King of the South,” without the mercy of an archly placed question mark – is far too generous toward Finebaum and the yahoos he enables on his massively popular radio show.
I’d heard of Finebaum (and heard the show, once, when driving from Montgomery to Mobile) before I married into Alabama, but didn’t start listening to the live stream on a semi-regular basis until the autumn happiness of my household depended on how well the Tide was rolling. I’ll admit that during this time of year – from last week’s SEC Media Days, until the season itself begins – I listen to Finebaum and to WJOX in Birmingham almost every day, for the simple reason that I’m jonesing for college football before, and more than, most others up here in this Carolina.
Finebaum’s is the most frustrating sports show on the air. His enormous audience gets him the best guests a college football fan could ask for, and gives him the juice to ask them the pointed questions few other hosts would dare.
In between those, though, a listener has to slog through the ravings of the regular callers who’ve found a sad sort of celebrity through the Finebaum show. Half the time their rants aren’t even directed toward the Tide or the Tigers, but at another Finebaum regular with whom they’re feuding. It’s pandering passed off as populism, of the kind we’ve so loved in this country ever since its founding.
Since this New Yorker piece first appeared, Finebaum left WJOX and signed a big contract with ESPN (though his show still airs on JOX in the Birmingham market), which moved him and his show to Charlotte, where ESPNU is based. Finebaum’s base gave him hell for moving up to ACC country; one of them told him – as a Georgian once told me – that he didn’t trust any state with “North” in the name.
To shore up the base, Finebaum made a few gratuitous jabs at the ACC, jabs that weren’t really answered by Florida State’s beating Auburn for the last BCS Championship. Finebaum’s new book, co-written with ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski and coming out in a couple of weeks, is called My Conference Can Beat Your Conference.
Three other notes:
- Can we require all who mention Harvey Updyke from now on to mention that the looney-tune isn’t even from Alabama? He was born in Texas, raised in Florida, worked in Louisiana and Texas as an adult. He’s one of the many Southerners – many Americans – who jumped on the Bear Bryant bandwagon. Here, let Wright Thompson explain it.
- Can we also make more of the fact that Updyke spent most of his adult life as a law enforcement officer? Why is this not the most remarked-on (and terrifying) plot point in the whole sad story?
- Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News is quoted in the article, summing up well a point many others have made, that the core appeal of football to the South is this: “The North is bigger and stronger and they have more industry, but, if you just take our eleven boys and their eleven boys, we’re gonna whip ’em.”