August 11, 2011 — Yesterday radio talk show host Paul Finebaum announced that his daily show would play an integral part in an upcoming ESPN documentary on the rivalry between Auburn and Alabama.
According to Finebaum the documentary will focus primarily on the past two football seasons which saw one team and then the other storm to an undefeated season, win the SEC Championship and BCS National Championship and produce a Heisman Trophy winner.
Never in the history of college football have two teams in such close proximity achieved that measure of parallel success.
Finebaum confirmed that ESPN would be in his studio on Friday hoping to capture the essence of his show and the callers who regularly populate it.
While we applaud ESPN for taking an interest in the rivalry between two storied programs, we are also saddened that the focus will apparently be on the negative rather than the positive.
Auburn and Alabama have what many consider the greatest rivalry in college football. Both teams have a long history of success and both have much to be proud of both on and off the football field.
The rivalry between the two is passionate. It divides families and defines relationships. Being an Auburn or Alabama fan in this state plays a part in determining your identity and can also influence how you are perceived.
The rivalry has produced some of the most compelling games in the history of the sport: Punt ‘Bama Punt in 1972, Johnny Musso running roughshod over Pat Sullivan’s Heisman in 1971, Bo going over the top in 1982, Van Tiffin kicking Alabama to a win in 1985, Alabama in 2009 and then Auburn in 2010 mounting a fourth quarter comeback that kept national title dreams alive.
The rivalry has featured some of the game’s greatest players and coaches: Bear Bryant, Shug Jordan, Pat Dye, Gene Stallings, Kenny Stabler, Joe Namath, Bo Jackson, Tracy Rocker, Pat Sullivan, John Hannah, Ozzie Newsome, Cornelius Bennett, Ed King, Rudi Johnson, Cam Newton, Nick Fairley, and Mark Ingram.
Hopefully the ESPN documentary will tell the stories of those games and those players. The fact that it is chronicling a day in Finebaum’s pit leaves that hope in doubt.
The vast majority of fans on both sides of the battle lines are able to keep the competitive rivalry in perspective. It may be hate, but it’s brotherly hate. Look no further than how the fans and coaches of both programs pulled together to assist the victims of the tornadoes in Tuscaloosa as evidence.
Unfortunately this majority isn’t well represented on the Finebaum radio show. It instead panders to the borderline, it feeds on the bottom and it attracts a slice of society that’s hardly representative of either fanbase.
Many have accused Finebaum’s show, with legitimate justification, as being a significant contributing factor to the deterioration of the rivalry. It was his show’s constant barrage of insult and negativity that accused tree poisoner Harvey Updyke cited as a primary impetus for his attack on an Auburn landmark.
There’s little question that Finebaum’s show caters to the absolute worst the rivalry offers.
One could hope that on tomorrow’s show the sane, rational and logical fans who make up the core of Auburn and Alabama supporters would have the most prominent voice on the show.
One could hope, but one would likely be disappointed.
Instead you’ll likely hear Legend bray, Tammy caterwaul, Jim rant, Darryl babble and Pop wheeze.
You’ll be subjected to the furthest fringe of the respective fanbases, that fraction of the 1% whose entire existence is invested in the outcome of a game, that miniscule fragment who thinks they are so much cleverer than they really are.
Sadly their non-representative rantings could be the lasting national image of this rivalry.
There is so much that is great about both Auburn University and the University of Alabama. The fierce rivalry between the two is a monument to the successes of each program. The fans of both schools have much to be proud of. That’s not what you hear day in and day out on Finebaum’s radio show.
We hope that in focusing on the few bad apples in the bunch, ESPN doesn’t tarnish the greatest rivalry in the game or cast an unwanted negative light to our state as a whole.