Paul Finebaum from TheState.com
From TheState.com by Bob Gillespie.
CHARLOTTE — For perhaps the first (and only) time in his adult life, Paul Finebaum says, he found himself struck speechless.
It was the evening of the 2009 BCS National Championship game, immediately after Alabama had defeated Texas in the Rose Bowl for the first of what would be three national titles in four seasons for the Crimson Tide. It was also about to become “one of the great experiences I’ve had covering sports,” Finebaum said.
For most of his three decades as a sports columnist and talk show host in Birmingham, Ala., Finebaum had been the outsider, the antagonist, the bomb-thrower when it came to the Crimson Tide – and for Auburn and most of the other teams and coaches in the Southeastern Conference, too. Now, suddenly, it seemed almost as if he were part of Alabama coach Nick Saban’s staff.
“Fans in the parking lot were hugging me, thanking me,” he said, sitting in an empty radio studio at the Charlotte headquarters of ESPNU, which will be the future home base for the SEC Network, and where Finebaum will be a central figure when the network launches in August 2014. “At the hotel, bell captains were screaming ‘Roll Tide!’ at me. And when I got home … suddenly I was being embraced, and I’d never had that before.”
His favorite story comes from the day after the game. At a Wal-Mart, Finebaum was approached by a man pushing a cart piled high with Alabama National Championship gear. “He said, ‘Mr. Finebaum, I am from Bangladesh, but today I am an Alabama fan.’ ”
As if telling Paul Finebaum somehow affirmed that – which, in a way, it did.
After years consisting mostly of post-Bear Bryant mediocrity, the Crimson Tide was back atop the college football world – and, almost ironically, Finebaum was along for the ride. That spring, Saban invited him to be an honorary captain for Alabama’s spring game; Finebaum, in the spirit of things, wore a Crimson Tide cap on the sidelines, a moment that immediately went viral on YouTube.
“For the first time in 20 years, I was on speaking terms with an Alabama coach,” he said. “I went from villain to, in some eyes, now part of the program.” He chuckled. “It wasn’t accurate, but I was pretty happy about it.”
Could his life get any better? Three years later, it has done just that – in spades.
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