They’re Grown Men

I’ve often made the point — here and in The Wall Street Journal — that many pro sports fans seem to care more about what their team did this week than the national debt, the spread of Ebola, or air strikes against a jihadist band of thugs stuck in the 4th century who want to do everything they can to destroy the 21st century. Remember, “fan” is short for “fanatic.”

Phil Mushnick had a great column in Friday’s New York Post that looked at the SEC. Yes, there were times I laughed out loud. But at the end, I really wanted to cry.

The Twilight Zone. Chiller Theater. Tales From The Crypt. Outer Limits. The Paul Finebaum Show.
The Paul Finebaum Show is, by far, the most frightening.

Finebaum, as the Southern-accented, bald, bespectacled, professorial-appearing and impossibly unflappable 60-year-old host, seems to stir the spooky breeze.

The show appears from a no-frills set — a stark laboratory — in service to his specialty: The Southeastern Conference. It appears weekday afternoons on the new SEC Network, the latest unholy moneyed alliance between big-time, big-crime college sports and ESPN.

The fright arrives when Finebaum takes calls. They’re mostly from adults who seem to care more about SEC football — especially “their team” — than any reasonably well-adjusted, able-to-operate-a-phone adult should.

Callers are often heard as raging lunatics whose welfare, carotid artery flow and brain function are predicated on the weekly results of games played by 20-year-olds. Many know much more than enough. After all, why did the kid choose Ole Miss when he could have started as a freshman corner for LSU?

The legions of deep-fried, loosely wired college football fans are like that second Ray Rice video. It’s one thing to know they exist; it’s another to actually hear them. Daily.

They live and die, laugh and cry, drive or fly SEC football. They rage, they hate; they can’t assimilate. They’re frustrated, depressed and occasionally so overjoyed — a loss by an illogically despised rival will do it — that they scare you. Maybe they’re using their one call from prison.

Consider it was to Finebaum, on his syndicated radio show in 2011, that the Alabama fan who poisoned to death the two historic Toomer’s Corner oak trees on Auburn’s campus, confessed.

Harvey Updyke, in his mid 60s, was soon arrested and sentenced to a minimum of six months and ordered to pay a hefty fine.

Those callers, yikes! All the SEC teams, except theirs, are corrupt. All SEC teams recruit young criminals, except theirs. Their team? It clearly sees the social benefits of giving a gone-astray young man “a second chance.”

But the kid who fumbled near the goal line? He never should have been given a first chance!

After a loss, their team’s coach should be fired then hung in effigy — Effigy, Kentucky. They think of Auburn, Florida and Alabama not as colleges — fat chance — but as football teams and religious denominations due all-week worship, but, because you can’t win ’em all, also worthy of condemnation to Hades!

Who should be ’Bama’s starting quarterback, Blake Sims or Jake Coker? If only the Treaty of Versailles had undergone that kind of inspection and endless, enflamed debate.

And Finebaum calmly listens and calmly answers. He doesn’t blink, wince or even shift in his seat to display discomfort. Clearly, he’s not surprised by — and seems to expect — a string of callers who sound on the verge of committing “lunacide.” He seems to understand. He would make a superb 911 operator. Or a funeral director. But then we would miss him.

One day, perhaps, Finebaum will mess with his professional function and ask such callers for their age, occupation, whether they have kids and why an adult would worry himself sick, angry and on the precipice of clinical delirium — over games played by 20-year-olds.

Well done, Mush.

About Mark Yost
Mark Yost is the author of the Rick Crane Noir series, published by Stay Thirsty Press. Rick Crane is the classic, anti-hero private eye in the spirit of Sam Spade and Jim Rockford. He works in the unmistakably noirish underworld of Upstate New York, running errands and fixing problems for Jimmy Ricchiati Sr., one of Upstate New York's most notorious crime bosses. But readers quickly learn that deep down, Rick Crane is one of the good guys. "Cooper's Daughter," the first book in the widely acclaimed series, is a fast-moving tale in which a heartbroken father comes to Rick and asks him to find out what really happened to his daughter, who was murdered and the details buried in the Unsolved Crimes File of the local police department. The second book in the series is "Jimmy's Nephew," which begins with the death of Joey "Boom Boom" Bonadeo, an up-and-coming boxer and the nephew of Rick's underworld boss. What starts out as a routine investigation turns into a case that will test Rick's faith -- in the Catholic Church and his fellow man. Book No. 3 in the series, "Mary's Fate" is due out in August 2015. Mark Yost also writes for The Wall Street Journal Arts in Review page, as well as the Book Review section. He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America -- Midwest Chapter, International Thriller Writers, and a number of other author groups. He is also a member of the Amazon Author's Program. Mark lives in the Loyola neighborhood of Chicago, but he and his son, George, call the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn "home."

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