On a muggy August morning in 1984, I got my first introduction to Paul Finebaum, a Birmingham sports writer who was forging a new direction in Alabama sports journalism.
For many years, Alabama sports writers had been part of the team. They spun great tales of the legendary Alabama sports figures. But there were not a lot of boat rockers.
Finebaum came from Tennessee and he wasn’t going-along-to-get-along.
I was a young sports reporter working for the Dothan Eagle. Finebaum was the big-city guy at the Birmingham Post-Herald.
We met that August morning as Jack Nicklaus was teeing off on the first tee of Shoal Creek, a Nicklaus designed layout just south of Birmingham. We had the same idea for a story, we would walk 18 holes with Jack on one of his courses.
It was a great idea, except Jack didn’t cooperate. He was awful, shooting a 77. He even hit one a couple of yards in the deep Alabama rough.
When it was over, Paul and I walked over to interview him as he was coming off the 18th green. He told us to give him a few minutes and he would meet us in the champions lockerroom.
At the time, Nicklaus was more interested in talking to his son, Steve, a Florida State football player who had just made a trip to Columbus to have a shoulder injury checked out.
It took about 15 minutes for Nicklaus to reach the clubhouse. He sat down and began to remove his shoes and socks.
Paul and I were just standing there. I was 24 and awestruck, so Paul started the questioning.
“It looked like you struggled out there today,” Finebaum started.
Nicklaus never looked up.
“You’re an observant SOB,” Nicklaus countered.
It wasn’t a long interview.
A few years ago, I was in a media van with Finebaum. I told him that story and asked if he remembered it the same way I did.
He laughed, said that was about how he remembered it, too.
I thought about Finebaum last week when he signed an ESPN deal to be part of the new SEC Network, launching next year. The Nicklaus story is worth repeating because Finebaum is an observant SOB. And he is very good at what he does.
If you hate Paul Finebaum, get in line because you are helping to pay him. He’s smart that way.
During the 2010 Rose Bowl where Alabama was playing for the national championship. I cornered Paul in the media room. Told him about these guys from Phenix City who were driving to Pasadena without tickets.
He found that interesting.
Later that day, he had Roy Dixon and his buddies on the air. Before dark the next day, thy had free tickets — and really good ones.
For 30 years, I have watched him work and own this corner of the world. He’s just expanding his real estate.
Chuck Williams, senior editor for content, firstname.lastname@example.org.