Earlier this week, the cosmopolitan conscience of New York sports media, The New York Post’s Phil Mushnick attempted to negotiate the culture gap between his own worldview (ie. routinely trashing Spike Lee, Mike Francesa, Vince McMahon, Phil Knight, sporting events that are likely to end after 9pm eastern time) and that of the frantic, fanatical callers to Paul Finebaum’s chat show, now simulcast on ESPN’s SEC Network (“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”).
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?
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.
Lest you believe such devotion to amateur collegiate sports is a delirium mostly found in the American south, there is some unfortunate evidence that similar obsessions exist above the Mason-Dixon line. Believe it or not, there were acts of abuse and sadism in the papers this week far worse than anything suffered by War On Drugs, and consider the following passage from the New York Times’ Harvey Aarton (“Cancellation of High School Football Season Leads Sayreville to Ask What Happens Next”) and compare it to Phil’s SEC-sneering :
Inside Angelo’s, a pizzeria on Sayreville, NJ’s Main Street, John Shara, 56, a 20-year Sayreville resident motioned to the store owner at the counter and said: “They play a game on Friday night and he tells me that no one comes in here because everyone’s at the field. They play on Saturday, you go into the diner down the street and you’ve got all these 50-year-old men in their Bombers caps and sweatshirts.
“Honestly, I don’t get it. I understand if you’re in Texas, or Iowa, in a town where there’s nothing else around for 20 miles.”