Auburn Football: Viewed by the Nation Through the Eyes of the Birmingham Media

Dan GruczaContributor IApril 1, 2011

Auburn Quarterback Cam Newton
Auburn Quarterback Cam NewtonKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The HBO Real Sports piece was the latest in the national smear campaign against the BCS National Champion Auburn Tigers.  Dubbed “The State of College Sports” it featured four former Auburn football players with a common thread–they all had an axe to grind with Auburn.  They did throw in a few seconds with former Alabama player Tyrone Prothro...only long enough to say that he never received anything from the University of Alabama. 

The HBO documentary is just the latest in the long line of attacks on the Tigers that started with ESPN and their constant breaking news on the Cam Newton “Pay for Play Scandal.”  Pete Thamel of the New York Times, Thayer Evans of Fox Sports, Christine Brennan of the USA Today, Joe Schad, Ian Fitzsimmons and Mark Schlabach of ESPN kept the ball rolling.

While it is understandable that things like this come along with the territory of being National Champions, it does seem like there are black helicopters circling The Loveliest Village on the Plains these days and that there is a conspiracy to bring down the Tigers.

So why the national attack on Auburn?  One main reason is that the nation views Auburn through the eyes of the Birmingham media.  Birmingham is the largest city in the state of Alabama and the only major media market in the state.

Birmingham has been and always will be a University of Alabama town.  Until just recently, the Crimson Tide called Birmingham’s Legion Field home.  Immediately upon taking the Auburn head coaching job, Pat Dye made it a top priority to get the Iron Bowl moved to Auburn every other year and no longer played on a “neutral field.” Former Auburn Board of Trustee member Morris Savage, a lawyer from Jasper, once said Legion Field was “as neutral as the beaches of Normandy were on D-Day.”

When ESPN wants the “Auburn Side” of a story, it goes to none other than Birmingham radio talk show host Paul Finebaum. That’s right, the same Paul Finebaum who was an honorary coach at the Alabama Crimson Tide Spring Game last year and authored a book “I Hate Auburn: 303 Reasons Why You Should Too.”  Finebaum is certainly going to provide the national television audience with a rosy or should I say, “crimson” view of Auburn. The only Auburn fans that listen to his show based out of Birmingham, but broadcast on Sirius XM satellite station are “I-Man,” “Phyllis” and “Charles from Reeltown,” who are just regular callers claiming to be Auburn fans.

The Finebaum Show airs locally in Birmingham on WJOX, the leading sports station on Birmingham talk radio. WJOX opens up its weekday lineup with “The Opening Drive” featuring former Crimson Tide quarterback Jay Barker and Tony Currie, who is the “UAB Man” on the show, but bleeds crimson and refers to Alabama as “we” when talking about the University of Alabama. Don’t even mention that Al Del Greco played for Auburn, as he timidly defends Auburn and constantly gives in to his listening audience of Alabama faithful. Did I mention that Jay Barker is rumored to be friends with John Bond, the former Mississippi State quarterback that was front and center during the Cam Newton story?

WJOX then features “The Round Table” with Jim Dunaway (the host of the Nick Saban weekly television show) and Lance Taylor (an Alabama graduate).  During the Cam Newton story, one of the biggest mouthpieces was Ian Fitzsimmons of ESPN in Dallas. Funny, Fitzsimmons and Taylor used to host a show together on WJOX and met while they were students at, you guessed it, the University of Alabama.

Pete Thamel of the New York Times ran a number of stories on Cam Newton. Surely, there is no connection with the New York Times and Tuscaloosa! Wait a minute, according to “Columbia Journalism Review Resources: Who Owns What,” The Tuscaloosa News is a member of the New York Times Regional Media Group.

Of course, before the Cam Newton story broke, there was a flattering article in Sports Illustrated by Lars Anderson. The article titled “Catch Cam if You Can (You Can’t)” went into great detail about how Cam’s father, Cecil Newton, was in charge of his recruitment out of Blinn Junior College. Then, the Cam Newton story broke, alleging that Cecil Newton was involved in a pay for play scheme while his son was being recruited at Mississippi State. 

What perfect timing.

Does Lars Anderson have any connection to Birmingham?  According to “Lars Anderson is single and lives in Birmingham, Alabama.”   According to the JN website on February 28, 2011, “NASCAR driver David Reutimann paid a visit to Lars Anderson’s sports writing class at the University of Alabama.”  Who would of ever thunk it? SI writer Lars Anderson, who wrote the article on Cam Newton, teaches journalism at the University of Alabama.

So, are Auburn fans paranoid? Maybe not, if the problem is that Auburn football is viewed by the rest of the nation through the eyes of the Birmingham media.