"A Little More Cerebral"

ATHENS – Paul Finebaum knows he's not the most popular guy in Athens.

"I was doing a live shot after the 2008 Alabama game here and right in the middle of it a lovely frat boy poured a beer can over my head," he said. "I am still waiting for someone to reimburse me for that sport coat."

Waiting patiently it seems.

Finebaum has since moved from his broadcasting home in Birmingham to ESPN's new college-centered home in Charlotte. The four-letter network has made a big bet that next year's SEC Network will be a hit; the 14 schools in the conference are being paid well for that bet no matter if it goes well or not.

Still, like him or not – and most figure out a way not to like him – Paul Finebaum has been around the SEC for some time. He offered his perspective on the league and Georgia as I talked with him the day before Georgia's 44-41 win over LSU.

When I asked him to compare Georgia's "crazies" with the rest of the crazies in the SEC he laughed, and said: "That's the question we are starting off with?"

If Finebaum is an expert about anything, as his radio show proved for years, it's in SEC fandom – specifically the crazies.

"I have always criticized Georgia fans because I don't think they are angry enough," he said. "We got into this debate a few years ago because Georgia had had a bad year, and the fans were still defending Mark Richt. I was sitting there thinking ‘They are not like Alabama fans. They were ready to fire Nick Saban after losing one game.'"

"I will say this, and I am not just saying this because I am in Athens, Georgia fans are a little more cerebral," Finebaum remarked. "I think they appreciate who Mark Richt is, and I do, too. I have been critical of him, and I can't run away from that, but I have seen the other side of Coach Richt with him giving his testimony. It was one of the more remarkable speeches I have every head from a college football coach. Who else in the SEC could get up in front of 1,000 people and be that raw and that honest?"

I then asked a leading question I think should be addressed by someone outside of the day-to-day Georgia grind: "Do you think (Mark Richt's) faith is used against him?"

"I think (his beliefs) are used against him at times, but I also think its difficult for a critic to come after him. Even when I was being critical of Richt I was thinking: ‘Is this the right thing to do?' His record is exemplary, and because of who he is as a person. I think sometimes the criticism of him is that he's too nice," he said.

"I think the debate around Coach Richt is if he will ever win the national championship," Finebaum continued. "Which is where we are in the SEC. Unfortunately, you get judged now by how many BCS titles you have. My image of Georgia football isn't Herschel Walker its that unbelievably frustrating shot of Aaron Murray in the end zone at the Georgia Dome not being able to get that in. One more play and Georgia would have been the national champion – it was that simple. Instead of us talking about how great Nick Saban is, we would have been talking about how the so-called greatest coach in modern SEC history choked the biggest game of the year."

A few days later Finebaum was in New York hobnobbing with much of college football's elite after the regular season ended.

"I don't think I truly understood what that game meant (for Georgia) until I talked with Dr. Adams the Thursday after the game. I asked him how he was, and he said: ‘How do you think?,'" Finebaum recalled. "He said he'd never been through anything like that in his entire life. We don't get over things like that. I think Dr. Adams understood what that would have meant for this university."

There's no question what just playing in a national championship game does for the exposure of an institution. Schools like Butler and Louisville have used their sports programs to expand the reach of their institutional brand outside of their home states and regions of the country.

But Finebaum returned to his basic premise of our discussion – that Georgia, and Bulldog fans, were right and continue to be right about Mark Richt.

"When you look at Mark Richt and what he's done over time – I complement Georgia people for taking a longer view. I am not really sure why (they do). Georgia's not that far from Alabama or Tennessee, but I think it's healthy. I think he is an example of… I think he's the antithesis of what's wrong (in college football)."

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