Auburn fan says Paul Finebaum lied about gifting tickets; ignoring plans for travel

Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite appearing to have kept his October promise to send Auburn fan, Josh Smitherman, to the national title game in Pasadena, ESPN Radio host Paul Finebaum still hasn’t booked any kind of travel or accommodations for his listener.

If you haven’t heard about this story, Finebaum made a wager with Smitherman  in October that if Auburn made it to the national title game that he would take Smitherman to Pasadena for the game. Last week, FanSided reported that Smitherman claimed on his Facebook page that Finebaum was backing out of the deal. Other outlets reported on this story as well and on Friday, December 27th, Smitherman appeared on Finebaum’s show and Finebaum offered to send him two tickets to the championship game and to work with him behind the scenes to work out travel details. A slew of stories were posted on the internet about Finebaum holding up his end of the bargain.

Case closed, right?

Not so fast.

FanSided reached out to Smitherman to get more details on the story and learned that Finebaum still hadn’t helped him book travel to Pasadena. We did some digging and found that there is more to this story than what has been heard on the air.

Smitherman called into Finebaum’s show on December 16th to collect on the bet. He  spoke to John Hayes, who answers the phones and screens calls for The Paul Finebaum Show. Smitherman explained that he was the guy that Finebaum promised to take to Pasadena back in October. Hayes put Smitherman on the air to speak with Finebaum. Finebaum admitted to making the wager then said that he would “see what they could do” and instructed Smitherman to call back in. After some time, Smitherman did call back in and spoke to John Hayes again at which time Hayes told him that the trip “wasn’t going to happen.”

Distraught and not sure what to do, Smitherman posted the original audio from October on his Facebook page and asked for advice on how to handle the situation.

This is when FanSided and other media outlets caught wind that Finebaum may be backing out of the offer.  24 hours after posting the original audio to Facebook, Smitherman called back into the show and John Hayes put him on the air again. Finebaum told Smitherman that he had seen the stories around the internet. Smitherman expressed to Finebaum feelings of guilt, claiming he never expected the story to blow up like it did.

Finebaum then went on to practically interrogate Smitherman about the call they had only a few days earlier and about Smitherman’s conversation with Hayes in which he was told that the trip “wasn’t going to happen.” Smitherman began to elaborate on what happened but Finebaum instead interrupted him to tell him that he had acquired tickets for Smitherman.

“If you’re interested in going to the game, I have acquired two tickets for you, at my expense, not to be concerned with,” Finebaum said on-air. “So you’ll have two tickets is that ok?”

Smitherman accepted.

“The rest of it [meaning travel] we’ll have to work together on,” Finebaum told Smitherman. “I’m not sure how, but it’s not impossible. You’re going to have to work with us behind the scenes.”

“The most important thing though was to find tickets for you. You can always get somewhere, but you can’t always get in, so I have you two tickets. Now the rest of it, we’ll have to work together on.”

Smitherman was shocked at the gesture and expressed his gratitude.  According to Smitherman, after the call, he gave John Hayes his phone number and address so that the tickets could be sent to him via FedEx.

Three days later, Smitherman called back into the show on the day the tickets were set to arrive. Smitherman started the interview by asking Finebaum if he has “his cape on” because he “turned into his hero on Friday.” Smitherman then asked if the travel arrangements had been set yet. Finebaum told Smitherman that he worked most of Saturday on it but they still haven’t resolved it.

This is where things began to get a little strange. Finebaum told Smitherman that he tried to get him on a charter through a friend but that there was no room. He then said that he nearly got Smitherman on a Delta flight but that he was unable to because he lacked Smitherman’s TSA information. We find this particularly odd, considering Smitherman gave John Hayes his phone number and the only information that would have been needed to book a flight for Smitherman would have been his name and birthdate. According to Smitherman, neither Finebaum or Hayes has ever attempted to call him.

Then Finebaum told Smitherman  “there are no seats to be had on commercial airlines.”

As of New Year’s Day morning, there were multiple options available for Delta and American Airlines flights out of Birmingham to Los Angeles.

Back to the call. Finebaum talked more about charters as the best potential option to get Smitherman to Pasadena but that it is hard to book one so late in the game. Finebaum then instructed Smitherman to “stay close if we do.” Smitherman assured Finebaum that he would stay in touch.

Next, Finebaum jokingly suggested that Smitherman sell one of the tickets to buy a plane ticket to get himself to the game. At this point, Smitherman said he thought about that and felt bad about Finebaum taking money out of his pocket.

“Don’t worry about that,” Finebaum said.

Smitherman interrupted to say he “is the type of guy to worry about that” and that he wouldn’t “want to take food out of someone’s mouth, with money they’ve worked hard for.”

“Josh, that means a great deal to me,” Finebaum replied. “We want you to experience this as best you can, the best we can make it work.”

Finebaum then told Smitherman to continue to communicate with John Hayes off air. According to Smitherman, however, as soon as he was taken off air, the line hung up and he never spoke to John.

The tickets arrived, as promised, later that afternoon.

Only the tickets didn’t come from Finebaum. Inside the envelope with the tickets was a letter from a former Auburn coach, who asked Smitherman who then asked us, to keep his identity anonymous. The  coach originally got the tickets with the intention of giving them to a former player and current military service member, however, the serviceman couldn’t make it to the game. The coach then gave the tickets to Finebaum and instructed him to give the tickets to an Auburn fan.

Arguably, Finebaum ignored the spirit of the coaches request and simply used the tickets to cover his wager with Smitherman. Not out of his pocket or “at his expense,” at least financially, as Finebaum seemed to let Smitherman and his listeners believe while on air.

Here is the transcript of the letter:

"To Josh, Friend (Please keep this anonymous as I do not with others to know)You are receiving these two tickets because you must have been  good person and treated people right!I asked Paul to find someone who really loved Auburn and would appreciate this gift. He had 100’s of opportunities to choose someone else but he chose you.Please enjoy your time and keep a journal of every special moment to reflect on! These tickets were originally purchased by me to give to one of my former payers who loves Auburn. But he is unable to go as he is preparing for a journey to Afghanistan to bring home our troops. He, like all our military, is a hero and he will want to know everything about your journey to Pasadena.Continue to be a good man and always remember to “do something good for someone who can never repay you” as many times as you can and you will have lived a good life.Sincerely,Name redactedP.S. You will be sitting by my wife and I’s dearest friend from our Auburn days – she will introduce herself. Hope they bring home the win."

It is nice that the coach wants Smitherman to keep a journal of the experience but Smitherman still has no idea whether or not he is actually going to be able to get to Pasadena. Smitherman claims he still hasn’t heard from the station or Finebaum on travel arrangements.

In fact, as mentioned above, Smitherman reports that neither Finebaum or Jon Hayes have ever directly reached out to him directly. All of Smitherman’s appearances on Finebaum’s show, including the call where Finebaum told Smitherman that he had acquired the tickets for him,  were a result of Smitherman calling in voluntarily to check on the situation.

“I feel like he is not planning on getting me out there like he said he would,” Smitherman told FanSided. “He just keeps lying and they’re not calling me back. He said [Monday] we needed to handle this behind the scenes on-air but behind the scenes they’re not calling me back or communicating with me.”

Smitherman said he has called the station roughly eight to 10 times since Monday, and hasn’t gotten in touch with anyone. The situation has left Smitherman with two tickets and no transportation or hotel.

Meanwhile, Finebaum managed to save face by following through and giving him two tickets he got for free, yet implied that he purchased.

FanSided reached out to Finebaum for his side of the story. Finebaum maintained that he was still trying to work out travel arrangements for Smitherman to Pasadena, and that it wasn’t an issue with ESPN or the station and something he was doing personally.

Finebaum reiterated that money wasn’t the issue in regards to booking a commercial flight that he was worried primarily with making the trip as seamless as possible for someone who would be flying for the first time. That was why Finebaum focused heavily on charter flights, something that would get him to and from the game as simply as possible.

Since that option has seemingly been exhausted though, it is somewhat baffling that he hasn’t gone ahead with booking a commercial flight for Smitherman. He is nearly 30-years-old and could likely figure out a flight with one-stop both directions.

Finebaum did suggest that if a trip couldn’t be worked out they could work on something else, but he did not promise. It is the fact that he cares about the callers and listeners of his show that Finebaum took this on personally in trying to arrange travel and acquire tickets.

Finebaum did acknowledge that the tickets were from a friend and he knew he’d be including something, but focused more on the travel than the tickets during our conversation.

Though Finebaum claims he is still trying to book travel for Smitherman, it seems to us he isn’t trying very hard. We find his behavior and lack of communication throughout this situation very curious. If not for Smitherman’s persistence and the media stories about Finebaum backing out of the deal, we aren’t sure Smitherman ever would have gotten the tickets. We also aren’t sure why Finebaum claimed there were no seats available on commercial flights or why he acted as if it would have been impossible for him to get Smitherman’s information for the alleged Delta ticket when Smitherman had previously provided his phone number.

Smitherman hasn’t given up hopes of getting to Pasadena. He has set up a Fundly account trying to help him raise funds to get to the game. Any donations would be greatly appreciated and anything that isn’t used for travel and hotel accommodations will be donated to the Wounded Warrior Project.

powered by

ticket letter from auburn coach
ticket letter from auburn coach /

UPDATE: Finebaum has still not covered any travel costs. Instead, he has recommended that Smitherman sell the tickets to get some money out of the deal.