“That’s the first time I’ve ever heard him say it. He’s been put on the spot like that a long time. I brought it up at the Super Bowl. But that’s the first time I’ve heard Mike say that,” Russo said.
Russo and Francesa had just watched director Daniel H. Forer expertly chronicle their historic 19-year partnership at WFAN radio from 1989 to 2008, as well as the bitter personal feud that has kept them apart for the past decade.
Both have had successful solo careers since their emotional breakup. Russo founded the national Mad Dog Sports Radio channel at SiriusXM. Francesa continued his reign as No. 1 at WFAN in the nation’s biggest media market.
Neither has reached the heights they achieved together, though. With Francesa set to leave WFAN on Dec. 15, the 57-year old Russo would love to reunite with his 63-year old former partner at SiriusXM, where he has three years left on his current contract.
Francesa is “not going to want to do it five days a week,” Russo told me. “But if he ever wanted to do something for Sirius, I’m sure they could work it out.”
The reunion would be manna from heaven for the many fans who regard the Mike and the Mad Dog as the best sports radio talkers of all time. A SiriusXM show would allow the pair to talk sports nationally instead of mostly focusing on New York sports teams as they did at WFAN.
They’ll have a built-in audience in the Big Apple. The crowd whooped and cheered as the pair showed off their still-potent chemistry during a post-screening Q&A Friday night. They laughed plenty during ESPN’s screening of the one-hour documentary.
ESPN’s producers wisely noted the historic significance of the duo. As the central program on the first all-sports radio station, “Mike and the Mad Dog” has spawned a thousand imitators. They almost single-handedly created “Radio Row” by taking their show on the road to the Super Bowl.
I admired how honest Russo and Francesa were about admitting the petty, unprofessional behavior that ultimately drove them apart. For two famous sports know-it-alls, “sorry” is the hardest word.
Among the revelations in the ESPN documentary that will air July 13:
— WFAN ignited the sports-talk radio explosion of the 1990s, but the experiment with an all-sports radio station nearly died a quick death. The station lost millions during its first year as New York sports fans tuned out out-of-towners like Greg Gumbel and Jim Lampley. It was only when WFAN turned over its morning show to Don Imus (Russo said in the documentary that Imus’ show kept ‘FAN alive) and paired Russo and Francesa — two Long Island guys who thought, spoke and acted like real New Yorkers — that the station took off. Within a year the duo was No. 1 — and able to negotiate more lucrative deals.
— Francesa might come off as more buttoned-up than the foaming Mad Dog. In reality, they’re polar opposites. Russo came from a well-to-do, upper middle-class family in Syosset on the North Shore of Long Island. Francesa grew up poor in Long Beach. His father abandoned the family while he was a young boy and his brother committed suicide. Eventually he became a producer for CBS Sports. He got his on-air job at WFAN with the help of Jim Nantz, CBS Sports’ lead play-by-play commentator, who’s prominently featured in the documentary. Without Nantz, “Mike and the Mad Dog” never would have happened, said Francesa.