“Aaaaaand, good afternoon everybody! How are you today?” – Chris “Mad Dog” Russo trademark opening to show
Five years ago on August 14, 2008, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo decided to accept an offer with Sirius Radio and was released from his contract with WFAN, New York’s top sports radio station. As such, it was the end of the Mike and the Mad Dog show’s nineteen year run. WFAN is the first and most successful 24/7 sports radio station. Mike and the Mad Dog was its biggest show. The hosts of the show were Mike Francesa and Chris Russo. The show was one of the biggest reasons I became a passionate sports fan. Every day after school, I rushed home so I could turn on WFAN and listen to Mike and the Mad Dog all afternoon while I did my homework. When the YES Network began to simulcast the show, I watched them on television too. I developed my love of analyzing and discussing sports from listening to them enthusiastically and intensely debate sports every afternoon. For that reason, it will always be special to me. The show was great because Mike’s seriousness and bluntness contrasted with Mad Dog’s lighter, humorous style. As Mike was a New York Yankees fan, I identified with him more. I also liked the analytical and blunt manner he used to state his points. On the other hand, I loved Mad Dog’s unorthodox and use of humor. He made the show fun and entertaining. When there was tension and the situation needed to lighten up, he often said, “Mike. Say something funny.” He also had a distinct voice best described as “Donald Duck on steroids.” In addition, he famously mispronounced a lot of words. For example, he said Satdee instead of Saturday. While the differences in the two men and their large egos naturally led to a few blowups and arguments between them over nineteen years, they were a perfect match on the air and a huge success. The greatest strength of the two men was that they were passionate, die hard fans that loved sports like their listeners. As such, their audience was able to relate to them and kept on listening.
As baseball was the biggest sport in New York, Mike and the Mad Dog talked baseball all year round. As such, it developed my love for the sport. While his father, Tony Russo, was a Yankees fan, Mad Dog hated the Yankees. As such, some of the most entertaining moments in the show were when Mad Dog openly rooted against the Yankees during their dynasty in the late 90s. He also formed the “Crack Committee” with update man Bob Huessler to root against the Yankees. Of course, the Yankees of the late 90s led to a lot of frustration for the committee while Mike sat back and laughed at them while the Yankees won four championships. I also enjoyed when Tony Russo called the show to talk about the Yankees with Mike and him versus his son during the conversations. Of course, Mad Dog finally had his moment when the Yankees lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks in heartbreaking fashion in the 2001 World Series. He had an even bigger moment after the 2004 ALCS played between the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. After the Yankees went up 3-0 in the series, another trip to the World Series for the Yankees seemed certain as no team had ever comeback from that deficit in baseball history. After the Red Sox won Game 4 in dramatic fashion, Mad Dog started proclaiming his belief that the Red Sox needed to do something epic, such as an impossible comeback, to “reverse the curse”. Of course, he was mostly joking at first. Regardless, the Red Sox eventually came back and beat the Yankees. After Game 7, I was completely depressed. Although I knew Mad Dog would open the show ecstatic and ready to rub salt into the wounds of Yankees fans, I could not help but turn on the show to listen. Of course, he opened the show as I expected. However, both he and Mike were excellent during the show. They went over the historical nature and breakdown of the series. Before the start of that day’s show, Red Sox fans actually called the station to verify that Mike would appear and not take the day off to hide. Of course, Mike professionally allowed Red Sox fans to celebrate and rub it in. On the other hand, Mad Dog allowed Yankee fans to vent. While he still landed a few more shots throughout the show, he did not go on an unrelenting rant all afternoon. It was very therapeutic for me. In general, whenever there was a big sporting event, I always tuned into Mike and the Mad Dog to hear what they had to say. While I did not always agree with or like their opinion, I respected it.
Mad Dog was also a San Francisco Giants fan. Over the course of the show, he was known for some epic rants. My most favorite rant was in regards to the San Francisco Giants in 2003. At that time, he never saw the Giants win the World Series. In 2000, they lost in 4 games in the first round of the playoffs to the New York Mets. In addition, a journeyman right hander named Bobby Jones pitched a one hit shutout to eliminate them in Game 4 of that series. In 2002, the Giants were up 3-2 in the World Series against the Anaheim Angels and had a 5-0 lead heading into the 7th inning of Game 6 before the Angels came back to win the game and the series. During the 2002 World Series, Yankee fans called the show to wish Mad Dog good luck for the Giants. However, he was really cocky, did not accept the well wishes, and eventually turned the Yankee fans back against the Giants. As such, it made it even rougher for him when the Giants blew the series. In the following year 2003, the Giants lost in 4 games in the first round against the Florida Marlins. As such, Mad Dog’s frustration built up and he finally exploded. At the beginning of the rant, he was completely calm and collective as he reflected on the loss. However, he slowly built up steam before screaming at the top of his lungs “I don’t care how many books I write, how many kids I have, how many Marconis. I don’t care! Mike can put me on that show forever. I DON’T CARE! WIN ONE! I’ll give it all back! I’ll leave now! One, that’s all I want is one. UNO! I’ll leave, I swear I’ll leave! I’ll quit! [New York Post writer Phil] Mushnick can be happy. I’ll leave one time! Once! I’ll get out of here forever. You’ll never see me again. Let me win once. ONCE! I’m getting at 43 years of age. I’m not getting any younger. I’m not as old as Mike, but I’m not getting any younger!” As such, the rant is now known as the “ONE TIME!!” It became a classic moment of Mike and the Mad Dog and is one I remember vividly. In addition, he hysterically pretended to convert to a Yankees fan a couple of times, which included wearing the Yankee cap during the show, when he was frustrated that the Giants did not win. Of course, the Giants eventually won the World Series in 2010 and again last year but after the end of the Mike and the Mad Dog show.
I also enjoyed their coverage of the NFL. I tuned in for their picks each week on Friday afternoon. For the Superbowl, they also had a contest called “Mike and the Marquis”. For the contest, Mad Dog went into character as the Marquis and asked questions to callers who played for a chance at a trip to the Superbowl. The caller needed to answer four difficult questions correctly to win the trip. It was similar to a bad cop, good cop routine. Marquis was the villain who wanted the callers to lose while Mike was the good cop rooting for the caller. A sport I gained an appreciation for listening to Mike and the Mad Dog was tennis. Although Mike is not a tennis fan, Mad Dog was passionate about it. He was also a Roger Federer fan and always talked about Federer’s greatness and big matches. Of course, the Federer and Rafael Nadal rivalry developed during that time and Mad Dog enthusiastically discussed the epic matches between the two men. Consequently, I became a Federer fan too and gained a love for watching great tennis. I do not know if I would have watched as much tennis as I have without Mad Dog constantly promoting it. I am grateful as it has been some of the best tennis ever played.
I still remember the day the show ended. It was a Thursday. I went to meet with my boss for a status update when he told me that it was officially announced that Mike and the Mad Dog was over. Of course, I had to tune in one last time. Mad Dog called the show to talk to Mike. While they obviously had disputes over 19 years as any pair would, he noted that he was leaving because Sirius gave him an opportunity he could not refuse and not because he no longer wanted to work with Mike. As they reminisced about their 19 years together, Mad Dog broke down and cried. Despite their huge egos, both men knew their careers would not have reached its heights without the other man. Mad Dog’s father Tony also called afterwards and cried. Their emotional reaction was the same one I had. While I did not cry, I definitely knew it was the end of a great era and the end of one of the staples of my childhood that I will always remember fondly.
When Mad Dog left for Sirius, he signed a 5 year deal that expires at the end of this August. As such, there is speculation on where Mad Dog will end up next. While I listened as a caller asked Mike whether a reunion was possible, he noted that is doubtful because of money. Nevertheless, it is still fun to think about the possible return of Mike and the Mad Dog. The inner child in me would be ecstatic and ready to tune right in for the first show. It would bring back great memories to hear their theme song again:
“Mike and the Mad Dog…Sports Radio 66, W-F-A-N
They’re talkin’ sports, goin’ at it as hard as they can,
It’s Mike and the Mad Dog on the FAN
Nothing can get by ‘em, turn it on and try ‘em, Mike and the Mad Dog, W-F-A-N”