When New York radio legend Chris “Mad Dog” Russo joined First Take last year, there were questions as to how he would resonate with ESPN’s national audience.
Now, in the middle of his second one-year contract with ESPN, Russo’s personality and energy level appears to be a surprisingly good match for Stephen A. Smith. Russo recently joined the latest episode of Jimmy Traina’s Sports Illustrated Media Podcast. During the interview, the SiriusXM Radio host discussed why he fits First Take.
“Stephen A. and I are always going to be Stephen A. and I,” Russo said. “Stephen A. and I have a good relationship, texts me a lot. He looked up to me growing up as a high school kid, he looked up to me and Mike [Francesa]. That has a lot to do with it. And I told you a thousand times, my job going on there is to make his life a little bit easier.”
Russo explained that with Smith’s busy schedule and coverage of the NBA Playoffs for ESPN, he tries to give First Take’s foremost personality a bit of a break when he’s on the show.
“He works til midnight and then he’s gotta be up at the crack of dawn if he’s in Denver,” Russo noted of Smith. “So if I can go on for two hours and I can help take a little bit of the load away and do the ‘What I’m Mad About,’ scream and yell for ten minutes and take some pressure off him, that’s basically in a lot of ways what I think my role is. And give him credit, he allows me to do it.”
“I think I supply a little juice for him on the day I’m on,” Russo continued. “I think that’s what they’re looking to do. ‘Russo’s on, he’ll help carry the show today.’ Whether I could do that every day, I probably couldn’t. But once a week I can do that.”
When Smith decided Max Kellerman was no longer a match as his daily sparring partner on First Take, most people assumed that meant the show was going to be inundated with too much Stephen A. But Smith has shown a willingness to take a back seat on certain segments. And First Take has undeniably found rhythm with its rotating cast of co-hosts, analysts, and debate partners. And as Russo said, give Smith credit, because he allows for that.
Russo added that the biggest development on First Take in recent months is his bubbly relationship with JJ Redick. Earlier in his First Take tenure, Russo’s affinity for history and past eras of the NBA appeared to butt heads with Redick’s more modern assessment of the league. But according to Russo, his relationship with Redick has since matured.
While Russo’s schtick and tendency to create viral clips on First Take is a match worthy of a second year with ESPN, he recognizes there’s a chance his personality won’t resonate with the Worldwide Leader’s audience forever.
“This is not gonna last forever,” Russo told Traina. “People are gonna get sick of Christopher Russo eventually. So, I should capitalize on the notoriety as long as I can.”