ESPN spent two weeks overly promoting a Mike and the Mad Dog reunion on First Take and it occurred on the worst day possible.
Putting Mike Francesa and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo alongside Stephen A. Smith on First Take would have been a great programming decision for the post-Super Bowl sports lull in late February. Instead, the Mike and the Mad Dog reunion took place one week before the Super Bowl, on the day Tom Brady announced his retirement.
Full disclosure, as a person who grew up listening to WFAN, I will always enjoy a Mike and the Mad Dog reunion, regardless of where or when it takes place. But for the rest of America, apologies.
Putting aside my bias, First Take’s viewers who live outside the New York metropolitan area would have been better served by Ryan Clark, Dan Orlovsky, Marcus Spears, and other ESPN NFL analysts joining the show. The greatest quarterback in NFL history announced his retirement and ESPN’s foremost debate show spent two hours giving America a Mike and the Mad Dog history lesson.
ESPN repeatedly reminded us of Francesa and Russo’s sports media clout by force-feeding the audience nauseating cameos by Mike Greenberg, Jeff Van Gundy, and others who recorded messages to praise Mike and the Mad Dog. They rehashed their famous Yankee Stadium bathroom debate, bantered about Wilt Chamberlain, and Russo even irked Francesa by attempting to bring a tennis conversation onto the show.
Despite the over-promotion from ESPN, it wasn’t a classic Mike and the Mad Dog reunion. Instead of just letting the two sports radio icons riff for two hours, the reunion felt more like a Mike and the Mad Dog roundtable or book signing hosted by Stephen A. Smith.
Francesa and Russo briefly looked like they were going to take off while debating LeBron James vs Larry Bird, but they were derailed when Smith awkwardly chimed in to remind them he was still there. ESPN featured two hours of three lightning rods in Mike Francesa, Chris Russo, and Stephen A. Smith, but they were unable to land one viral video for social media. It may have been touted as a Mike and the Mad Dog reunion, but it wasn’t the right format, and it definitely wasn’t the right day to rekindle any sort of Mike and the Mad Dog magic.