Once the enemy of Mike Francesa and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, ESPN is now pushing to reunite the iconic radio duo.
Russo has enjoyed a career renaissance since joining ESPN as a weekly contributor to Stephen A. Smith’s First Take earlier this year. In August, Smith casually mentioned that he wanted to get Francesa on the show.
“You are one of the pioneers if not THE pioneer with Mike Francesa,” Smith told Russo of his radio career over the summer. “Who, by the way, I got to get him on this show one day too, with you. You understand what I’m saying? I mean it would be my honor to have Mike Francesa too.”
According to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post, ESPN is now working to make Smith’s goal a reality by reuniting Mike and the Mad Dog on First Take. Marchand reports ESPN sought to have Francesa make a surprise appearance on First Take in March. But while that didn’t happen, talks between them have since rekindled.
The most interesting aspect about pairing Francesa and Russo with Smith on ESPN is whether First Take’s usual cast of contributors would join them. Russo doesn’t broadcast much of an ego on First Take, which allows him to brush off getting berated by former professional athletes who seek to take turns exposing him on-air. Francesa might be able to handle debating Smith and Russo, but his massive ego would never allow him to sit there and take his lumps from retired athletes who never listened to one second of his WFAN radio career.
After Mike and the Mad Dog broke up in 2008, Russo quietly built a nice second career on SiriusXM, while Francesa dominated all but one book as a solo act on WFAN. But since Francesa retired from WFAN a second time, he’s been rarely heard from. Meanwhile, Russo is enjoying arguably the most national fame of his career since joining Smith on First Take.
Watching Russo’s success has to be a bit of a lure for Francesa, who hosts a podcast for BetRivers a few times a week. But the bright lights of ESPN could give Francesa an opportunity to be the center of attention again. And if it goes well, Smith certainly has the power to make Francesa part of the First Take rotation, which as Russo previously divulged, can pay up to $10,000 per appearance.