They Came to Worship the Sports Pope

When 850 members of Mongo Nation congregate to shower legendary sports talk radio host Mike Francesa with love, words just won't do it justice.

Photography By Amy Lombard

A legendary venue famous for its concerts turned into a house of worship Saturday.

Mongo Nation congregated at Irving Plaza to celebrate Mike Francesa, the WFAN sports talk radio host who—if you didn’t know—has had the “Numbah One” show in New York for 26 years, ok.

The occasion was FrancesaCon, where Mongos—as Francesa fans are known on Twitter—and a few Mongettes nerded out over their love of the 61-year-old Long Island native for his distinctive New Yawk accent, combative relationship with callers, and litany of catch phrases—all gleefully imitated by those in attendance.

Some came dressed as Francesa himself. Some sported t-shirts from previous FrancesCons (this was the third such event set up by organizers Ron Harak and Mike LeBoff). Some traveled from as far as Atlanta, Houston, and even Los Angeles to be there. Everyone laughed, reminisced, and reveled in all things Francesa; Diet Coke, the hand wave, sweater vests, Al Alburquerque, and stethoscope headphones. As an added bonus, his former partner, Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo who with Francesa formed the groundbreaking “Mike and the Mad Dog” radio show with back in 1989, was expected to attend.

Francesa often catches flak in large part due to his healthy ego, treatment of callers, and know-it-all demeanor. But on Saturday, Francesa received the kind of ovation usually reserved for rappers and rock stars.

These are the indelible moments and faces from FrancesCon 3. Let the record show that we were “in da building.”

The ratio of Mongos to Mongettes was approximately 300-1. Ladies in attendance were showered with chants of "Hello Deah" as Francesa has been known to greet female callers.

"Mike and the Mad Dog" impersonators Bill Buchanon (he's Mike) and Michael Benevento (he's Chris dressed as American Pharoah) served as the warmup act before Francesa took the stage. The two riffed on Francesa's close ties to God, Jay Glazer, and his "snowblowah," among other topics.

When Francesa hit the stage, Irving Plaza went bezerk. The Sports Pope interrupted the parody broadcast to a roaring ovation that lasted for several minutes as the Mongos chanted "Numbah One" and "Fuck Michael Kay," Francesa's distant competitor in the New York sports talk radio ratings.

“It’s just that exuberance of a young crowd out having a good time," Francesa said. "Everybody’s having a good time. It’s a very young crowd. They’re enthusiastic. That’s the best part."

Francesa initially told the crowd that he wasn't able to coax Mad Dog to Irving Plaza, but was only bluffing. Russo burst onto the stage, receiving an equally raucous ovation, and the two immediately sat down to do a mini radio show. It was then Russo spotted a poster in the crowd picturing the Sports Pope and Donald Trump. Francesa's support of Trump has become a hot topic on his show over the last month.

Irving Plaza was packed by Mongo Nation for a second straight year despite the fact FrancesaCon 3 was originally scheduled for Jan. 23. It was postponed because of the blizzard that dropped over two feet of snow on New York. Francesa's snowblower got one hell of a workout that weekend.

Francesa's driver, Julio Rosa, is a retired New York City police officer who used to pay off his partners to let him listen to Mike when they were on patrol.

“I was driving around in a police marked vehicle and I would tell my partner for the day I’ll buy you lunch as long as we listen to AM and we’re listening to sports talk all day," Rosa said. "And some guys would look at me like I’m crazy. I would have to bribe them with a free meal.”

Mongo Nation welcomed Rosa to the stage with a thunderous "Julio! Julio! Julio!"

After they finished up their mini radio show, Francesa and Russo greeted fans and posed for photos.

Max Lucci, a proud member of Mongo Nation, has attended all three FrancesaCons and dressed for No. 3 as a Diet Coke pope, meshing Francesa's notorious love for the carbonated beverage with his nickname in one costume.

"He’s such an enigma and personality, the fact that they give him six hours every day to talk about whatever he wants to talk about, the fact that he’s so kingly, it’s great," Lucci said. "And with the advent of Twitter and connecting with other people and having this event, it allows us to all understand what once was an inside joke become bigger and more accessible.”

FrancesaCon wasn't all fun and games. Proceeds from the event went toward the Doctor Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, founded by legendary boxing trainer and ESPN boxing analyst Teddy Atlas.

In this politically charged season, why not?

Francesa recently announced he will leave WFAN at the end of 2017, but until then Mongo Nation will ensure the Sports Pope maintains his dominance over the New York airwaves. But don't worry, Francesa fans. When asked if FrancesaCon can still go on even after he leaves the FAN, Mike said, "Yes. Absolutely."

Francesa and Russo haven't been partners since 2008, but their chemistry is undeniable. The two have periodically made appearances on each other's show over the years (Russo is on SiriusXM) and whenever they come back together they pick up right where they left off—talking sports, going at it as hard as they can.

Late last year, the duo blew the minds of "Mike and the Mad Dog" fans and Mongo Nation when they announced a one-night-only reunion show at Radio City Music Hall scheduled for March 30. Tickets quickly sold out and a number of special celebrity guests are expected to be in attendance for the show that will be simulcast on WFAN and MSG Network.

While Saturday was still (mostly) all about Mike, the fact that he promised FrancesaCon 2 revelers that if they held a third one he would bring Russo and kept his word made the event extra special.

“I saw it last year so I knew it was going to be a pretty enthusiastic crowd," Russo said. "I tell you the young crowd surprises me. Lot of young people here and we haven’t been together for eight years. That tells you they all listened as teenagers. And when they were young adults. And that fact that we still have that pull is good. Plus there are a lot of Mike fans. There’s a lot of Mike fans.”

Members of Mongo Nation often struggle to describe what makes Mike a must-listen and why they love to tweet about him. There's just something about the Sports Pope—love him or hate him, agree or disagree—that keeps you keep coming back every weekday at 1 o'clock and bonds otherwise complete strangers on social media. Even Francesa himself finds it difficult to explain what it means to be worshiped like a god.

“What can you say? It’s overwhelming," Francesa said. "It’s a heck of an out-pouring. It really is. It’s a very unusual reaction.”​

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