Name a more iconic duo in sports than Mike and the Mad Dog.
Because if you ever listened to Mike Francesa and Christopher Russo dominate sports talk radio on WFAN, then you know Michael and Scottie, Shaq and Kobe, and Montana and Rice never influenced the world of sports quite like Mike and the Mad Dog.
It might sound sacrilegious, or hyperbolic, but the dynamic duo who worked together for 19 years are the ones responsible for every two-man sports talk radio show you’ve ever heard featuring a know-it-all and a lunatic sidekick. They’re the ones who started Radio Row at the Super Bowl and the pair who had enough sway to guilt the Mets into trading for a future Hall of Famer.
Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET, ESPN gives Francesa and Russo the vaunted 30 for 30 treatment when the network debuts its latest documentary. Mike and the Mad Dog chronicles the pair’s unexpected rise to the top of sports talk radio during the ‘90s and examines their unparalleled impact until the devastating divorce that loyal listeners still lament nine years later.
“Getting an hour on ESPN for a documentary, who would have thought as far as your radio career was concerned?” says Russo.
Not Francesa, who has had a “very cantankerous, very antagonistic relationship” with the Worldwide Leader in Sports for many years. Nor Russo since he wanted nothing to do with his new partner when the radio show debuted in 1989. Both craved their own show. Both thought a partner would get in their way. And both thought the show, thanks to their incredibly different backgrounds, styles, personalities, mannerisms, and allegiances, would never last.
Two decades later, they’re considered icons.
If you ever listened to the Long Island natives talking sports, going at it as hard as they can, then you will enjoy the trip down memory lane. From their rocky beginning to the highs of the ‘90s to the lows of the breakup in 2008, director Daniel H. Forer dove into how Mike and the Mad Dog became radio legends and New York celebrities with a show that fans, players, and executives all listened to.
“In many ways Mike and Chris changed the world of sports radio,” former Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez says in the film.
Mike and the Mad Dog nerds, especially members of Mongo Nation (Francesa’s loyal social media devotees), will probably know most of the stories in the documentary. Many of their legendary fights, mostly because of their considerable egos, are ignored except for the story of how during a particularly frosty point in their relationship, Russo’s attendance at Francesa’s wedding—without Mike’s initial blessing—might have saved the show from an early demise.
“Maybe you wanted the stuff that was antagonistic. You can’t tell all of it,” says Francesa. “But I thought overall it hit the high points of what the relationship was and what the show was, and what we did changed the sports culture, which is what I think was their idea and their premise for this.”
Breaking news, booking big-name guests, regularly taking the show to big events, and simulcasting on TV were Mike and the Mad Dog hallmarks. They were originators; the Mike and Mikes of the sports radio world followed their lead. But peak Mike and the Mad Dog influence might have come in 1998 when their ranting and raving forced the Mets to trade for Mike Piazza.
“I think we like the idea that we got the credit—some of it deserved—with Piazza,” says Russo. “Boy, we have this kind of impact.”
Your favorite could never.