July 26, 2021

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Chris Russo talks Alex Rodriguez’s Mets dream,…

12 min read
Chris Russo talks Alex Rodriguez's Mets dream,...

Chris Russo, former WFAN Mike Francesa partner on “Mike & the Mad Dog,” launched his own SiriusXM channel in 2008, Mad Dog Sports Radio, where he hosts “Mad Dog Unleashed” from 3-6 p.m. on weekdays. He is never short on opinions, and gave Post columnist Steve Serby plenty of them in a Q&A.

Q: Who do you think would have been a good partner for Mad Dog Russo — other than Mike Francesa, of course?
A: You gotta get somebody to counterbalance the wildness. … So who could do that? Be a little bit more professorial … (pause). I know it’s crazy to say this, and you’ll get a reaction to this: You know who would be a good partner for me? … [Michael] Kay.

Q: Why?
A: Because Kay gets it. He understands what I would bring to the table. He’s willing to sit back and let the show develop as it’s developed. He’s not that much wrapped up in, “Well hold it now, I gotta set the tempo today.” He’s got the two guys [Don La Greca and Peter Rosenberg] with him. He can do a lot of different roles — he can play the quarterback, he can set the table, he can interview, and when at times on sports he’s really comfortable with, he can go crazy, Yankees and everything else. He’s got a good feel of how to do it. You gotta get somebody in there who is a little older and got some experience, and has covered sports for a while, so I’ll give you Kay. And that’s weird, but I’ll give you Kay.

Q: If Mike and the Mad Dog had stayed together, what kind of ratings threat would Kay have been?
A: I think eventually, any longtime show would probably … a new generation will go somewhere else. Kay has put together the right component. The FM dial is kind of hip. Mike and I would have done the same show day after day, so maybe that would have gotten a little stale. But the thing that Mike and I had — and Mike had it at the very end too — was we had that incumbency advantage. If Mike was still able to beat Kay prior to the first time he left, he was still No. 1 at that time, it wasn’t until this December where he wasn’t. So he was still able to hold Kay off without me there. But if I was there, that’s double the scenario. You got some people who like me, some people like Mike, so you’re add another component to it, I think it would have been hard for anybody.

Q: If I just came down from Mars, how would you describe Mike Francesa to me?
A: OK. That’s a good one — need to get to know him. … He can be gruff … good heart … very bright … thinks of things analytically that very few people would think about … great knowledge of history … much more witty than anybody would think … got a good sense of humor. If you’re from Mars, and you saw a big football game or a baseball game or a basketball game, that Mike was mentally attune to, and you wanted to get a feel of the series when it was over, Mike would be absolutely superb. Mike, for the most part, is going to evaluate a controversy in sports properly. When we did a show involving just breaking down a team, or game, or series, nobody — repeat, nobody — could do it better than Mike.

Q: You’ve discussed a possible “Mike and the Mad Dog” reunion show?
A: Mike’s gotta go through his folks — there’s a lot more hoops than you think that you jump through. That’s casually — casually — that’s what we mentioned after we talked a little bit about the movie role. He was great in “Uncut Gems,” perfect. He loved that role.

Mike Francesa and Chris RussoGetty Images for SiriusXM

Q: J-Rod — the Alex Rodriguez/Jennifer Lopez couple — as Mets owners?
A: Think about it for a minute: If you are a Mets fans, do you want A-Rod being the spokesman for your team? This is a guy who didn’t come clean on steroids until he had to and then sued the sport. [It would] be one thing if he helped the Mets win five titles. Geez, he is a Yankee. Do you think a Dodgers fan would want Barry Bonds running the club?

Q: What do you think of sports with no fans?
A: Very odd. I think we’ll be so happy when sports comes back, that we’ll be OK with it, but it will take a lot to get used to.

Q: What is your advice for MLB commissioner Rob Manfred?
A: He’s gonna have to figure out a way to get a deal done. You cannot not play this year.

Q: You recently told the players to go to hell.
A: I still think that the players are more wrong than the owners. I still think the players don’t understand the idea of a sliding scale.

Q: What is your advice for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell?
A: I would be very careful of thinking that: We’re the NFL, we’re the all-powerful, and we’ll do what we want to do. I would lend a cautionary tale if, for no other reason, where you don’t want to come across as being bigger than the virus. … An interesting question for the NFL is: How are they gonna do it when some states can have fans and others can’t? I think that’s a very tricky spot for the NFL. You can make an argument that everybody has fans or nobody has fans.

Q: Your advice for NBA commissioner Adam Silver?
A: I would do it like the NHL. You can’t start a season right into the playoffs. … I would probably have a play-in tournament, and I would probably leave the five or six teams, seven teams, that theoretically would not have been in the postseason, and I would leave them home. A 24-team deal into Orlando [Fla.], and have maybe the last couple of seeds be determined in a round-robin event, and then I’d have some games for the top seeds where they could play for seeding.

Q: Your advice for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman?
A: I think he’s done an excellent, excellent job. Just go about your business without worrying too much about what Silver, Goodell or Manfred do. Follow your own path. Do what you do well.

Q: Your advice to the NCAA?
A: The financial aspect of not having football will force most presidents and ADs to bite the bullet, keep their fingers crossed, social distance with the fans — instead of 100,000 at the Big House you have 20 [thousand]. I think the colleges are gonna play.

Q: Is there more pressure now on Tom Brady with Tampa Bay or Bill Belichick?

A: It is Tampa, if he [Brady] doesn’t play well, people will chalk it up, well he’s 43 years of age, what do you expect? … I would put more pressure on Belichick.

Q: Can Brady win a Super Bowl with Tampa?
A: I think they’ll be a playoff team. They only got a couple of years to do that, on a franchise that doesn’t usually win, so I would say no.

Q: What are three events in sports history you would have loved to talk about on the air or been at?
A: Giants-Dodgers in ’51 … [Bobby] Thomson’s homer. … How ’bout [Jack] Dempsey-[Gene] Tunney in ’27, the Long Count: controversial, 108,000 people, talk of the world; and I’m not trying to be politically correct, you certainly would have liked to have been around in ’47 when Jackie [Robinson] made his debut.

Q: What are the three most electric events you’ve attended?
A: I’m gonna put the [Scott] Norwood missed field goal, Buffalo and the Giants [in Super Bowl XXV]. I am not gonna give you [Mike] Piazza’s home run, because it was a regular-season game. That was a great event for New York [after 9/11], but it didn’t mean anything as far as who won. I’m gonna give you Game 5 of the ’93 conference final with the Bulls and the Knicks. And I will give you Game 7 of Devils-Rangers in ’94.

Q: Who are people you’ve never interviewed you wish you could have?
A: People right now who are in sports that I can’t get on, how’s that? I will give you Nick Saban, Belichick, [Gregg] Popovich. I love the coaches.

Q: How about going back in history?
A: I’d like to talk to [Joe] DiMaggio, but DiMaggio would be a lousy interview. How ’bout Sandy Koufax. … You only want people who are dead?

Q: No, no.
A: He’d be a great spot. He never talks. You’d like a storyteller. … How ’bout Leo Durocher? You know, ’27 Yankees, ’69 Cubs. … Let’s give you George Halas.

Chris Russo
Chris RussoRobert Sabo

Q: What was George Steinbrenner like as a guest?
A: Nervous. It was two-on-one, No. 1, so that bothered him — he couldn’t bully us, nobody wants to hear a bully on the air No. 1. No. 2, how is he gonna bully Mike and me? It’s impossible. He was much more tentative than you thought he would be. He wasn’t the blustery George.

Q: Was it awkward for you when Bill Parcells came on the air with you and his pal Mike?
A: The Mike-Bill thing, it bothered me, how could it not? I wasn’t included in that relationship with the two of us and Bill. I was sort of the outsider. I kind of rebelled against it some, and was kind of anti-Bill. I wasn’t mature at that time to say, “Chris, it’s not a big deal. You can’t not like Bill because Mike likes him. That’s not fair.”

Q: Paying student-athletes.
A: Anything that quiets the noise, I think people are sick of hearing it. Pay ’em and get it over with, how’s that?

Q: Will the Astros will be spared because of the pandemic?
A: I think the Astros got a big break. First of all, there’s gonna be no fans in the stadiums. So they can’t get booed.

Q: Describe your style.
A: I think you either have that unique blend or you don’t, and God gave me that blend — voice, malaprops with language …

Q: Malaprops?
A: Malaprops, there ya go (laugh). … Knowledge … memory — memory is very important. You know me, I watch a game from 1972, I remember it. … The gift of the gab. I don’t think you can go to sports talk broadcasting school and learn how to be a talk show host. I think it’s in you to do it, and I give my father credit for that because he had the kind of personality. If he wanted to be a talk show host he probably would have been a pretty good one. … You can refine it, but I don’t think it could be taught. I was put on this earth to do a talk show, to make a long story short.

Q: The most unfair criticism, or the one that bothered you the most?
A: The latest one is stupid, the idea that Russo works for the owners so you can’t take him seriously with this little baseball dispute. You know me: I tell you what I think, and I don’t look at it from an objective perspective. I killed FAN when they got rid of Imus. I’ve always made fun of Sirius. I just do the show and I don’t worry necessarily about the repercussions. As long as the fans know that I’m trying to be a straight shooter, that is the most important thing. I think the other thing that bothered me in the old days was that Russo is not a good sports guy — he’s loud, he’s noisy, he’s goofy, but we don’t know if we can respect him what he knows about sports. That always unhinged me. How can I be on the air 5 ¹/₂ hours a day and not know anything about sports?

Q: What do you think of new Knicks president Leon Rose?
A: Don’t know enough about him. Dolan’s gotta leave him alone. If [Tom] Thibodeau or [Kenny] Atkinson are his two main guys that he wants to hire, that probably is a good start. I would say cautiously optimistic.

Q: Who would you hire?
A: Tough call. I think the Knicks would probably go Thibodeau. They might be a little nervous about hiring a Net person right across the river. Dolan will have to sign off on it.

Q: What do you think of the Nets duo of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving?
A: The only way that Kyrie is effective is if he has a better player with him. He’s better as a 1A than a 1. He has a tendency to be a great player on a bad team and doesn’t make everybody else around him that much better. But with Durant there, he will be a perfect wing guy.

Q: One game to win: Gerrit Cole or Jacob deGrom?
A: I think I would take deGrom.

Q: Daniel Jones or Sam Darnold to be your quarterback?
A: I think Jones’ll be good. I think Darnold could be very, very good.

Q: What do you think of Jets coach Adam Gase?
A: I was shocked the Jets hired him. I would never have hired a guy who was fired from Miami to be my head coach. I don’t think he necessarily distinguished himself in his first year. Not in love with him.

Q: How do you view the AFC East without Brady?
A: Wide open. You’d have to make Buffalo the favorite, but they’re not great either, and I’m not sure about Josh Allen. Somebody’s gonna win that division at 9-7, 10-6.

Q: Jets safety Jamal Adams?
A: Noisy. I wish he’s just be quiet and play. I know this contract thing is interesting. He means a lot to the Jets, he gives them a presence. I think you gotta figure out a way to keep him.

Q: Giants GM Dave Gettleman?
A: Gettleman thinks he is George Young. Gettleman acts like he’s won six Super Bowls. He’s a little too confident for the résumé as a Giant. … But I think they had a pretty good draft. They got the safety from Alabama [Xavier McKinney]. They went conservative with the lineman [Andrew Thomas]. I would have taken the kid from Louisville [Mekhi Becton] myself. I would still have some faith in him. … I give him a B-minus, how’s that?

Q: Rookie Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa?
A: It’s worth a gamble if you’re Miami, they haven’t had a quarterback since [Dan] Marino.

Q: Eli Manning on Twitter?
A: Eli’s very funny. He’s very comfortable in his own shoes.

Q: Luis Rojas and Pete Alonso with the Mets?
A: I think Rojas is gonna be a good manager. I think Alonso’s gonna be a big player in the Met plan who hits 35 homers a year for the next 10 years.

Q: WFAN icon Steve Somers?
A: Anybody who has been on the air as long as he has is doing something right.

Q: Joe Benigno?
A: I love Joe, but boy, oh boy, every five minutes he’s telling you he wants to quit: “I want to be playing golf.” Joe, come on. Do a show.

Q: What drove you as a boy?
A: I didn’t have a sibling, so sports was my sibling.

Q: Did you see yourself in some sports capacity?
A: Yes I did, because Marv [Albert] was my hero. I always wanted to be the next Marv Albert. He was a very instrumental character. And [John] Sterling too, because I always listened to the talk shows.

Q: Three dinner guests?
A: [Vince] Lombardi, Johnny Carson, Carroll O’Connor.

Q: Favorite movie?
A: “Shawshank Redemption.”

Q: Favorite actor?
A: Dustin Hoffman.

Q: Favorite actress?
A: Meryl Streep.

Q: Favorite singer/entertainer?
A: [Bruce] Springsteen.

Q: Favorite meal?
A: Veal cutlet parmigiana.

Q: Regrets?

A: It needed to have a better ending at FAN, and I gotta take responsibility for that.

Q: What would you want listeners to say about you?
A: I know when I put him on every day, he’s gonna give me a good show.

Q: What drives you today?
A: I guess I feel like I’m a performer, and so I always feel that I’m only as good as my last show. Yesterday doesn’t count. You gotta say ego. … If you don’t have that feeling that you do a good job and you want to shine, I think once I lose that, I will no longer do this.

Q: How much longer do you want to do this?
A: Until they take the microphone away.


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