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Flashback to 2017. Francesa and emptier afternoons

POSTED December 14, 2018
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

            So now there is a deafening silence on weekday afternoons from 1-6:30 p.m. And you feel the void.

            Mike Francesa packed it in Friday at WFAN-660 after 30 years in drive time.  You didn’t always agree with him, felt like putting him a choke-hold at other times, and wearied at the massive ego, but you always listened to him. It wasn’t a perfect journey but it was an epic journey.

            Except for the Giants, I am not a New York fan. I could care less about the Jets or Mets (sorry Mr. Gaffney) or Knicks and have never liked the Yankees. Hockey is a peripheral sport for me so the Rangers were never on the radar.

            Yet despite the often inconsistent signal on the car radio that faded in and out, I listened. New York was the center of the conversation as it had to be but it was never the only conversation. Even when WTIC-1080 offered up Joe D and Gresh in the afternoon for a while and more of Connecticut sports home cooking I still opted for Francesa probably most of the time.

            You just wanted his take. He spoke with knowledge and authority and often with arrogance. But he was a good listen. You felt like you were missing something if you didn’t hear what Francesa had to say about it.

            Whether he was talking about A-Rod, Eli, steroids, ESPN, Joe Paterno, horse racing no matter, you wanted to hear what his take was. And you never know when he and partner of the first 19 years Christopher `Mad Dog’ Russo would drift off into a conversation about movies, The Sopranos, loyalty to the U.S. after 9-11 or rating the presidents, if was often riveting.

            The battles between the two of them were just as attractive. It was major league chemistry.

            The occasional rants were mesmerizing. He left us with a seven minute or so beauty a couple of weeks when he took then coach Ben McAdoo, then GM Jerry Reese and owner John Mara to the Francesa woodshed for the brain-dead decision to bench Eli Manning. He did not spare the rod. It was beautiful, passionate ire that only a fan can produce.

            In the rant was Francesa’s appeal because he was you. He was the fan, not just the expert and he was letting loose what so many were thinking and didn’t have the platform to say. It was passionate and if the presentation overblown, the sentiment was true.

            He was often a guy talking with you not at you. He was feeling it like you were feeling it.

            Every day when I would leave work I would get in the car and tune in WFAN and Francesa and the Dog or just Francesa the last 11 years. I don’t have a long ride, eight minutes if I hit a couple of lights, five if it is a smooth sail. But that was enough time to see what was going on.

            Especially after a big event, you had to tune in. I was glued in after the Red Sox stunned the Yankees in 2004, erasing a 3-0 deficit. You had to hear Mike’s reaction because he was the professional and the fan. He loves the Yankees.

            It was no different after Aaron Boone’s home run in Game 7 of the 2003 series that put the Yankees in the World Series. When Magic Johnson announced he had aids and when the sexual abuse scandal erupted at Penn State it was Francesa I wanted to hear from. UConn coach Jim Calhoun made his appearances and while Francesa was not a big women’s basketball fan, Geno was on a couple of times. All the biggies made it to Francesa.

            On long drives during vacation times I would tune in Francesa because I could get him as far as Virginia. He was solid familiarity far and wide.

            I would actually get disappointed when Francesa was on vacation and there were fill-ins. I didn’t stay long, the same pizazz just wasn’t there. It took a while when Dog left 11 years ago to get used to just Francesa, the pair were dynamic together.

            But he was there and he was part of your afternoon. New Yorkers loved him even if they didn’t always agree with him. Those outside the city found the same appeal in many cases.

            I spent a lot time Thursday and Friday listening to Francesa’s last two shows. It was hard, 30 years is a long time. I had hair when this all started, it’s been a while. You kind of wanted to freeze the clock. Ahh, but that isn’t allowed.

            Francesa will be replaced by some three-headed gas – Bart Scott, Chris Carlin and Maggie Gray. I don’t envy them. Replacing one of the icons of talk-radio is a huge task. But you want to make it in the big city, you had better be big time.

            I will walk out of school Monday and turn on WFAN, partially out of habit but also to hear the new crew. I’d like to give them a chance, however, the best anyone can say is that we will see.

            Francesa has said he will show up somewhere and I expect to hear him again. Like many I would love to see at least a limited reunion with Russo. They are the best listen ever in talk radio. Not banking on it, but would love to see it. Or hear it.

            In the meantime, weekday afternoons just got a little emptier. Yeah I know, just sports talk radio. But Francesa was our sports talk radio. Every day, part of the day, 30 years.  It will take some getting used to.

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