Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.
Mike Francesa was fresh off another verbal sparring session with Jets fans, but he sounded energized and ready to go another four rounds. That was a good thing for him, seeing as how it was only Monday.
"Jets fans feel I'm anti-Jet, and I'm sure the Jets feel I'm anti-Jet,'' the WFAN host said on his way home. "But the Jets are clearly anti-me. Do I feel the Jets are anti-me? Absolutely.''
So it has gone for the Emperor of New York sports radio, whose year-old feud with the Jets has added another ring to the Rex Ryan circus recently.
On one hand, the story line has been invaluable fodder for Francesa's show. "The fact the Jets fans feel it's them against me I think has increased the intensity of the program,'' he said.
On the other, he risks straining listeners' patience and hurting his credibility if he is perceived to have a bias against the team. To many listeners, that already is self-evident.
Francesa said he strives to be "very fair'' in his analysis. But he admitted the Jets get no benefit of the doubt from him.
"They have sided with my competitor to try to hurt me,'' he said. "I don't think that's going to make me feel very warm and fuzzy about them.''
Francesa was referring to the Jets' policies for 1050 ESPN, their programming partner, relative to WFAN. More about that later. First, this: The team insists it has no problem with Francesa.
"I feel like he's a person that has an opinion and he's entitled to share it and he's well respected in the marketplace and that's his obligation to his listeners,'' Jets media relations chief Bruce Speight said. "There's not a feud from our perspective.''
Said Francesa: "Baloney.''
The trouble began last January when the Jets told WFAN the players would be limited to 1050 during the playoffs. Speight called it a "mutual decision'' between the team and station.
Francesa saw it as an inappropriate means of helping a partner that has fared badly in the ratings and a step the Knicks and Rangers, also 1050 partners, declined to take.
ESPN doesn't allow its personalities on WFAN, which Francesa said he understands. "But no way a team should ever agree to something like this,'' he said.
The Jets loosened the policy after last season's playoffs, making some players available to WFAN on a limited basis, plus Ryan once in the offseason and once in November.
After the Jets assured the station in the fall they had not blackballed Francesa - "There is not a ban against Mike Francesa's show," Speight reasserted Monday - WFAN operations manager Mark Chernoff offered Ryan to Francesa.
"I said, 'Absolutely not. Put him on midday,' '' Francesa said.
Since then, Jets players have appeared on other WFAN shows, but Speight said Francesa has not requested one all season. Francesa confirmed that.
Francesa said he does not like being told whom he can interview and when. "I said, 'You can take your guests; I have no interest in them.' ''
The strains have affected his once-close relationship with general manager Mike Tannenbaum. "The guy I saw on 'Hard Knocks,' I don't even know who that Mike was, to be honest with you,'' Francesa said. "I didn't know who that buffoon was.''
The Jets are the talk of the town, but the talk comes with a sharp edge to it on WFAN each afternoon.
"They can say what they want, but they agreed with the plea of their rights-holder to see if they could help them and hopefully injure me,'' Francesa said. "I've never heard of a team doing that. What team would do that to the biggest sports show in town?''
NBC's Cris Collinsworth was excellent during the Jets-Colts game Saturday, explaining in real time what coaches and players later confirmed they were doing. The capper was anticipating the Jets would look to Braylon Edwards in one-on-one coverage to set up the winning FG.