Mike Francesa's biggest (W)FANs dress up as talk-show host for FrancesaCon

Some attended because they love WFAN radio host Mike Francesa, some because they love to make fun of him. But either way, sports fans showed up in New York City on Saturday to celebrate Francesa-con. Videojournalists: Casey Musarra, Jim Baumbach, Neil Best (Feb. 1, 2014)

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Who knew there were so many different ways to dress up as Mike Francesa?

Men wore gray wigs and circular sunglasses. They carried Diet Coke. Many had stethoscopes around their necks to mimic a headset. Some dressed in sweaters; others wore button-down shirts. The most dedicated of the bunch even dyed their hair gray for the day.

When 23-year-old friends Michael Leboff and Ron Haraka came up with the idea of "FrancesaCon" -- a gathering of Francesa fans bar-hopping in Manhattan -- they wondered if anyone would come.

What they learned Saturday is that hundreds of others in the area share in their obsession for WFAN's longtime afternoon host, and they're not ashamed to express that in some of the more bizarre ways imaginable. One guy, for example, wore a Diet Coke costume.

"I think this comes from a place of love, mostly," said Leboff, of Rockville Centre.

They scheduled it for the day before the Super Bowl in hopes of maximizing attendance, but there really was no need. This group, consisting mostly of young men, clearly had been waiting for an opportunity to share in its love of all things Francesa.

The man himself did not attend, but he gave the event perhaps the closest thing to his blessing Friday when he mentioned it on air, specifically to publicize the charities that benefited from the raffles that took place throughout the day.

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"I think it's half flattering and probably half being made sport of," Francesa told Newsday on Friday. "I think it's somewhere in the middle."

His former co-host, Chris Russo, now of Sirius XM, added: "I'm glad he's taking it as funny. Enjoy it. Have fun with it. It's a compliment. They're not putting out T-shirts for me!"

Russo therefore will be pleased to learn that he was well represented at FrancesaCon.

The highlight of the day's events was when two Massapequa men dressed as Francesa and Russo performed a live recreation of the "Mike and the Mad Dog" show, much to the delight of the hundreds of people on hand at an Upper East Side bar.

And impersonations were so on point, it was easy to close your eyes and think you were listening to the real thing.

It was so well done that they even had guests -- NFL Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood and Jets tight end Jeff Cumberland.

Think about that. The fake Francesa and Russo interviewed the real Jack Youngblood and Jeff Cumberland.

And you know what?

It sounded real.

"This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever been a part of," said Bill Buchanan, 24, of Massapequa, who played Francesa.

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Buchanan is the guy who taped himself in his room pretending to be Francesa doing a radio show during the Revolutionary War and posted it on YouTube to rave reviews.

He was teamed with 37-year-old Michael Benevento, whose Russo impersonation includes all the many facial expressions and awkward mannerisms.

When their show started, the hundreds of people in the bar sang along to the theme song.

The duo then was slated to play the Super Bowl trivia game -- Mike and the Marquis -- with those who made a donation to charity taking part.

"This is easily the most absurd thing I've done in my life," said Joey Hendler, 23, of Westchester.

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His buddy, Nick Basciano, 22, of Westchester, added: "We've been preparing for this day for two months."

They commemorated the occasion by going to Party City and buying instant hairspray, giving their dark hair an aged gray look, just like Francesa. Asked if the color comes out with a single wash, Basciano said, "Hope so."

More than a thousand people signed up to attend FrancesaCon, according to the organizers, and by two hours into the day, there easily were 400 people on hand. Most of them weren't even born when Francesa's WFAN show started in 1989.

Strangers at the start, by midday they were taking group pictures, mimicking Francesa's hand wave when he cuts off a caller and sharing their favorite Francesa stories, many of which had to do with the way he handled prank callers.

Said Matt Austin, 22, of Seaford: "I'm just really surprised this many people feel the same way about Mike Francesa as I do."

With Neil Best

and Anthony Rieber

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