By 1:25, they had referenced Donald Trump, Sonny Corleone, Jimmy Connors, Chris Russo, Billy Cosby, James Gandolfini and Sesame Street — not necessarily in that order — and had blown past the first of many cancelled John Minko updates.
So it went for 5 1⁄2 hours Monday, as Bill Simmons joined Mike Francesa to guest co-host his WFAN radio show, crossing an item off his bucket list and offering a taste of what might have been had the stars aligned for him to replace Russo in 2008.
That was not to be, but this was better than nothing, and confirmed what Simmons always thought about how a long-term pairing might have worked.
“I think it would have been easy,” he said during a break. “I’ve done a lot of podcasts with different types of people and I have a good sense of when to step up and when to lay back.
“Mike, you know, he talks. With Mike, it’s great for me because I can pick my spots, I will set some picks, get some rebounds and it’s great and there’s a mutual respect, which you have to have.”
Said Francesa, “A couple of people I trust who will remain nameless who didn’t even know Bill said, ‘Man, you were right about this guy, this would have worked really well.’ ”
Perhaps, but Simmons had wider ambitions, and was at WFAN — after a visit to Howard Stern’s SiriusXM show in the morning — in part to promote his latest projects.
After a long run at ESPN, he left last year and next month will launch both a new website, called “The Ringer,” and a weekly television show on HBO called “Any Given Wednesday.”
The latter debuts June 22 and will cover sports, pop culture, technology and whatever else strikes Simmons’ fancy.
“Oh, my God, I’m so happy,” said Simmons, 46. “My wife, even my family, has noticed. I think I had a great run there and it was time to go . . . For me it’s like everything I ever wanted. It’s just a chance to come up with cool stuff, over and over again.”
Simmons has been sharply critical of ESPN in the past. He said he mostly has gotten beyond all that, but he said ESPN remains a potential subject of criticism — just like everything else.
“If I’m going to poke fun at all different types people then they have to be part of it; I’ve always tried to talk about them honestly,” he said. “People forget I was there for 14 years and made a lot of friends and worked with a lot of people.
“It’s honestly like if an athlete got traded to another team. It’s not like he is never going to talk to players on that team. It definitely took a while to adjust to, but they’re going to be fine and obviously I’m fine.”
Simmons said as important as his digital work has been and remains, TV still cuts through — and lingers — in a way Internet-based content does not, making the HBO show particularly intriguing to him.
Francesa and Simmons took no calls, not even from one fellow who was on hold for nearly five hours. (Producer Brian Monzo had warned him in advance.) Instead, it was a wide-ranging chat peppered with A list name-dropping and old-story-telling — led by Francesa — that kept Twitter busy, and entertained.
“What makes guys good at this is having personality but also having a real interesting take on things,” Francesa said of Simmons. “That’s what cuts through.”
Simmons was a huge fan of the old “Mike and the Mad Dog” show, which was what made Monday’s visit so special to him. “They talked like my friends talked,” he said, “and I’d never heard that on talk radio before.”