Chris "Mad Dog" Russo on the set of ESPN's SportsCenter. 

Chris "Mad Dog" Russo on the set of ESPN's SportsCenter.  Credit: ESPN Images/Melissa Rawlins

Five days later, Stephen A. Smith still found himself chuckling over Chris "Mad Dog" Russo’s wrestling match with an uncooperative office chair.

"It was hysterical," Smith told Newsday on Monday. "I laugh. I was laughing even last night with my family. It’s been almost a week, and I was still laughing over his incident with the chair.

"He’s one funny dude, man. I can’t get enough of him. I’ll admit that."

Many others agree. One month into his new role as Smith’s regular Wednesday morning debate partner on ESPN’s "First Take,", the former WFAN and current SiriusXM and MLB Network host has proven to be a goldmine of social media buzz.

"It’s exactly what I knew would happen," Smith said. "He’s ‘Mad Dog.’ We keep forgetting that. The guy’s got his own channel [on SiriusXM]. Not a show – his own channel.

"He’s been around doing this for more than 30 years, with the same energy and passion he had when he was 30 years younger. He hasn’t fallen off one bit. I consider it an absolute honor to work across from him."

Smith, one of ESPN’s most highly paid and powerful personalities, parted ways last summer with co-host Max Kellerman and sought a new dynamic with rotating debating partners joining him and moderator Molly Qerim.

Ratings have improved under the new format, for which Smith credited his array of co-hosts.

"Every single one of them came through with flying colors," he said. "My gratitude is to them, because I can’t debate myself."

When Russo came on in January for an apparent one-off discussion on Baseball Hall of Fame voting, fireworks ensued, and Smith saw his opening. ESPN soon signed Russo to one-year contract that began in late February.

"Obviously, if you’re going to get somebody like him, it’s not going to be for free," Smith said. "So the finances and monetary considerations have to come into play. But in the end, I’ve aways wanted to work alongside ‘Mad Dog.’ I love the guy personally."

Smith called joining Russo a "no-brainer," the same term Russo used in an interview with Newsday last month.

It is too soon to assess the ratings impact after three shows, but last week’s was the highest-rated yet with Russo. That was the day he got so worked up talking about Aaron Rodgers that he struggled to find a seat on his rolling chair.

That day also featured a chaotic argument over Mike Krzyzewski’s loss in his home finale at Duke, during which Qerim tried and failed to gain control.

The week before, Russo went ballistic over Smith’s assertion that Stephen Curry is an all-time Top 10 NBA player. When Russo asked Smith whether he would take Curry over Larry Bird, Smith conceded, "He got me."

Smith, 54, who is from Queens, was a fan of WFAN’s old "Mike and the Mad Dog" show and long has had good relationships with both Russo and his old partner, Mike Francesa.

When Russo, 62, left WFAN in 2008, Smith was the first person Francesa spoke to about potentially becoming his new partner before Francesa opted to go solo.

"He was incredibly gracious and respectful, treated me very, very well," Smith said of Francesa. "At the end of the day, he decided he’d rather be by himself than have a partner because nobody was going to be ‘Mad Dog’ Russo.

"As far as I’m concerned, him and ‘Mad Dog’ are an institution. They’re in rarefied air. They created this business for all of us, so to me, I totally understood why he wanted to go solo."

Francesa said he first learned of Russo’s gig on "First Take" from his children. Knowing the skills both Russo and Smith bring to the debate table, Francesa is not surprised the pairing has worked.

"Nobody is going to out-yell either one of them," Francesa told Newsday. "I can’t yell with either one of them. I can maybe outsmart either one of them, but I’m not going to out-yell either one of them."

Francesa said the idea was smart.

"’Dog’s going to get attention; Stephen A. is always going to get attention," he said. "They obviously were looking to garner some attention, and that’s what they’ve got."

Smith hinted at an even bigger role for Russo but would not elaborate and said he will remain Wednesday-only for now. Even Smith might not be able to handle more frequent yelling than that.

"’Mad Dog’ Russo is the legend," Smith said. "He’s been around since the '80s, for crying out loud. If you’re a New York City native like myself and you were listening to ‘Mike and the Mad Dog’ growing up like I did, you know he’s fiery. You know he’s incredibly passionate and incredibly knowledgeable."

And for Smith, who often projects a serious mien, it helps to have someone capable of disarming him on set.

"I think he’s absolutely hysterical," Smith said. "He makes me laugh all the time just by being the way that he is."

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