Mike Francesa and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo have been apart for nearly 15 years now, long enough for their radio partnership to be a fond but faded memory.
But there they will be Wednesday morning, together again on national TV for a heavily promoted appearance on ESPN’s “First Take.”
Their host will be Stephen A. Smith, who is among ESPN’s highest-paid figures, normally an alpha dog with a serious mien.
But he is an unabashed “Mike and the Mad Dog” fan who was 22 when the show launched in 1989, and no one makes him laugh as reliably as Russo does.
How is this still a thing, two sexagenarians from Long Island creating a stir and getting a two-hour audience with Stephen A. and studio co-host Molly Qerim?
“I’m sure there's a lot of jealousy of ‘Dog’ and I, like, ‘Who cares? Let them get out of here,’ ” Francesa told Newsday. “But the bottom line is people still care. That's all there is to it. They care. I mean, they do.
“Whether it's people who are in management or the audience, they care. ‘Mike and the Mad Dog’ still works.”
Russo told Newsday the ongoing interest surprises him, but he is all for it.
“People do get a kick out of it,” he said. “They're making a big deal about this at ESPN, the power structure there. It's a long time ago for them, too.
“So the fact that they're that into it 15 years after the fact, I find it interesting. So yes, I am very surprised this show still has this kind of impact.”
Russo and Francesa were together on WFAN from 1989-2008, and many of those who grew up listening to them when they were young are now movers and shakers in their 40s and 50s.
That includes Smith, 55, who grew up in Hollis, Queens.
“He does revere me and Mike,” Russo said. “He looks up to us. I don't know if it's because he's about eight, nine years younger and he was right in the infancy of his life, his career when we were on the air.
“I don't know exactly what it is, but he kind of treats us in a lot of ways as big brothers.”
For the past year, Russo has been a regular on “First Take” most Wednesdays, segments that have done well in the ratings and in viral social media clips.
That and Russo’s other national outlets on SiriusXM and MLB Network have made him well known to a national audience.
Francesa mostly weighs in now through his podcast and Twitter account.
They have made some joint appearances since breaking up in 2008, notably a reunion fundraiser at Radio City Music Hall in 2016. But they try to pick their spots.
When they do appear together, they inevitably flash their old chemistry and give former listeners strong doses of nostalgia.
“That this show still has that magnetic charm for whatever the reason, it's almost like we’re more popular now that we're not working together than we were when we were working together,” Russo said. “It’s a strange thing.”
Russo, 63, appears daily on MLB Network and SiriusXM, but his visits to Smith since last March have raised his national profile further.
His often goofy, old-school takes on sports news tend to crack up Smith, even if they occasionally baffle younger viewers.
“I certainly didn't realize the internet was so powerful, number one,” Russo said. “A couple of the segments that we've done have kind of taken off.”
Russo credited Smith with being a good teammate who wants him to shine.
“I didn't realize this would be such a big deal on a week-to-week basis,” he said. “I also did not realize how much I’d enjoy it. I have a good time with it.”
Russo hopes to continue doing all three of his jobs. “I thrive on work,” he said.
While the commute to ESPN’s South Street Seaport studios on Wednesdays can be a grind, he said his baseball show “High Heat” usually benefits from it.
“You’d think maybe I’d get fatigued,” he said, “but I actually do a better baseball show on Wednesdays because I’m already warmed up.”
Russo, who grew up in Syosset, said the busy schedule is its own reward.
“To be 63 years of age and to have three [outlets] still want me to talk and hear what you have to say after 38 years [in media], that's a compliment,” he said. “So I don't take it for granted. I give it everything I’ve got for each particular entity.”
Francesa, 68, who grew up in Long Beach, retired from WFAN in 2017, un-retired in 2018, then left for good in 2020.
Since March he has done a podcast (and made appearances for) Rush Street Interactive, a gaming company behind the BetRivers and SugarHouse sports books.
Francesa has far exceeded the two podcasts a week he is required to provide, producing content when he finds he has something to say.
That outlet has eased his transition from full-time radio.
“The thing that I missed was not having a vehicle when there's something I want to say; I have that now,” Francesa said. “That's really the big positive. So if there's something I want to say, or something I want to do, I have carte blanche to do it any time I want.”
Francesa said his relationship with the company has been “perfect.”
“They’ve been great,” he said. “No complaints in the least. They’ve been very accommodating.”
The lighter schedule has allowed for more family time with his two oldest children starting college in the fall and the third approaching his senior year of high school. His son Jack, a tight end at Chaminade, is set to play for Hamilton College next season.
Francesa and Russo have had their relationship ups and downs over the decades. Asked about the current state of their relationship, Francesa said, “We don’t see each other enough to have any issues.”
Smith and his viewers will see about that on Wednesday.