He suddenly appeared under the blinding lights, almost as if it were a dream.
As men in gray bouffant wigs and headsets milled around Manhattan's Irving Plaza and others, dressed in pontiff hats, posed for pictures, one gray head of hair quickly prevailed above them all Saturday.
"You're supposed to look like me?" he said to Bill Buchanan, an impersonator sitting on stage in a gray wig and circular sunglasses. "I used to think I was handsome."
The screeching, dizzy crowd laughed, regaling him with chants of "Numbah One!" and "Hello Deah!" (meant to mimic that oh-so-famous Long Island accent).
"You're all nuts," Mike Francesa said to the outpouring. "Exceptionally crazy. A thousand people with nothing to do."
Francesa was smiling, and the hundreds of devotees who packed the venue loved every minute of it.
This is FrancesaCon 2015: Now with, excuse the math, 100 percent more Mike Francesa.
"The goal is that we wanted him to come last year" to the first FrancesaCon, said New Jersey's Ron Haraka, who started the fan convention dedicated to the popular and bombastic sports talk radio host with Michael Leboff of Rockville Centre. "He didn't know much about it and he was very unsure . . . But once he said he was coming this year, it was like, 'This is the big time.' I think what convinced him was that one, it was for charity, and two, that it was a success last year. Everyone loves him."
Proceeds from the event went to the Children's Network for Hope and the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, which also focuses on the needs of children, Leboff said.
Francesa said he was more than happy to help. He even said that next year, he'll try to bring his old partner, Chris "Mad Dog" Russo.
"It's ridiculous," Francesa said as he made the rounds and gamely posed for hundreds of pictures. "It's amazing how many people showed up today . . . And then it really turned to be a big charity event, so, you know what, I'm very happy. It's raising a lot of money for some very good causes, and for a thousand people to come out on a day like this, you know what, it's nice . . . I'm very appreciative."
That was about as serious as the afternoon got.
First, there was Max Lucci of Staten Island, who dressed up as a can of Diet Coke and . . . wait for it . . . wore a pontiff hat made of Diet Coke boxes and carried a staff made of empty Diet Coke bottles. See, Francesa is known for his preference for the no-calorie beverage and also is known among fan circles as the Sports Pope. When Lucci walked the floor, chants of "Diet Pope" followed him.
"It's definitely a cult following," Lucci said. "He's an interesting figure in everyone's lives. He's always there, Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. It's like a grandfather figure."
Buchanan and Mad Dog impersonator Michael Benevento, both of Massapequa, did their spot-on impersonations as part of Mike and the Marquis, a live-action segment produced by Seatswap. Fans wore wigs, obviously, but some made even more esoteric references -- for instance, shirts celebrating Francesa's well-documented love of his snowblower or his propensity for greeting female callers with a gentle "Hello, Dear."
One fan wore a shirt with the word "Alburquerque" on the back, a nod to the time a caller asked about Tigers pitcher Al Alburquerque. Francesa hadn't recognized the name and thought he was being pranked.
"We listen every day and we pick up on certain idiosyncrasies of his that make us laugh," said Chris Ambrosio of New Hyde Park. "The fact that we finally found other people that see those idiosyncrasies and that makes them laugh, too, and we can all gather in one place, that's what makes it special . . . Who would have thought? Besides Howard Stern, who on radio has a cult following like this?"
Leboff said much of the fandom got its start on a Mike Francesa message board, and the cult love affair has been growing ever since, thanks in part to social media platforms such as Twitter. FrancesaCon is becoming a must-attend event.
That was the case for Evan Wecksell, a comedian from Los Angeles who grew up in Great Neck. He had a gig in Connecticut later that night, he said, and his agent pleaded with him to beat the bad weather and drive up the night before.
"Your brain may tell you to go to Connecticut last night, but your heart tells you come to FrancesaCon," he said.
The draw is the same for a lot of people. Ben Shapiro of Woodbury said he loves how Francesa never loses his cool. "He's numbah one," he said. "You gotta pay your respects."
Jordan Daniel of Oceanside said he loves his brutal honesty. He's met him before, he said, and "he's a very, very nice guy."
"It's great to let him know how much we love him," he said. "I think everybody is celebrating a person that we all celebrate on our own on a day-to-day basis."
Still, maybe it's a little . . . quirky?
"I will admit, it is a little weird," Ambrosio said under his circular sunglasses, gray wig bobbing, "but it's our weird thing."