Mike Francesa’s farewell-to-WFAN tour visited his native Long Island on Wednesday night with an event in his honor dubbed “A Night to Remember” at the Tilles Center on the campus of LIU Post.
Coming exactly one month before his final show on Dec. 15, Francesa said the event marked a milestone in his long goodbye, signaling he is nearing the finish line.
“Now it’s really down to the stretch run,” he said afterward, “so it’s going to go really fast.”
Francesa said he was “thrilled” with the Tilles event — which was carried live on WFAN — after six months of planning. “It went off exactly the way I wanted it to go off,” he said.
It was similar in format to the reunion show he and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo held at Radio City Music Hall on March 30, 2016, complete with an extended appearance by Russo himself.
The show included interviews with guests Terry Collins, Jay Wright and Bill Simmons and music from former Yankee Bernie Williams and his band.
The Tilles Center was filled to its 2,200-seat capacity, including many of Francesa’s WFAN colleagues, family members and other VIPs, such as Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan.
Among those Francesa introduced from the stage were Yankees radio announcers Suzyn Waldman and John Sterling, WFAN midday hosts Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts, longtime WFAN host Steve Somers and vice president of programing Mark Chernoff.
He brought two of his longtime update men, John Minko and Bob Heussler, on stage and gave them gifts.
Five fans were brought on stage as part of a promotional contest, with one taking home $10,000.
Francesa singled out Russo, his older brother, John, and his wife, Roe, for meaning the most to his life and career.
“I never would have had this career without the 19 years that I had with Dog,” Francesa said.
Williams thanked Francesa for his longtime support on the air and hugged him. “You’ve always been in my corner,” Williams said.
Francesa said he hand-picked the guests he wanted to interview, which began with Collins, who said of his departure from the Mets after last season, “I respect the game so much, and I said to myself many years ago: When you can’t give the game what it deserves, it’s time to get out . . . At the end of the year I was exhausted and I just said, you know, this is the time. It’s time to turn it over to somebody younger.”
Although Russo jokingly referred to Francesa joining him at SiriusXM, Francesa gave no clues as to what he plans to do professionally when he is contractually free as of April 1. His only current post-Dec. 15 media commitment is to appear as a guest on Dec. 18 on CNBC’s business-oriented “Halftime Report.”
Francesa widely has been expected to consider podcasting, one of Simmons’ specialties. Francesa said Simmons sent him an email recently saying, “Dummy, why have you not consulted me yet?”
The timing of the show was awkward in that WFAN just that morning had announced the people who are to replace Francesa effective Jan. 2 — Chris Carlin, Bart Scott and Maggie Gray.
Russo, who ripped Scott on his SiriusXM show on Tuesday, jokingly tried to prod Francesa into commenting, which he did not do onstage, other than saying, “Give the next show a chance,” to boos from the audience.
When Russo mentioned Scott’s name, there was more booing.
“What he says is up to him,” Francesa said of Russo.
“You told me what to say!” Russo joked.
After the show, Francesa said he had no reaction to the new hires because he is trying to stay neutral publicly. Asked about his strained relationship with Carlin, a former “Mike and the Mad Dog” producer, Francesa said, “No comment.”
Francesa noted after the show that many doubted he would leave after 2017, even though he first said he would do so in April 2013 and reiterated his position in January 2016.
He did briefly consider staying on after morning co-host Craig Carton was arrested and later resigned in September.
“A lot of people speculated that I was negotiating and trying to set the station up,” Francesa said. “We did have that one little momentary blip because of what went on in the morning that I did speak to them about, whether they needed me. They said they were fine and we moved on in 15 minutes.”
Next on Francesa’s agenda is one final Sunday morning NFL show from Mulcahy’s in Wantagh on Dec. 10. His next-to-last show will be at the Paley Center for Media in Manhattan on Dec. 14.
On Dec. 15, he will do his final show from the studio with no guests, only callers.
In an interview after the show, Francesa thanked his fans for continuing to support him.
“I have been blessed in that No. 1, people care about my take on sports,” he said. “I think if that doesn’t happen, you don’t have the career I’ve had. No. 2, I’ve had, I believe, the most loyal fans that anyone could ever have, I think Dog and I have had that. We have maintained the No. 1 audience for 30 years.
“Right now in that last rating book, halfway through it — No. 1. So we have been able to maintain this for 30 years, which is utterly remarkable, and that’s a testimony to their loyalty and to the fact that we have struck a chord and I was able to maintain that [after Russo left in 2008]. I worried whether that would happen, as anyone would, but it’s been a great run and I have the best fans in the world.
“I mean, from Francesacon, where they put a thousand people in dressed like me, to the Mongo Nation people, who have really energized me. Some of the Internet’s crazy, we all know that, and a lot of it’s not true and they stretch stories and fake-up pictures and do all that stuff.
“But there’s also another side of it where people are attached to you through it, so from that standpoint, the Mongo Nation people, I thought enough of them to name a horse after it. So that tells you right there that I feel I have a very strong relationship with those people and a very strong relationship with the Francesacon people.
“I’ll probably go back and do a Francesacon this year. We’ve already talked about it. So I would say more than likely we’ll do it than not do it.”