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Mike's on! Francesa talks about his WFAN show, career over the years

Mike Francesa is shown in his home in

Mike Francesa is shown in his home in Manhasset on Thursday, March 13, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware

Thank you, America, for reading the story posted over the weekend concerning my Thursday with Mike Francesa, who with his wife, Roe, was kind enough to invite Newsday into his home office, den and Mercedes SUV.

Alas, those 1,600 words only touched the surface. It turns out you can cover a lot of ground on a variety of subjects during an hour-long car ride with Big Mike.

Here are some highlights from the trip from Manhasset to Manhattan that did not survive the first cut, or perhaps did but in far shorter form:

On whether the show is as good as it was with Chris Russo:

"Completely two different programs, but it's still a terrific program, because I am really good at this. It's what I really am good at doing. I know I'm good at doing it. I wouldn't be doing it this long if I wasn't.

"I know how to get people to react, and I know how to bring people to the radio and to TVs. That's my job. Is it a different show? It's a completely different show.

"A one-man show and a two-man show are completely different dynamics. They are as different as the four-wide receiver set is from the I-formation. They're that different. It's just the way it is.

" 'Mike and the Mad Dog' was magical. There's no question. But this is still a really good show."

On whether it feels strange to be turning 60:

"Yes, it is. It's funny that Newsday did a thing on me when I turned 40. They shot me in a playground where I grew up [in Long Beach]. To believe it is 20 years ago is really remarkable. I've grown up on the air. When we started, Dog [Chris Russo] was in his late 20s and I was in my very early 30s. It's a very long time ago.

"Now to be approaching 60 years of age seems very odd. It has gone very fast . . . I remember starting at WFAN. I remember trying to break in at FAN. I remember being brash and bold and telling them, 'If you let me go to afternoon drive I'll stay there 15 years.' They looked at me like I had a hole in the head. Who stays in a job in radio 15 years?

"Well, I've been in that job going on 30 years now, so it has been my home."

On being criticized:

"Anyone who tells you some criticism doesn't sting is lying. We're all human. Some criticism will always sting. But I am not a thin-skinned person. I don't get crazy about it. If I did I would be nuts by now, because I get a lot, which I understand.

"I'm not saying I'm Howard Cosell, nor did I ever try to be Howard Cosell. But I understand I have a personality that has caused reactions like Howard Cosell, in that there are people who love me and there are people who can't stand me. But as long as they don't ignore me, then I knew it was positive.

"You can't please everybody so don't try. It can't be done. Just do what you do and let the chips fall where they may . . . I've had people walk up to me and say, 'Oh, my husband can't stand you,' and I say, 'That's fine, as long as he's listening.' "

On retiring when his contract expires in 2018:

"If you ask me today, I think it will be the last one, but I think I said that once before. You say that but you play tricks on yourself, too. You can't see yourself doing it 10 more years or five more years, but when the years go by so fast you say, 'Wait a minute!'

"I've always lived by that credo that if you find something you like in life you're blessed, and if you can make a living at it you're doubly blessed. I try to stress that to my kids: Find something that you're really passionate about and love and then try to see if you can figure out a way to make that what you do in life.

"If you can do that, you never have a job. I've never dreaded going to work. I can't imagine dreading going to your job."

On the changing nature of the job:

"The job has changed so dramatically, and it's changed because, let's be honest, anybody listening to this show, especially young people, they have as much information at their fingertips as I have.

"The drum is beating 24 hours a day . . . It's there every minute. It's a dialogue that never stops. It's like a conveyor belt of information and opinion that just keeps rolling along. It's like a drum beat that never goes away.

"It's analysis. It's opinion. It's personality. It's delivery. It's all those things you have to bring to the program."

On dozing off on the air in 2012:

"What I got caught in, and I'll admit now, is I didn't know how to react because it was two days after the fact and it took me by complete surprise. I never even went home and thought about that thing that day.

"When it exploded, it exploded with such ferocity that I wasn't sure how to react. It was like trying to catch a tiger by the tail. That thing got bigger than anything I've ever dealt with before.

"I know this: I'm held to a very high standard. If I laughed it off, I still would have gotten killed. I was not going to be able to defuse that no matter what I did . . . I was just going to have to take it. I'm really good at taking my medicine.

"If I go after anyone, and it might be one out of 50 times, then I'm a bad guy and I don't have a sense of humor and can't take it. I take it every day. I don't say a word. I know this stuff goes on every day. I don't react to it? I really think I'm good at taking it."

On ratings:

"Radio and television are about ratings. That is how you keep your job. That's the only way you keep your job in anything that's competitive. FAN is geared to win. You're not going to come to FAN and stay on the air if you don't do what they feel is reasonable or well above that."

On reacting to things on the air differently than he might in real life:

"It depends on the situation, but it's also the persona people expect from me. How I might act off the air might be completely different from how I am on the air.''

On his convoluted explanation for not recognizing the name of Tigers pitcher Al Alburquerque during the 2011 ALDS:

"What I don't like is these guys play 'gotcha.' I'm on there six hours a day. I hear guys make mistakes on stuff like they don't know the name of a head coach of a team or don't know who is running a union or a commissioner. I have to know everything about everything on every team at all times.

"That is an obscure relief pitcher. But you know what? I didn't handle that Alburquerque thing well. I didn't. That is me getting mad at me. It's my job to not make those mistakes. I make so few compared to other people and I'm on so much longer and cover so much more stuff than people, but I know I'm going to be and should be held to a higher standard. I'm supposed to be the standard. I understand that.

"I have the biggest show and get paid the most money. I expect that. But I expect it from myself more. I was more upset with me on that than anybody else. If I do something like that I'm mad at myself and say to myself, you know what, I didn't work hard enough. I always work really hard."

On his motivation to keep working:

"I love the warm weather. I'm a sun person. I love the warm weather, love the golf course, love the beach. There comes a day in May where you get that pull and think, 'God, the last thing I want to do right now is go inside and talk.' When that feeling gets strong enough, you go in the other direction. But there are still a lot of days where you run to work.

"February is getting harder and harder. My feeling always is after the Super Bowl: Get me to Selection Sunday. That's the only part of the year I dread. You don't like to rush time in life and give away a month. But that period from the Super Bowl to Selection Sunday is a very tough time in sports."

On returning to television on Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 on March 24:

"I have to admit, I never thought much of it when it started, but I have to admit, I've missed it. I admit it. The TV gives it a little edge that I miss. I'm looking forward to getting back on."

On being seen from 4 to 6 p.m. on FS2, which has far lesser distribution than FS1:

"I'm always concerned about what the audience wants, so yes, I want the people who want to watch the show to be able to watch the show. Fox was going to try to protect that 5 o'clock show [on FS1]. Then they decided they would come up with a way of trying to stimulate growth [by putting Francesa on FS2].

"They did that because they felt that A, I was a personality that could help them, but B, that they really want to stake a flag in New York. They generated more interest in FS2 in the last 10 hours [last week] than they have the whole time they've been on the air. That was their plan. They have every right to split the baby."

On what he does on the way to work with his driver, Julio Rosa:

"We'll leave usually from 10:30 to 11 in the morning. We start in and a lot of times Julio and I will listen to what's going on on the sports shows and comment. Julio is a big sports fan anyway. Football and baseball are his things. The Yankees and 49ers are his teams, but he loves football and baseball.

"We'll also talk on the phone, follow whatever stories, hit the iPad and get all that stuff done. It's going to take an hour on a short day, an hour and a half on a long day to get in there and two hours is a day where I'm already cursing and he doesn't want to hear me in the car.

"Sometimes we listen to Joe [Benigno] and Evan [Roberts]. Sometimes we listen to something else. Sometimes we might even listen to music. But a lot of times we listen to Joe and Evan unless it's a day we're not in the mood and put music on. I have the phone out, the iPad out. It's like a working office as you go to work. It's really convenient."

Rosa, a retired New York City police detective, on when Francesa first suggested he work for him:

"It was after 9/11, November of 2001, and I was sitting in Yankee Stadium with Mike. Every cop in the city's heart is broken. We're all miserable. He's taking me to every playoff game. [My boss said], 'If that guy is willing to take you to a playoff game I'll give you off every night you need it.'

"In November of 2001 we're sitting there and Mike says, 'How old are you?' At the time I was 32. And he's like, 'What do you have left [before retirement]?' It was eight, nine years. He looked me in the eye and said, 'When you're done you work for me.' I said, 'Are you serious?' He said, 'Yeah, eight years isn't that long.'

"That's exactly how it happened."

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