Saturday’s FrancesaCon felt like a rock concert. Aside from an actual rock cover band playing various dad-favorites (think Oasis mixed with Bruce Springsteen) in between renditions of the Mike Francesa Show theme song, the crowd was loud, raucous, enthusiastic, in-costume, in-character, drunk-ish and in a frenzy. All for one guy.
Apparently he truly appreciated it.
“It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced,” the actual Mike Francesa said today on his show.
As someone who grew up listening to WFAN’s Mike & The Mad Dog program, and later iterations of the show after Chris Russo left for satellite radio, I like to think I have a pretty good picture of who Mike Francesa is. Off the top of my head, I’d describe him as humorless, self-aggrandizing, myopic, bitter and overly opinionated about relatively benign, esoteric subjects (e.g. sports legacies, records) that are designed to be fun and entertaining. The older I got, the more difficult I found it to listen to the guy shout down callers (or “mongos” as he refers to them) who haven’t the slightest clue about the topic they’re speaking on.
He started to seem like your angry neighbor who lived alone and would scream directives at cats who wandered into his backyard. “Find another backyard to go sleep at you idiot!” It got to much for me. He became a caricature of the medium he pioneered.
So upon attending (my second) FrancesaCon, I was curious to gauge the motivations of the 700-plus people who paid $15 to shlep over to Irving Plaza in the snow dressed up like an angry old fat sports nerd.
Were they there to mock him? Were they paying homage to him? Or were these people actually just the same idiots who call into the show suggesting the Yankees should put Andy Pettite in the bullpen?
It turns out, it was little bit of all of that.
Most if not all of the people I spoke with in attendance genuinely respected the “Sports Pope,” but couldn’t really articulate why that was the case. On one hand, they seemed to appreciate his honesty and candor when dealing with contentious sports topics. On the other, I got the sense many of these guys just loved hearing him blow up. It was a lot like how I picture NASCAR fans to be — half there because they like it, the other half just want to see the crashes.
FYI, Mike has plenty of crashes — often with prank callers who want to slap his butt cheeks (whom I imagine were in attendance on Saturday, as well).
Apparently, however, he also has a pretty big heart (he decided to attend Saturday under the assumption the whole thing was for charity) and is way more humble than he lets on. When he walked out on stage Saturday, during a live debate between impersonators of him and his former partner, he seemed like none of the negative attributes I had previous ascribed to him.
He just seemed like a nice, funny dude from Long Island who has a tendency to puff himself up a bit (the “I have never seen anybody receive a reaction like that” part was a bit much).
“I have to tell you this — I’ve been doing this for a long time,” he began today, in typical Mike Francesa I-was-in-attendance-for-every-major-event-in-human-history fashion. “I’ve been to a lot of events. I have never in my life seen anything like that. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced at any event I have ever been at. I’ve never in my life received a reaction like that, nor have I ever seen anybody receive a reaction like that. It was overwhelming, it was almost inconceivable how loud the crowd was. It was amazing. I’ve never been through anything like that in my life. It was unbelievable. I did 15, 20 minutes on the stage in front of the crazies, I went and set up a thing in the back and took about nine — really two hours worth of photos. I was there for two hours taking photos. The crowd, they were great. I hope I talked to all the of the people. I think I met about 500 different ones. I was there until just about 5:00.”
“It was, for me, it was — I am humbled by it, appreciative. The crowd response was something I will never forget as long as I live.”
Soooo we’re guessing that’s a “no” on the butt cheek-slapping then, right?