Thursday, November 12, 2009

In which Tom Pecora seamlessly handles same-day visitation with Mike and the Mad Dog

When the inevitable reunion between Mike and the Mad Dog occurs, historians better note Tom Pecora's role in making it happen.

I was incredibly fortunate to grow up in a home in which divorce was something that happened in other families, so it took me until yesterday, at age thirtymumblemumble, to get an idea of what it must be like to be the product of separated parents. Presumably, it’s not as easy as Tom Pecora made it look in dealing with the volatile duo of Mike Francesa and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo.

Mike and the Mad Dog were a true friend of Hofstra over the last decade, during which they broadcast the America East championship game in 2000 and 2001 and regularly had Jay Wright and then Pecora on the air as guests. But the titans of New York sports radio had a messy and bitter breakup last summer as Russo bolted for a lucrative deal with Sirius satellite radio.

As I noted last December, the two decided to share custody of Pecora during the fall and winter months, when he appeared multiple times on both shows, but I’m pretty sure yesterday marked the first time both hosts wanted him to appear on the same day.

It should have been a disaster, with either Francesa demanding exclusivity or Russo refusing to have Pecora on after he’d already appeared with Francesa earlier in the day. Yet there was Pecora, shooting the breeze with Francesa shortly after 3 pm and then trading pleasantries with Russo 90 minutes later.

The lack of drama Wednesday is probably more a matter of Francesa and Russo—each of whom has made an appearance on the other’s show in the last month—realizing they are far better together than apart and, perhaps, beginning to lay the groundwork for a reunion. Even the epic egomaniac Francesa has to realize that while he still rules New York sports radio, his show isn’t nearly as compelling without a foil. And Russo has alluded multiple times to the anonymity with which he operates on satellite radio, which, despite being the greatest invention ever, still only has a cult following.

Still, even though the two are playing nice, the differences between the imperious Francesa and the more approachable Russo were obvious even in the completely innocuous interviews with Pecora. Francesa wasn’t quite as insufferable as he was in talking to Pecora last December, but it still took him less than a minute Wednesday to make the interview all about him.

Pecora: “I’ll tell you what, there is a method to our madness. Larry Keating, the associate AD out there, he and I have been friends for years…”
Francesa: “Larry Keating is at Kansas?
Pecora: “Yeah he’s with Lew Perkins."
Francesa: “Oh I didn’t even know that.”
(Pecora then says something about working with Keating at Adelphi, but he’s drowned out by Francesa)
Francesa: “Oh yeah I know Larry Keating. Sure. He used to be at Seton Hall too.”

Later, Francesa managed to turn a conversation about the frenzied environment at Allen Fieldhouse into a story about how he once broadcast a game in Oklahoma that was “…as loud as any game I ever remember.” Ahh, how quickly he forgets those America East title games.

Francesa is the parent who brags about his kid less because he’s actually proud of him and more because he thinks his son’s accomplishments will raise his profile. If Pecora were a high schooler, Francesa would be name-dropping Bill Self left, right and center all week, telling all his friends how his son is BFF with the BMOC.

Russo is the parent who would be happy to see his child carve out a niche for himself, no matter how unglamorous it might be, and willing to give said child an opportunity to prove how independent he is. That said, Russo probably asked Pecora for his thoughts on the rule changes in college basketball, the national championship picture and the biggest coaching changes of the off-season because of the more national scope of the show, but still, it was nice to hear someone treat a guest like the expert instead of expecting the opposite.

Of course, in the process of talking to Pecora about the top teams in the country, Russo proved he and Francesa still share a knack for going on the air without being all that well-informed about their guests.

Russo: “Early season, what are your thoughts on some of these really good teams? I know Kansas is supposed to be good. Texas is supposed to be good. I’m sure Carolina lost a million players…”
Pecora: “I can tell you all about Kansas Saturday morning because we’re playing them Friday night.”
Russo: “Oh you are? Where is that game?”
[Editor’s note: Where the frick do you think it is? The Hofstra Arena?]
Pecora: “We open up at Kansas Friday.”
Russo: “Oh wow.”

Later, Russo said again he had no idea Hofstra was playing Kansas Friday. Geez, Chris, at that point just don’t mention it anymore. It’d be like forgetting your wife’s birthday and then striking up a conversation about it before bed.

Russo had the quality faux pas, but as usual, Francesa had the quantity—as he proved when he didn’t even know his alma mater was playing Hofstra.

Francesa: “You don’t play St. John’s do you?”
Pecora: “We do.”
Francesa: “Oh you do?”

Francesa also assumed VCU—or, as he annoyingly continues to call the school, “Va Comm,” note to Mike, Va Comm prefers to be called VCU—and George Mason were the favorites in the CAA while Russo at least mentioned Old Dominion first in the list of the league’s top teams.

As for Pecora, he was his usual smooth self, hitting on the talking points that make his bosses happy (on both shows, he touted the publicity boost Hofstra will get from playing Kansas as well as mentioned how 25 boosters will make the trip; my invitation apparently got lost in the mail), uncorking sound bite-worthy lines (he called Allen Fieldhouse “Duke on steroids” in each segment) and doing it all with a wry sense of humor.

Pecora stroked Francesa’s ego, telling him that “…obviously, this show [is] the most important” publicity the school can receive from playing Kansas, and later delivered a subtle dig at St. John’s that only us diehards would get.

“We’re excited about [playing St. John’s],” Pecora said. “It’s always nice of them to do that.”

Pecora opened his appearance with Russo by asking why Russo hasn’t returned his calls and finished it with a bit of self-deprecation in saying the CAA has “…really good players, and, with the exception of Hofstra, really good coaches.” Yeah but I bet you Blaine Taylor or Tony Shaver couldn’t get dueling radio hosts to play nice.

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