Final Say: Christopher "Mad Dog" Russo
Sports talk personality and New Canaan resident Christopher "Mad Dog" Russo can be heard every weekday from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. on his 24/7 all-sports SiriusXM channel 86 Mad Dog Radio, sharing his enthusiastic take on sports and more.
Have you ever considered having the decaf?
The decaf? [laughs] I really don’t drink coffee—I’ll have a half cup every day. Do I drink decaf? No. I gotta rely on my own energy to fuel the show. Once in a while, once every four or five weeks, I’ll have somebody go get me Starbucks, a little rocket fuel for three or four o’clock in the afternoon, but for the most part, who you hear is who you get.
Where do you get all your energy from?
I wish I knew! My father has a lot of it, too. I get it from him. Sometimes you got to try and create your own energy. It can feel flat and you have to get yourself out of that by just doing things to get yourself in the flow. It’s god given. God gave me the enthusiasm to do this, so that is really the most significant scenario. Occasionally, I need a little help, but for the most part, it’s me.
You could’ve picked New York City, New Jersey, Long Island or Connecticut for your family, so why Connecticut?
Essentially we chose Connecticut because of the house we bought. My wife and I, one Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1996, went looking for houses all throughout upper Westchester, whether it was Rye or Harrison, and lower Southwestern Connecticut—Greenwich, Cos Cob. We strolled into downtown New Canaan, parked the car, went by a realtor—just walked in window shopping—and I saw a house being advertised. Lo and behold, we walked into the real estate office—I forget the name of the company, Betty Urlacher was her name—and she took us to the house. This was on a Sunday, July of 1996, and I bought the house in three days. That was on a Sunday, and by Wednesday, I’d had the house inspected, bought the house and put down payments and whatever else, and on Thursday, I went to South Carolina for 15 days for vacation, and this was the day after the TWA flight blew up over Long Island.
Do you ever make the mistake of thinking New Canan is a “typical” place to live?
No, I was lucky. I would never have picked New Canaan, but again, we loved the house. That’s what got us. If this house had happened to be in Darien, happened to be Larchmont—anywhere—we would’ve bought it. We settled in New Canaan because of the house. Now we’ve been fortunate that we settled in the right town. The school district . . . great family place. We didn’t have any kids when we bought the house. We got lucky, we got fortunate, but the house is the reason we settled in Connecticut, New Canaan in particular.
“Mad Dog” was bestowed upon you [by New York Daily News writer Bob Raissman]—if you could pick your own nickname, what would it be?
You know what, that’s a good question—I’ve never even given it that much thought. I’ve always had nicknames throughout my whole life. I used to wear a pair of Gucci loafers in high school—I went to boarding school—so everyone used to call me “Gooch,” as in Gucci loafers. That nickname seemed to stick. Since 1988, I’ve had this “Mad Dog” nickname, and thank god I have. It’s “Doggie” most of the time. But that nickname fits my personality to a T, so I give Raissman all the credit in the world.
Do you have a favorite rant of all time?
The one that gave me the most mileage was the Giants one after the loss to Florida in 2003, first round of the playoffs, J.T. Snow got thrown out at the plate. That’s a good one. One time, when I first started at WFAN, I drove to Astoria from where I lived in Manhattan and it must’ve taken me two hours to get to work, so I made a big deal about the Queensborough Bridge—this was pre 9/11, and I said, “We’ve got to blow up the Queensborough Bridge.” I can’t use that one any more, but that one, I specifically remember was a good one. The Batman movie, which was terrible, I couldn’t believe how bad it was—Tim Burton, the Batman movie, the dark one they made out of comic strip from the ’20s rather than making it out of the TV series in the ’60s—that rant was one that I won’t forget. Those three specifically. I mean, there are plenty of them, but those three.
I’ll tell you something else I did, which won a Clio award, was the commercials I did for the Long Island railroad when I talked ad lib about driving into Manhattan, and what a disaster it was. This was probably mid-’90s, and the Long Island Railroad hired me to do some spots and I ad-libbed 60-second spots. I ad-libbed them: No script, nothing, right at 60 seconds, how it was a disgrace to drive in, I have to take the train. That was good. That ad ran all over the place on all the stations. That ad won a Clio Award, and [New York Daily News writer Phil] Mushnick killed me on it forever because he said I was essentially telling my audience to not drive in when they could listen to me, but to take the train. That was a good rip, too.
Gun to your head: Watch the Yankees win another world series or spend a year covering nothing but NASCAR?
Boy that’s a tough one. NASCAR or watching the Yankees win another world series . . . I’d have to probably have to say the Yankees win another world series because that pain ends after a couple of weeks, and NASCAR pain is 40 weeks. So I would probably say the Yankee world series. It will bother me. The parade will kill you, but the Giants having won last year takes a little of the grief away, so I would go with the Yankees winning the world series—less evil than NASCAR.
Three other players (from any time) plus yourself to fill out your dream tennis doubles match?
Well, I’d probably have to say [Rod] Laver, [Pete] Sampras and [Roger] Federer. I don’t think there is anyone else out there. [Patrick] McEnroe would yell at me too much, Ilie Nastase would joke around too much, Arthur Ashe might be a little too serious. I love Federer and Sampras, and obviously Laver is one of the all-time greats. I would not take [Bjorn] Borg—too boring. Those are the three I’d take, and that’s an easy one. All-time top five greats, and those are three of them right there.
What’s the best part of having complete creative control of your own program?
Flexibility. Do whatever you want to do. You go on the air every day, and no one tells, “Chris, you’ve got to do four hours of Yankees today,” “Chris you have to do three hours of Mets today,” “You have to lead with Giant-Jet preseason game.” You have complete flexibility, the content is your own. Now that sometimes can be a negative, but for the most part, to be able to walk in there for five hours a day and to be able to pick and choose what you want—well, the callers dictate, too—but you sit there and get to choose what direction you want the show to go in based on what you want to talk about, that I think is a tremendous advantage that I don’t think you have on local shows. The local shows have to focus on the local teams—I don’t have to do that. For me, specifically, I’m not a fan necessarily of the local teams in New York—personally, I hate the Yankees, and all that. I’m not a Jet or Giant fan per se. So from that perspective, that works for me, that if I want to go in and do five hours of tennis, I can do that. If I want to do five hours of San Francisco Giants, I can do that. If I want to do five hours of John Adams, I can do that. So the aspect of being able to pick and choose what I want to talk about is the best part of Sirius.
When are you at your loosey-goosiest during a broadcast?
The longer the show goes, the better I am. I think anybody will tell you that you gotta get warmed up. I might be a little better nuts and bolts, organized between 2 and 4, but once the day moves along, you can see the end of the rainbow, once that occurs, the show gets a little easier, you see the light at the end of the tunnel, that’s when I get a little more loosey goosey. You never know—you’re on the air for such a long time that at the end of the show you seem to be a little better than you are at the beginning. And that used to be true with Mike, too. The longer the show goes, the better off I get for whatever the reason.
Have you ever called into a sports radio talk show as a fan?
I know I tried to do it for John Sterling back in the early ’70s—I don’t think I got on, it was one of those “Hold on, you’ll be next” deals, and I got nervous and hung up the phone. I remember doing that once probably when I was in mid-teens. I remember that Sterling incident. I never tried to call Art Rust up—I lived in New York, so those are the guys who I would be listening to. I never tried to call [Bill] Mazer or Jack Spector up . . . outside of the one call to Sterling, I’d have to say no.
Do you ever listen to your former partner [Mike Francesa] or The Fan?
There are times. Remember, I’m usually here at one o’clock so I sometimes put Mike on television on the YES thing to see what he’s got going. I’m off at 7 and he’s off at 6:30, so I don’t get a chance to listen there. On the off days, I’m usually listening to [Mad Dog Radio] to see what we’re up to, making sure we’re doing the job right more so that listening to anything on terrestrial radio. But to sit there and tell you that I never ever put Mike on is not fair. There are times when, of course, I want to see what the New York audience is talking about and I want to hear Mike’s take or anybody’s take over there of WFAN or ever 1050 [ESPN radio]. But for the most part, I’m concentrating on what we’re doing here. And remember, I’m on so much here, doing so many shows, that when I’m off, I want to take a little blow from getting wrapped up listening to sports talk. When I come in to work, I don’t want to listen to anything because I want to be able to go on air fresh, not having my opinion clouded by what I heard a previous host say on another channel or terrestrial radio, and what the callers say. I want to be able to go in there cold to judge it for myself.
If you had to take on a new radio partner and you could pick anyone, who would it be?
That’s a good question. I would like to use Steve Torre, but he doesn’t want to do it. How about Ian Eagle, the broadcaster of the Nets, CBS and tennis? He and I have a good relationship, we laugh a lot together. Marc Malusis is another one—used to be my old producer, and I have a good relationship with him, too. Those three. Torre, but he doesn’t want to do it—he’s kicking and screaming to do an update, let alone a show—Ian, who I’ve always had a great relationship with, and Malusis, one of my old buddies who produced for me over at FAN.
Who is the one person you want to interview but haven’t been able to yet?
I’ve interviewed the Federers and the Samprases, I’ve done a lot of the old football guys . . . [Vince] Lombardi would be a guy, but you can’t any more with him. Joe DiMaggio would’ve been someone I would’ve considered. Willie Mays is, you know, I’m not wrapped up in Willie so much. I’ve talked to [Hank] Aaron. I’ve talked to [Michael] Jordan, talked to [Wayne] Gretzky, talked to Rod Laver. Somebody old school who we can talk about the history of the sport who’s still alive, and the guy who I think about more than anyone else is Jack Nicklaus.
Anyone outside of sports?
I’ve done Bruce [Springsteen], Jackson Browne is kind of out there. Let me think of someone from movies—how about Meryl Streep? I know her brother pretty well—I see him all the time. Good golfer, play with him. Dana Streep. I wouldn’t call him my best buddy but I am an acquaintance of his. Meryl Streep is so sharp, and has had such a brilliant career and she’s so normal, so I’d have to say Meryl Streep.
Who was the worst—
—interview that you’ve ever done?
Worst interview that I’ve ever done. Terrible. Can’t talk to her, you know, didn’t want to do it, on the phone. Jennifer Capriati wasn’t much better. Those two were terrible. Serena was bad. Chris Johnson wasn’t superb, one year with the Titans. Jeremy Schockey is not, you know, a Rhodes scholar. You need to have the interviewee engaged in the conversation. So think of an interviewee who doesn’t know who you are, doesn’t want to do the interview . . . you know, [Derek] Jeter is not a good spot. Not good, he doesn’t want to do it. Derek Jeter, great guy, but he just does not want to be bothered and that comes across. And when you have an interview subject who does not want to be interviewed and is doing it because: a. he has to; b. out of obligation; or c. because he’s doing you a favor, that’s the interview that’s not very good.
To do good interviews, you need them to be engaged in the conversation. Serena was just so lost . . . that interview is one I’ll never forget. There’s a lot of them, you get in and out when the interview is bad. College athletes, sometimes can be a little spotty. But that one specifically sticks out in my mind, Serena.
If you could be Bruce Springsteen, Roger Federer or John Adams, who would you choose and why?
I wouldn’t do Adams—life was too difficult to do back in that era. I’m not as high on the rock ’n’ roll crowd as I am on the athletic crowd . . . playing a specific arena in rock ’n’ roll doesn’t have the same significance as, say, playing Wimbledon does, so I would definitely play the tennis. I’d take tennis. I’d be Federer.
What’s harder: Hitting a consistently good backhand or writing a book?
Writing a book is just work, it’s not hard. It’s just the grinding out process, having somebody get that tape, transcribing your information, your thoughts from tape, and then reading it over again and over again and over again until you think you got it right. It’s just a time-consuming process, the degree of difficulty is not impossible. I wouldn’t even say a backhand is, because once you get the rhythm [you’re okay]. I would say something in golf is the hardest thing. That golf swing can come and go so quickly from a sport perspective. I don’t play fast-pitch baseball, so I can’t give you that. Basketball, when I used to play it, I was competent. I could always catch a football. But I would say, to hit a golf ball squarely and purely is something that is elusive. So I’d say that is the hardest thing.
What is your current favorite sports argument?
It’s probably Peyton Manning, where he stacks up all time as a quarterback. We did a lot of that last week [on the show]—we got him down to about No. 8 or 9 at the quarterback. You do that people chime in, they get into it, football season is coming. Payroll disparity in baseball is always something that triggers something—anti-Yankee, anti-Red Sox, anti-Phillie, but right now, where Manning stacks up from an all-time list with the other great quarterbacks, is a very good discussion. You get a lot of mileage out of that.
Most random piece of sports trivia you know?
Let me think about that for a moment . . . okay, I don’t call it sports trivia, but what I’m very in to that throws people off and I can’t figure out why—I’m into schedules of teams. You know, who plays who, when, where the game is, what time the game is, who’s broadcasting the game, when bye weeks are, when NBA roadtrips are, who finishes up at home in baseball, when the Yankees and Red Sox play . . . schedules to me—and that’s not a statistical oddity, that’s just me—that is an odd thing, that I’m so wrapped up in schedules. By the middle of September, I’ll have memorized and know all the schedules in the NFL. I’ll know the days that Miami is playing the Jets, I’ll know when the 49ers are playing Seattle, or when Pittsburgh is playing Baltimore. I mean, it’s the strangest thing in the world, but schedules turn me on in sports. Sports scheduling.
Your ideal day as a sports fan?
I would say that the day I love the most as a sports fan right now is, I love the Saturday and Sunday of either the Wild Card or Divisional weekend in the NFL. That weekend when the games are 4:30 and 8 on Saturday, and 1 and 4 on Sunday, when you have four games to look forward to. Those games are significant, they begin late Saturday afternoon so you can look forward to it all day—I much prefer that time to 1 p.m. The playoff schedule in baseball during the divisional round I like a lot, all the games going on, but I think the playoff scheduling in the NFL, those two weekends—Wildcard and Divisional. Championship Sunday is a one-day thing, the Super Bowl is only a one-game thing, the regular season last day is a good day, but who knows what games are going to be significant. You know those playoff games are going to be good, and having eight games in essentially nine days, four doubleheaders on the weekends and back to back, that turns me on as a sports fan. You know the games are going to be pretty good, everyone will be tuned it, you know the games are going to be close, you can bet them—which is a factor, I don’t care what anybody says—those games I get totally into.