ESPN’s faculty brought Christopher (Mad Dog) Russo on as a “First Take” panelist to be himself. The Mad Dog. Yet in his latest encounter with another panelist, former NBA sharpshooter J.J. Redick, Mad Dog was more Lap Dog.
That Russo did more verbal bobbing-and-weaving than throwing audio dynamite was more than surprising. Watching him wilt on national television, Wednesday, was stunning — pathetic. The one-sided “battle” started when Russo criticized Draymond Green for Double-Birding Grizzlies fans who booed him after an elbow to his eye drew blood. Dog, showing no compassion, added it was hard rooting for the outspoken Warriors forward.
“Just shut up and play, will you please [Draymond],” Russo, in a disgusted tone, said on “First Take.” “America is tired of Draymond Green.”
Enter Redick, a member of Green’s Spin Brigade. Redick captioned the bewildered look on his face with some harsh words. He said he took “umbrage” with Russo’s “shut up and play” edict. “…That’s the same sort of connotations the ‘shut up and dribble’ crowd (he singled out Fox News) has toward athletes,” Redick said. “….Specifically with Draymond, the idea that America is tired of him, I don’t appreciate the undertone.”
Instead of staying true to himself and his image, Russo let Redick’s stereotypical characterization of him go uninterrupted and unchecked. It’s likely Redick labeled Russo without knowing the Dog, or anything about him. This alone should have sent Russo over the top, punching Redick’s ticket to the Rage Cage. Instead, Russo maintained a puzzled smirk on his face while allowing Stephen A. Smith to do the heavy lifting for him.
“Let’s calm down because I’m glad you pointed out, J.J., that it’s not a race thing because with Doggie it’s not,” SAS said. “You know you do have old school fans that lament that you got a lot of folks out there that are just saying ‘enough already’ like he [Russo] does.”
While SAS’ attempt to clear the air was admirable, he might have served the show better by trying to get Russo to verbally fire back at Redick. It’s not like he didn’t want to. A few hours after the “debate,” Russo was running his mouth — double-time — on his SiriusXM gabfest, analyzing the situation and going off on Redick.
Russo said the reason he did not “go after” Redick, had everything to do with Dog being new to “First Take.” That’s hard to believe. Yet if you take Russo at his word, you must also believe after over 30 years of confrontational gabbing, Dog, who joined the ESPN show in February, suddenly believes he has to lay back to fit in? Russo, uncomfortable about yelling into a microphone?
He didn’t show any signs of being up-tight on his Wednesday radio soiree.
“J.J. created an image of me that was out of line,” an indignant Russo proclaimed on the satellite. “He never heard of me six weeks ago and all of a sudden, he’s tying me into Fox News. That’s totally out of line….To characterize me as a Fox groupie is a little rough.”
“The next time,” Russo said, “I’m going to go after J.J. with a smile on my face.”
Ultimately, seeing will be believing.
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Sign-stealers are not the only ones lamenting advanced technology.
While PitchCom, the electronic device that relays a catcher’s signal to the pitcher, has produced a positive reaction, it does present some problems.
Like for TV baseball analysts. During FS1′s Angels-White Sox last Saturday, Fox’s A.J. Pierzynski, a former catcher, said without the catcher flashing signs, analysts have no idea what pitch is coming.
That used to be info the analyst, or play-by-play man, could present to the audience before a pitch was thrown.
Pierzynski went further, gently insinuating some analysts don’t recognize what pitch was thrown — even after it crossed the plate. Now, with PitchCom, they have no idea what’s going on.
The PitchCom device itself can have problems. SNY’s Mets crew captured one drawback during Game 1 of Tuesday’s double dip with Atlanta. The camera zoomed in on catcher Tomas Nido, punching up the call on his wristband. Yet on the mound, Tylor Megill was having trouble hearing the audio through the thin band tucked inside his cap.
It got to the point where SNY’s cameras focused on Megill looking inside his cap and finally adjusting the audio band. SNY’s video sequence lent credence to those who still believe in the “ancient” art of catchers flashing signals with their fingers.
SAME OLD PA
On the WFAN show he co-hosts with Brandon Tierney, Tiki Barber said (hopefully not with a straight face): “I hope he [John Sterling] doesn’t become a caricature of himself.”
Was Barber kidding? Or perhaps he has a case of temporary amnesia. Or maybe he just wants to forget the characterization of Sterling that happened many moons ago. Yet Pa Pinstripe is still going strong. He must laugh in the face of mockery. Recently, with his partner, Suzyn (Ma Pinstripe) Waldman, working from her home because of COVID, Sterling not only botched a home run call (Despite Sterling’s “gone” proclamation, Giancarlo Stanton actually caught Alejandro Kirk’s big fly at the wall) in Toronto, but engaged in some vintage Ma/Pa chatter.
Ma: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before. Nestor Cortez is eating an apple in the dugout.”
Pa: “Suzyn, he wants to keep the doctor away.”
Ma: “It’s a very healthy fruit.”
Oh, my. If only this kind of talk would inspire someone to send a crate full of carrots to the Yankees radio booth.
ENOUGH OF THE NFL
The idea that the Free World cannot get enough of the National Football League is deeply ingrained in the media’s collective head. Nonetheless, it’s not totally true.
Fox Sports bailed from the Thursday Night Football package a year early. Amazon Prime Video is taking over the package. And now, the NFL’s recently released schedule of five international games shows the NFL’s three “free” TV partners (CBS, Fox, NBC) want nothing to do with airing any of the tilts (three in the UK, one in Germany and another in Mexico). The games will be televised by the NFL Network, ESPN and ESPN+.
AROUND THE DIAL
Ranking the performance of three former Rangers stars working NHL studio shows during the first round of playoffs: 1) Mark Messier (ESPN) — He’s keeping it real. Very decisive. All business. 2) Henrik Lundqvist (MSG) — Measures his words carefully, but still informative and insightful. Sincere delivery. Fortunately, he’s not yet waving Rangers’ pom-poms. 3) Wayne Gretzky (TNT) — We hang on every word the Great One says. Unfortunately, he’s a man of few words. Needs more energy and passion for what he’s doing in the studio. … Rangers radio voice Don La Greca, turned in a fine call of Pens-Rangers Game 2 Thursday night. DLG brought playoff passion to the broadcast but didn’t let the hype overshadow or interfere with his delivery of precise descriptions. … YES will air 27 New York Liberty games beginning May 13. Michael Grady, Chris Shearn and Zora Stephenson will share the play-by-play role. Andraya Carter and Julianne Viani-Braen will be rotating analysts with Jess Sims working as courtside reporter on select games.
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DUDE OF THE WEEK: RYAN TANNEHILL
For revealing that he’s battling mental health issues. The Tennessee quarterback told reporters he sought therapy after the 19-16 playoff loss to the Bengals. He said the loss left him with a “deep scar” and took him to a “dark place.” By relating his problems publicly, Tannehill may have influenced others, who have suffered silently, to seek help.
DWEEB OF THE WEEK: COLLEGE FOOTBALL PURISTS
For sounding the alarm that the emergence of NIL deals will kill the sport of college football. Successful enterprises must evolve and adapt. Get used to it. And it’s about time young men risking serious injury earn some dough in return for their commitment to their schools.
What Kyrie Irving said: “I’d like to put together four straight years of team dominance.”
What Kyrie Irving meant to say: “I’d like to put together four straight years of team dominance, as long as it doesn’t clash with my own priorities.”