ESPN’s First Take has rotated a long list of not at all diverse personalities to debate Stephen A. Smith since he kicked Max Kellerman off the show in August. Most of the rotation participants — Keyshawn Johnson, Ryan Clark and someone called Kimberley Martin — are weak.
Yet the newest edition has exceeded even the highest expectations. On Wednesdays, long-time radio host Chris “Mad Dog” Russo joins Smith for the full two hours. And Smith, who makes the calls on First Take, should consider making Mad Dog his permanent co-host.
Sports talk, by definition, is supposed to be fun, an escape from the toxicity of the real world. Smith and Russo are fun.
Last year, Smith tried to bring his former First Take partner Skip Bayless back to ESPN. Smith wanted to recapture their chemistry, however Bayless chose to stay at Fox Sports. Yet Mad Dog and Smith are more entertaining together than Bayless and Smith ever were.
This duo is less serious. Mad Dog is goofy, he can’t pronounce half of the names he’s paid to pronounce, and he has a bias against young people. Mad Dog brings out the best in Smith. Together they are cartoonish, over the top, very loud and are sure to generate headlines.
First Take relies greatly on social media clips for monetization. And because of moments like the one featured below, Mad Dog goes viral every Wednesday morning:
— Bobby Burack (@burackbobby_) March 9, 2022
Mad Dog just ran a clinic on Stephen A Smith this morning pic.twitter.com/Np4kUC6kQ8
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) March 2, 2022
Most guests on First Take cannot bring themselves to debate meaningless sports topics authentically. It’s beneath them, so they force themselves to match Smith’s schtick. How cringe is that?
Meanwhile, Mad Dog truly believes these debates could change the course of history. Just ask him about James Harden:
— First Take (@FirstTake) February 16, 2022
Seeing Mad Dog get such a reaction makes you wonder how big of a star he could have been if he had worked at ESPN instead of WFAN and SiriusXM.
Mad Dog has a lot of Smith in him. He’s a caricature of a sports debater, almost an SNL version of himself. ESPN doesn’t have many interesting personalities besides Smith. The others — Bayless, Colin Cowherd, Will Cain and Bill Simmons — have all left. Mad Dog would give ESPN one more.
Will it happen? It’s hard to see Stephen A. Smith relinquishing his status and sharing the show again. But despite his arrogance, Smith is not a stupid man. He knows what’s best for business.
Trust me when I say he knows the show is better with Mad Dog on set.