Hall of Fame inductee Michael Strahan speaks during the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony
–Does Michael Strahan ever perform in front of a crowd or a camera in which he doesn't captivate his audience with his skill, knowledge and humor? He was certainly on his "A" game Saturday night, when he delivered an emotional, thankful and entertaining speech as he and six other football immortals from the Class of 2014 were officially inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In a 34-minute speech in which he thanked a legion of family members, friends, former teammates and one-time coaches, Strahan rewarded several individuals with special salutations. One was reserved for the impassive Manning, who responded perfectly.
"My man Eli, look at him," Strahan said. "He doesn't get excited for anything. Crack a smile. That's the most I've seen in about 10 years. Now I used to go into the locker room before every game and I would go and tap and touch and high five and pep talk every player, equipment guy, coach. The reason I did it was because each time I touch each guy I'm accountable to you. What I put out there on that field today is not for me, it's for you. You will never be disappointed in me. That's why I did it. I would give guys pep talks. 'You've got to run big today baby, you've got to bring it. Yeah.' And then I'd see Eli just sitting there in his locker just like he's sitting over there in that seat."
The big video boards in the stadium then showed a stone-faced Manning, who was sitting in the crowd with Giants players and coaches. His blank expression suggested he could have been in line at the grocery story, or at the airport, waiting to board a delayed flight.
"Yep, there you go," Strahan said. But not even Manning could keep his straight face for long. He showed he was just playing along when he broke into a huge smile as the fans cheered.
"I used to sit there and say, 'How am I going to reach this boy?' I realized I didn't have to, he was already reached. So when I went to Eli, instead of all that I would go from, 'Yeah,' to I'd shake his hand and smile and say, 'have fun young man, have fun.' And with you Eli I learned that you don't have to be outwardly excited to be internally combustible to go out there and whoop some people on the football field my friend and you have done it. You have the perfect demeanor for New York City, I will tell you that."
Strahan and Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jon Runyan had many memorable battle from 2000-07. The two men perpetuated an image that they despised each other, but a mutual respect existed. Runyan, now a congressman from New Jersey who is not seeking re-election, attended the induction ceremony and Strahan's after-party.
"I know you flew in to support me, there you go big guy," Strahan said. "Why don't you stand up so they can see you? Six-nine, 350 pounds of twisted steel and non-sex appeal. Jon, you made me a student of the game. I will talk directly to you, you made me a student of the game, man. When you went to the Eagles from Tennessee it made me mad because I felt like they brought you to stop me. It really bothered me. You made me learn to be a student, to study my opponents, to learn my opponent better than they knew themselves. Even though everybody thinks that I had so many battles against you and I was winning and everything, well I was, but you won quite a bit of battles and you were the toughest guy that I've ever had to face on a consistent basis and you made me a much better football player. After watching these films and you don't play anymore, your right foot gave away everything you were going to do. But I love you Jon Runyan."
- Another memorable Strahan story concerned Super Bowl XLII, the Giants' epic upset of the undefeated New England Patriots and the last game of his storied 15-year career.
"During the week we're getting ready and everybody's excited," Strahan said. "I'm telling the guys, 'Calm down. I've been in the Super Bowl and we lost. Just relax, have a good time, enjoy yourself but stay focused.' Well, the guys took it a little too much to heart, they're having too good of a time but I couldn't tell them to pull it back because I told them to have a good time. So I'm nervous. We get into breakfast the morning of the Super Bowl and I'm putting some eggs on my plate and Osi (Umenyiora) comes up to me and he goes, 'Michael, if we don't get to Tom Brady today we aren't going to win this game.' I looked at him and said, 'What, you learned how to read the paper? Tell me something I didn't know.' Then he looked at me again when I went to get some food, he grabbed me and said, 'No, if we don't get to Tom Brady today we're not going to win this game.' Well, again, it was improbable. We couldn't beat an 18-0 team, we barely made it to the playoffs. It was improbable but it was not impossible. So, not only did we win – we stomped them out."
- Those attending the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in support of Strahan included Giants president and chief operating officer John Mara and his mother, Ann, chairman and excutive vice president Steve Tisch; head coach Tom Coughlin and his wife, Judy; general manager Jerry Reese; current players Zak DeOssie, Mathias Kiwanuka and Manning (the only active Giants to have played with Strahan) and Josh Brown (a teammate in Seattle of another inductee, Walter Jones); assistant coaches Perry Fewell, Pat Flaherty, David Merritt, Peter Giunta, Sean Ryan, Jerry Palmieri and Markus Paul; executive scout Jeremiah Davis, who was largely responsibvle for Strahan joining the franchise; Giants Hall of Famers Harry Carson and Lawrence Taylor; former teammates Jessie Armstead, Antonio Pierce, Sam Garnes, Cedric Jones, David Tyree and Charles Way; and former coaches Jim Fassel, John Fox and Denny Marcin; colleagues from Strahan's television career, including Kelly Ripa, Robin Roberts, Howie Long and Jay Glazer (his presenter).
- Fox, now the coach of the Denver Broncos, held a practice in the morning, then he and Garnes (the team's assistant secondary coach) hopped on John Elway's private plane and flew here for the ceremony.
- Strahan admitted he was a bit overwhelmed when he first joined the Giants' locker room as a rookie in 1993.
"Who's in the locker room?" Strahan said. "L.T.'s in the locker room, Phil Simms is in the locker room, O..J Anderson is in the locker room. I'm like, 'Man, I saw these guys when I was six years old. They're still here?' But I learned something, life of lessons; I learned lessons along the way. Phil Simms I learned, first one in, last one to leave. Nothing's easy; you've got to work for it. … Michael Brooks, you helped me more than I could ever repay you my friend. Because you took me under your wing, as well as O.J. Anderson, as a rookie and you showed me that, no matter what year you are in this league, you're valuable. We need you. We're a team. Don't go out and trust when you hear that somebody's a great player. You play against them and you make your own judgment. It was one of the first lessons I was taught by these guys and I thank them for taking me under their wing.
"And then there was L.T., my man to the left. Now when I was a rookie I was scared of you. And now I'm retired and I'm up here with you with this yellow jacket and I'm still scared if you. But one thing I can say about Lawrence Taylor is everyone knows he's a great football player and everyone knows he's a great athlete, because we watch the games. But if you watch the practices you'd understand why. Taking scout team plays, running 100 miles per hour every single play he's on that field. That's how I learned how a real pro practices. That's what I learned from you, Lawrence. But I also learned that it's okay to sleep in meetings sometimes. Even though you did it all the time."
**>> MORE FROM CANTON: Michael Strahan Hall of Fame Central** * Moving on to what he called, "the next generation," beginning in 1997, when Fassel became head coach, Strahan had another group to thank.
"All these guys who I came in with who I learned under had retired," Strahan said. "It became my team. This was my team with Amani Toomer, with Tiki Barber, Kerry Collins, Cedric Jones, Robert Harris, Jason Sehorn. We went to the Super Bowl; this was a Super Bowl team. I had the one and only Keith Hamilton, Hammer.
"Last but not least we had my man, the one guy who came in with me in my draft class was Jessie Armstead. Jessie and I used to stand in the tunnel before every game. 'There you go J, I see you on that big screen, man.' Thank you for being here for me. Jessie would stand in the tunnel with me and we'd look at each other and we'd say, 'You and me,' because we knew we had to be the leaders out there for this team. A lot of guys have to go into games and do that alone. All I've got to say is that I never had to because I had Jessie Armstead by me, so Jessie I appreciate you. Thank you."
Talking about players from the Tom Coughlin era, Strahan said "I'd be remiss, I have to throw out some offensive guys – Shaun O'Hara, Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, David Diehl, Chris Snee, Plaxico Burress, David Tyree and his helmet. Yes, his helmet (in reference, of course, to Tyree's spectacular catch in Super Bowl XLII. The helmet is now on display in the Hall of Fame).
"When it came to the defensive side of the ball we had a few guy - Osi, Justin Tuck, Fred Robbins, Dave Tollefson, Kiwi, my ace Antonio Pierce. Who would have thought that the last game that I played was going to be with these guys, because were like a vagabond group of players, and it was going to be to hoist the Lombardi Trophy the last game I was out there as a New York Giant. Before we had the opportunity to do that it was improbably that it was going to happen. It was improbable.
"Life is about improbability. I want to thank a lot of my teammates I didn't get a chance to name and a lot of coaches and a lot of the trainers and the doctors and everybody because it is truly something that is a team sport. I'm so glad that I was able to be, that they were able to be a part of my football life and my football journey and I hope that it was great for them for me to be a part of theirs because anybody who thinks that we're up here because of ourselves, we're fooling ourselves. This is about a family, this is about teammates, this is about everybody pitching in to make you better and for you hopefully to make them better."
- Strahan is the first player elected to the Hall of Fame after winning the Super Bowl in his final game since Elway was inducted in 2004.