EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – During a 15-year Hall of Fame career spent entirely with the Giants, Michael Strahan was a sack specialist, premier run defender, team captain, seven-time Pro Bowler, NFL Defensive Player of the Year and a Super Bowl champion.
He was also arguably the most persistent tormentor the Philadelphia Eagles have ever had.
Strahan played more regular-season games – 28 – against the Eagles than any other team. His 21.5 sacks were his highest total against any opponent, and his 12.5 sacks of longtime Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb were the most he had of one player. On Oct. 31, 1999, Strahan intercepted a pass in overtime and returned it 44 yards for a game-winning touchdown – in Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium (the quarterback was Doug Pederson). Strahan played just one postseason game vs. the Eagles, a 2000 NFC divisional playoff. Naturally, he twice sacked McNabb and forced a fumble the Giants recovered.
Given all that, it's perfectly logical that when the Giants retire Strahan's No. 92 jersey on Sunday, the Eagles will be the opponents. But that also means thousands of notoriously vocal Philly fans will invade MetLife Stadium, joining the cheering for Strahan with a chorus of boos.
But that doesn't concern the honoree, who would not choose another opponent to invite into the house on this big day.
"First of all, it doesn't matter, they could retire my jersey – the Giants could do it in Philly," Strahan said on a conference call. "That wouldn't bother me. I'm used to Eagles fans and it's very fitting to have it done against the Eagles. But, if there are Eagles fans there booing, that's what I want them to do because if they're not booing, that means I wasn't very good at my job. If any team knows, it's the Eagles, that the most sacks I ever had out of any quarterback of any team, is theirs. So, if they boo, it's an honor for me that they're booing. I'll take it as that. I always loved playing the Philadelphia Eagles. They were always good for a few sacks a game."
Strahan's 92 will be the 13th Giants number removed from circulation and the second this season; on Sept. 26, Eli Manning's No. 10 was retired the same day he was inducted into the franchise's Ring of Honor.
"It's huge," Strahan said. "I guess it's the ultimate honor that you can have from your team. After 15 seasons and being in a few Super Bowls with the Giants and all of that, it's a huge honor. I do go, 'Well, what took you so long?' But it is an honor."
View photos of Hall of Famer Michael Strahan through the years ahead of his jersey retirement ceremony Sunday.
A quick rundown of Strahan facts and numbers: second-round draft choice from Texas Southern in 1993 (a year in which the Giants had no first-round selection)…One of just four Giants in history to play at least 15 seasons for the team…Played in 216 regular-season games, the franchise record until Manning exceeded it…Selected to his first Pro Bowl in 1997…Holds the NFL single-season record with 22.5 sacks in 2001, when he was the Defensive Player of the Year (Strahan and Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor, a three-time winner, are the only Giants to win the award)…Also had an NFL-high 18.5 sacks in 2003, and is the only Giants player to twice lead the league…His 141.5 career sacks are the sixth-highest total in NFL history…Had at least a half-sack against 64 different quarterbacks in the regular season…Retired following the Giants' victory against New England in Super Bowl XLII…Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014.
"Oh man, it feels weird to say over a decade, it has been a long time (since he last played)," Strahan said. "It feels like yesterday, though, to be honest with you. The moments that stand out to me are – I feel like I played in different eras, so the first time Lawrence Taylor walked into the locker room. The first time Phil Simms said, 'Hello Michael,' and I was like, 'Oh my goodness, that's Phil Simms saying my name.' The first time I got slammed on my back in practice and said, 'Oh, don't want that to happen again, I guess I need to get stronger.' I'm not telling you (who was responsible).
"Also, being there with (former linebacker) Jessie Armstead, going to our first Super Bowl (in 2000), what Jessie and I used to say to each other before every game. Just (former defensive tackle) Keith Hamilton, (cornerback Jason) Sehorn, like all these guys, there's just so many moments. Eli, (former defensive ends Justin) Tuck, Osi (Umenyiora), the fun we had my last few years with all of our defensive line, and we continue to have on our text chains. Those are the moments – choking Eli after we won the Super Bowl, I'll never forget that because there's a picture of it (laughs). It's an accumulation of so many things that have happened over 15 years. Some of them small, but still impactful and memorable. A lot of them are failures that really motivated me to try to be successful. Kind of a little bit of the good, the bad, and the ugly, but it all accumulates to I guess a good feeling at the end."
But superseding all that was the Giants' epic 17-14 victory against the 18-0 Patriots in the Super Bowl to end the extraordinary 2007 season.
"That Super Bowl was the biggest thing – that's pretty much one of the biggest things to ever happen to me," Strahan said. "I definitely know that if we don't win that Super Bowl, my life is different. I don't think that I'm going to sit here and fool you and go, 'No, I'm still going to have the same life.' No, winning that Super Bowl, especially in the fashion we did it, against the team that we did it against with that record that they had, definitely put me in a different light to a lot of people – which has led to an incredible life. I always thought, too, if we didn't win that Super Bowl, maybe I come back the next year. Maybe I play another year. Who knows? There are so many hypotheticals."
"If I would have quit when I wanted to in college, I never would have been here anyway. There are so many things along your life that happen that you look back on and you go, 'Man, I'm glad that it worked out.' In that moment, you're kind of just in it. You're not thinking about if I do or if I don't. I'm smart enough to understand playing in New York is special for an athlete. It puts you in a different light with so many people and it puts you in a national spotlight, which is something that definitely adds to your legacy. Winning a Super Bowl – that adds so much. Especially winning the Super Bowl in New York and having the parade and just everything that surrounds being in this city. Being in New York, my life is definitely different if I didn't win that Super Bowl, but who says I don't come back the next year and we don't win it then. Who knows? But I'm glad we did it when I did because I was ready to retire."
Strahan, who turned 50 on Sunday, is also wildly successful in his post-football life. He is a popular host on Good Morning America, the host of The $100,000 Pyramid, and, since 2008, an analyst on FOX NFL Sunday.
"Do I watch every game as if I am still playing and the biggest fan of the Giants? Absolutely," Strahan said. "Do I get frustrated like every other fan out there? Absolutely. Do I look at it and think that I could get off my couch sometimes and go play and help the team? Absolutely."
This week, Strahan announced he will join Laura Shepard Churchley, the eldest daughter of late astronaut Alan Shepard, on the Dec. 9 mission aboard the New Shepard, a spacecraft named after her father, who was the first American in space. Strahan will be a guest on the 10-minute trip of the Blue Origin Flight, the company headed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Presumably, no Eagles fans will join him.
View rare photos of the historic rivalry between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles.