CANTON, Ohio – Michael Strahan's Hall of Fame induction speech was as successful, memorable, hard-hitting, dramatic, stirring and funny as his 15-year career with the Giants that made it possible – and almost as long.
"I don't think any of us knew what to expect this weekend, but this has been the best weekend of my life," Strahan said at the outset of his speech.
Strahan went on to weave a tale that told both his life story and thanked a cast of thousands, including his family, former teammates and coaches, opponents, fellow Hall of Famers and Jay Glazer, his longtime friend and co-star on "FOX NFL Sunday," who was his presenter.
Strahan, 42, is the 20th Hall of Famer who spent all or a significant portion of his career with the Giants (and the second in as many years after former coach Bill Parcells' 2013 induction). He compiled a long list of achievements in a 15-year career spent entirely with the Giants. He is fifth on the NFL's career sack list with a Giants-record 141.5 and he owns the league's single-season record with 22.5 sacks in 2001. He was a four-time first-team All-Pro (1997, 1998, 2001 and 2003), the 2001 NFL AP Defensive Player of the Year and a seven-time Pro Bowler. Strahan played a Giants-record 216 regular-season games and he was a captain on the 2007 team that won Super Bowl XLII.
Beyond the numbers, Strahan was a team captain and leader who mentored and inspired countless numerous teammates
He retired in June 2008 and seamlessly moved into the entertainment, becoming a television star with multiple platforms. His famous gap-toothed grin – forever captured on his Hall of Fame bust - is by millions of television viewers each week on the popular morning show, Live with Kelly and Michael, which he co-hosts with Kelly Ripa. Strahan is also a special co-host of Good Morning America. On Sundays during the football season, he is an analyst on FOX NFL Sunday. His Hal of Fame presenter and longtime friend, Jay Glazer, is also on the show.
It's storybook stuff, the kind of tale that would make a really hokey tale – if it wasn't true. No one understands that better than Strahan, whose theme throughout his speech that he took unlikely and almost unbelievable journey to Canton.
"My life is improbably," Strahan said. "I am an absolutely improbable Hall of Famer. I am an improbable football player, because I didn't grow up saying, 'I'm going to do this.'"
Had he voiced that goal someone, perhaps even his parents, would have gotten a good laugh. Michael was the youngest of Gene and Louis Strahan's six children (his parents and siblings were in attendance for the speech). Gene was a major in the U.S. Army and when Michael was nine the family moved to an Army base in Mannheim, Germany, not exactly a hotbed for developing NFL talent. Even if it was, Strahan might not have gotten through the front door.
I was 13 years old and I'm going to say I was a husky kid," Strahan said. "I was a little, I called it big-boned. I was husky and big-boned and they made fun of me."
At the moment, a fan in the crowd yelled, "Bob," seemingly loud enough to be heard in Cleveland.
"You know about Bob, right?" Strahan said. "Well, everybody here doesn't know about Bob and we weren't going to talk about Bob because it still hurts me to talk about it. But I'll talk about it since you know it. My brothers called me Bob and Bob meant booty on back. They said, 'You know, everyone gets their wallet like that, you just grab yours like that.' I was a husky kid but at 13 years old I realized, this, for the first time (that) I can take something and I can own it. I can change the course of action in my life. If there's something I don't like I can change it. As every 13 year-old kid in Manheim, Germany does, or every 13 year-old kid here who wants to get in shape, I went out and got some Jane Fonda tapes. I'm not lying, Marcus Allen. I got Jane Fonda tapes. I was high kicking and side kicking, I was doing it all. And then I graduated to the Herschel Walker workout book – push-ups and sit-ups."
His father began instructing him in early–morning workouts, taking him to gyms and forcing him to run at 5:30 a.m.
"I remember being in the gym and I didn't want to be there," Strahan said. "My dad looked at me and said, 'Son, one day it will pay off.' And dad, I've got to say it paid off, it really did. When he said that, I didn't know what he meant, because I was trying to work off Bob. I wasn't trying to be a football player; I'm in Germany, that's the last thing. It's improbable that I am going to be a football player of any type."
Before Michael's senior year, Gene Strahan sent his son back to Houston to live with Uncle Art and attend Westbury High School. The coaches at Westbury put Strahan at defensive end, where he played well enough to earn a scholarship to Texas Southern, which is also in Houston. Strahan was so dominant at TSU, the Giants selected him on the second round of the 1993 draft, the 40th overall selection in a year in which they owned no first-round pick.
"I ended up going to the scariest city that I could ever imagine – New York City," Strahan said. "
I went there because the improbable happened again. I get drafted by the New York freaking Giants. Yeah baby, the football Giants. And not only by the Giants but I got drafted by Wellington Mara, The Duke. For all you young kids who may not know about Wellington Mara, whenever you get a football, a real, serious, NFL football you look on it and it says, 'The Duke.' That man drafted me. Bob Tisch, the Tisch family, and the great and late George Young, those are the guys who brought me and trusted me enough to bring me to the Giants.
"Mr. Tisch - as a rookie I hurt my foot. I was doing a sack dance against Cincinnati and hurt my foot. Yeah, I'm finally admitting it. I never really admitted it, I always said I hurt it on the play but it was doing the sack dance. Get it out. And every day to go to from the field house to practice, I was on crutches and it was a long way. After about two weeks of this a car pulls up, door opens, guy tells me to get in - Bob Tisch. And every day until I was off those crutches he drove me to and from practice. I was a rookie who had done nothing for this man's team. That developed the friendship with him that lasted until he passed away. And then the spirit of that, their kids, John Mara and Steve Tisch, have continued in that spirit of realizing that the team is a family. It's not about this or that, it's about a team. It's about all of us being one, it's about all of us understanding that we're all in this together. There's no ownership. It's all on this one level. It made me the best because I realized, even after they were no longer with us, that they were always watching me. I want to say to the Tisch family and the Mara family and to John and Steve that all of those times you told me how proud your fathers were of me, how proud they would be of me, how much they loved me, it didn't go in one ear and out the other. That meant the world to me. I am so honored to represent the G-men family up here today."
Strahan divided his Giants career into three neatly-delineated eras. From his 1993 rookie season through 1996, Dan Reeves was the head coach, Mike Nolan the defensive coordinator and Earl Leggett the line coach.
Era 2 began stretched from 1997-2003 with Jim Fassel as head coach, John Fox the coordinator and Denny Marcin the defensive line coach. Fox left after the 2001 season to become head coach of the Carolina Panthers and now holds the same position with the Denver Broncos. All three flew to Canton for Strahan's induction. speech.
In Strahan's last four seasons (2004-7), Tom Coughlin was the head coach, Steve Spagnuolo the defensive coordinator (in 2007-08) and Mike Waufle the line coach. Strahan credited each group of coaches with helping him become a Hall of Fame player, as well as a responsible and mature man, accountable to himself and his teammates.
"Earl Leggett was the kind of coach you had but you wish you had," Strahan said. "He would work you so much that you had him but you wish he was gone so you could say, 'I had him.' He worked you. He said, 'I'm going to test your bloodline. I'm going to test what your momma's made of, your grandmomma, your great-grandmomma, your pappy and everybody that's going to come after you, son.' And he did it. But he also did that to the great Howie Long (another Hall of Fame end).
"I had a role model. I had somebody I looked at and said, 'That's who I can be.' Earl taught you that in football there are no finesse players, at least where I came from. I watched the tape and I'm running into guys and I was not a big guy. But one thing that Earl put inside of me and put into my head from the beginning (was), 'In football, son, you can be finesse all you want, but eventually you're going to have to hit somebody.' And I will never forget that. That's the way I live my entire career. So I wanted to thank Earl. I wanted to thank his wife Bobby for letting us have Earl for the time that we had him when he was here with us and Earl, you know, rest in peace. I know you're proud and I know you're looking down on me right now."
Strahan moved on to what he called "the next generation," the staff of Fassel, Fox and Marcin, a group that helped lead the Giants to Super Bowl XXXV in 2000.
"One thing I learned under these guys – you can be tough, you can run through these guys, you can be physical, but you can have fun doing it," Strahan said. "And fun we had. We had a lot of fun. In this era, this is where I felt like it because my team."
Coughlin and Co. arrived in 2004 and Strahan and he had a prickly relationship from the day the coach walked through the door. But over time they developed a mutual respect, admiration and even love. If the football gods allowed Michael Strahan to play one final game, he would selected Tom Coughlin to coach it.
"I think it's no secret that Tom Coughlin and I did not see eye-to-eye when he came to New York," Strahan said. "We finally realized that we both had the same goal and that was to win. It wasn't about ego. I want to say that he taught me so many things about responsibility, accountability, how to be a better teammates even though I thought I was a good teammate. About how to be a man, about how to be five minutes early to a meeting when if the meeting starts at eight, just tell me 7:55, don't tell me it starts at eight. That one I still don't get, I'm not going to lie to you. But you made me a better man, coach Coughlin. You gave me a lesson that transcends anything and I will carry with me well past my football career and carry with me every day that I go forward now. I love you and I thank you, thank you for trusting me to be a leader on your football team."
Michael Strahan expressing his love for Tom Coughlin on national television? Ten years ago, that would have been unfathomable.
"Life is about improbability," he said. "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 ended his speech by sticking to his theme and addressing the jewels of his biological family, his four children – daughter Tanita, my son Michael Jr. and my twins Isabella and Sophia.
"My babies, my beautiful babies," he said. "I hope, and this has always been my hope for my kids, because I love them more than anything, is that I showed you and you've learned that improbability means nothing because anything is absolutely possible. Anything is possible. Of all the titles that I have, from everything, you could name it, the most important title that I'm most proud of is Michael Strahan, your father."
As he took his rightful place in with the other pro football immortals enshrined in Canton, Michael proved once again that he is a Hall of Famer by any definition of the term.
Photos from Hall of Fame weekend as Michael Strahan gets inducted Saturday night!