This. This was exactly where he was supposed to be.
Standing atop the mightiest of stages, his gap-toothed grin smiling at the thousands that had traveled to Canton, Ohio for him. There were NFL greats to his left and right, family, friends and fans sitting in front of him. This moment was what those 15 years in the NFL had come to. This was the final stop of Michael Strahan’s football career.
He began speaking shortly after Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer presented him. His first words were what he wanted to get across. What he wanted all to know.
“This isn’t TV Michael,” Strahan said. “This is football Michael.”
But he was wrong. This wasn’t either. This was who he was. There was no pretending, no show, no over-the-top antics.
This was Michael Strahan. The same person who had made himself so endearing to fans over the years.
The more he talked, the more the twitterverse fawned. Fans of every team hung on each and every word as Strahan reminisced about his days at Texas Southern – yes, he reminded all it was Texas Southern – and the early days with the Giants. There were, as he described it, three generations. He was apart of them all.
Strahan was with George Young and Dan Reeves, who drafted him in 1993. Then Jim Fassel, Jessie Armstead, and Keith ‘The Hammer’ Hamilton, a group Strahan helped take to the 2000 Super Bowl.
But then Strahan’s tone changed. His eyes lit up as he looked at the row several feet in front of him with two faces he wanted to address more than anyone else. All in all, Strahan thanked 94 people who had helped him along the way – even rivals Erik Williams and Jon Runyan – but these two were different. That gap-toothed grin came out again as he looked directly at an equally smiling Tom Coughlin.
Strahan talked about his early days with the Giants and struggles he and Coughlin went through. Joked about the coach’s strict five-minute early rule saying he, “still doesn’t get it.” The man who now is welcomed into millions of people’s homes on “Live with Kelly and Michael” got the stern-faced Coughlin to beam with a smile.
But then came the quote that was more telling than any. The smile left Strahan’s face for just as second as he spoke directly from the heart.
“You made me a better man,” Strahan said.
The smile grew on Tom’s.
After thanking a few others, including David Tyree’s helmet, Strahan managed to penetrate the impenetrable. The emotionless Eli Manning.
Strahan talked about how on game days, he’d go up to every player on the Giants’ roster and attempt to get them pumped up. When it came to Manning, it was a handshake and ‘Go get em’ comment before exiting the tunnel. He mimicked Mannings stone-cold face, to which Eli flashed one in a joking manner back before even…yes, really…smiling himself.
This was who Michael Strahan was. The man who got Coughlin to beam ear-to-ear, Eli to grin and thousands to laugh right along with them. This wasn’t forced. This wasn’t made up. This was Michael Strahan.
Then came the line that meant more than anything. Not TV Michael, not football Michael.
‘Dad’ turned to his four children, Michael Jr., Tanita, and twins Sophia and Isabella. Gone again was the grin, replaced with sincerity and love. Telling them how they were the most important motivation for him throughout his career.
“Of all titles,” Strahan told his children, “The title I am most proud of is Michael Strahan, your father.”
And that was it. The final 34 minutes of Michael Strahan’s football career.