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Michael Strahan is the most vocal member of the Super Bowl winning New York Giants, a leader inside and outside the locker room, and a certain Hall-of-Famer. He is also the son of one of the Army’s 82nd Airborne’s best.
"Because of my father’s (Gene Strahan’s) military background, I learned discipline and about hard work. I also learned how to make a bed with tight corners and to polish boots (mostly his). My father was and still is the biggest influence in my life although he is now retired he and I still talk about everything going on in the military," he said.
It was that discipline that allowed him to outlive the typical life span of a pro football player, and to finally achieve the ultimate accomplishment on what could have been his final game.
"My fairytale ending would be, first of all, winning the Super Bowl - which we have the opportunity to do," said the 36-year-old star defensive end, the week before the stunning 17-14 victory over the New England Patriots.
Strahan, whose gap-toothed grin makes him the most recognizable of Giants, ranks fifth all-time in the NFL with 141 1/2 sacks. He was also the focus of a high-profile holdout last September as he pondered retirement.
Michael Strahan’s 11th-hour decision to forego retirement and stick with the New York Giants this season gave him the chance to write a fairytale ending to his National Football League career. It was a vision bolstered by his parents to the very end.
"Even when my parents were telling me, ’You’re going to win,’ I don’t know if I believed them," he said after the game.
It wasn’t all wine and roses for Strahan, who holds the NFL single season record for sacks (22 1/2). He is also one of the last remaining Giants (aside from wide receiver Amani Toomer) from their humbling 2001 Super Bowl defeat to the Baltimore Ravens. He also endured a bitter high-profile divorce, and $500,000 in fines for not showing up to training camp last September, as he pondered retirement.
One of the things that swayed him out of retirement was a conversation with Marshall Faulk, now a fellow Super Bowl winner with the St. Louis Rams. When Strahan asked Faulk how he felt about retirement, the response had a hint of hard-hitting sarcasm that appealed to Strahan’s ambitions as a competitor.
"Great!" Strahan recalled Faulk saying. "You have a ring, don’t you?"
At the time, of course there was no ring. And needless to say, teammates were pleased to see Strahan back in the locker room very soon after that conversation.
Born Among the Troops, Always Respecting the Troops
Michael Anthony Strahan was born on Nov. 21, 1971 in Houston, Texas, a self-described "Army Brat" whose childhood included fond memories of his father’s service, across the U.S. and the world. Stops included Fort Bragg, NC, where his dad was stationed with the 82nd Airborne. He graduated from Mannheim (Germany) American High, where his father, Gene, was stationed in the U.S. Army before retiring in 1985 to enter private business in that country.
He’s even been an ambassador for the NFL, visiting wounded U.S. Troops in Germany.
"I loved growing up here," he said, visiting Landstuhl Regional Medical Center with NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and other NFL executives. "I definitely understand the military way of life. It was my way of life growing up … I can’t think of anything greater that you can do as a human being and more unselfish than serving your country. So, I’m very appreciative. I know the NFL is, that’s why we come over here."
"A lot of the time you are complimented on how tough you are and how hard your job must be and sometimes you buy into it until confronted with the situation that we are in right now," he once told a serviceman stationed in the Middle East as part of an e-mail pen pal program sponsored by ESPN soon after the war with Iraq begun.
"What you and the rest of the troops are doing right now is beyond my comprehension. The desire, skill and training that it takes to hang in there in the conditions that you deal with is harder than any two a day practice, any sprint and any situation that we have to go through."
"We (father and son) are both extremely proud of what you all are doing for us," Strahan said.
And with the fairy tale ending under his belt, there will be speculation about his next career move.
"That might be it, it might not," he said at the pre-game press conference, although he did not yet address the subject immediately after the Super Bowl. "Anytime you win, you feel like you can duplicate that success the next time around. I think that it will be a hard call to make."