When Michael Strahan, former defensive end of the New York Giants, took the stage at his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014, he had a long list of people to thank for getting him there. First on that long list was his father, Gene Strahan, a former commander in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne.
“Dad, I don’t even know what to say about you because [you’re] the most amazing man. Retired major with the U.S. Army, 82nd Airborne Division master paratrooper, and more so than any of that, one hell of a father,” said Strahan, standing before fellow Hall of Fame members and a large audience in Canton, Ohio.
Strahan credits his father for teaching him the value of hard work and the discipline that made him a success. Growing up in Mannheim, Germany, where his father was stationed, Strahan often found himself the butt of his five older siblings’ jokes. Being a “husky kid,” as Strahan put it, his brothers would call him BOB, meaning “booty on back.” At the age of 13, though, Strahan was determined to make a change and lose his lingering baby weight.
When Gene saw his son working out to Jane Fonda exercise videos, he stepped in to help. Gene read magazines to plan workout routines for Michael, woke up at 5 a.m. to take him on three-to-five mile runs in the nearby woods, dropped and did push-ups with him in the living room and spent countless hours in the gym developing Strahan’s strength.
Without the money to pay for tuition at a Department of Defense school large enough to field a football team, Gene realized his son’s natural abilities would be wasted unless he returned to the U.S. to pursue football. So Strahan was sent to Houston for his senior year of high school, where he played football and trained with his uncle Art – a former NFL defensive tackle. Art helped Strahan land a scholarship to play at Texas Southern University where he proved himself talented enough for the New York Giants to draft him in 1993.
Even though Strahan possessed an endless supply of talent and the attitude to match, it wasn’t easy for him during his career with New York. Strahan didn’t see eye-to-eye with Tom Coughlin when he first came on board as head coach in 2004. However, thanks to the discipline instilled by his father, Strahan quickly buckled down to become the leader he was trained to be.
“I’m grateful for what his dad and mom instilled in him at home. I know there was discipline there, and as time went on that was one of the main reasons that when Michael did come on board, he came on with both feet,” said Coughlin in an interview with ESPN’s Ian O’Connor.
That military-like discipline and drive taught by his father endured throughout Strahan’s NFL career in New York where he broke the league single season record for sacks with 22.5. Then in his final season, as the unquestionable leader of his team, Strahan and the Giants claimed a stunning, come-from-behind victory against the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl XLII.
Being crowned a Super Bowl champion was the fairytale ending Strahan had always hoped for in his 15-year NFL career, and he stepped away from the game in 2008 as a happy man. However, one can hardly say he “retired.” Strahan was quickly on-boarded as an analyst on Fox NFL Sunday, then in 2012 he replaced Regis Philbin to become a full-time host on ABC’s LIVE with Kelly and Michael.His new role alongside Kelly Ripa was finalized after a nine-month talent search that included 59 top personalities from every area of entertainment, none of whom could match Strahan’s larger-than-life personality to replace the longtime star Philbin.
“He definitely had something special, that twinkle. He’s a big guy, but when he smiles he feels like a big teddy bear and people really respond to it,” said Michael Gelman, the show’s executive producer, in an interview with ESPN’s O’Connor.
That “big teddy bear” has also put his warm smile to good use off the air, working with numerous charities and showing his support throughout the military community. As an NFL ambassador, Strahan visited wounded U.S. troops at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He also worked with The USO and participated in an email pen pal program sponsored by ESPN, through which he wrote to one soldier, “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."
And if anyone can inspire a sense of determination, grit and purpose, it’s Strahan – once a boy who worked out in the family living room to Jane Fonda exercise videos, now a man who graces the television screens of millions of Americans and still passes on what he learned from his father Gene: that absolutely anything is possible.
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