From gridiron great to TV superstar
The days start early for Michael Strahan, just like they did during his 15 NFL seasons. Only now, it seems like his days never end. The 42-year-old Strahan works year-round, jetting back and forth between the two coasts. And by the time you’re reading this, he’ll probably be doing more.
Once he was the best defensive end in the NFL. Now, to a whole new generation, he’s a ubiquitous TV star. If he’s not the hardest-working man in television, he’s got to be near the top, with gigs on two morning talk shows, an NFL pregame show and countless commercials. And those who know him best think that this is only the beginning. There’s a lot more that Michael Strahan can do.
“I see it in Strahan and I see it in Jimmy Fallon and I see it in a bunch of entertainers who almost welcome their fans to be comfortable with them,” says Giants co-owner Steve Tisch, a Hollywood producer and a long-time Strahan friend. “I think Michael is just one of those human beings. And those qualities seem to be getting stronger and stronger and stronger.
“Let me put it in movie vernacular: His career with the Giants was his first act. His second act is as remarkable. And it’s just starting.”
The fact that it started at all is remarkable considering the long, strange trip that Strahan has taken from unknown small-college kid to NFL star to national superstar. In 1993 he was an unheralded second-round draft pick out of tiny Texas Southern. By 2007 he was the Giants’ undisputed sack king and a Super Bowl champion. In 2014, he was officially enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But the really unbelievable part is what the one-time moody player, who frequently feuded with the media during his career, has become outside of football. He didn’t just become the stereotypical ex-jock talking sports on game day.
In 2012, he officially crossed over from athlete to celebrity when he replaced the legendary Regis Philbin on ABC’s morning show, which is now known as “Live! with Kelly and Michael.” In April, he joined ABC’s “Good Morning America” for occasional appearances. He’s starred in a sitcom (“Brothers,” a short-lived FOX show in 2009). He’s hosted Nickelodeon’s “Kids’ Choice Sports Awards.”
To many, it’s not only that he’s not just a football player anymore — it’s that they don’t remember him as a football player at all.
“I bumped into an old teammate recently,” Strahan recalls. “And he said, ‘Oh yeah, my wife is like ‘Ohhhh, Michael Strahan …’ And he said, ‘Yeah I’m going to see him this weekend.’ And she’s like ‘Huh? Really?’ He said, ‘Yeah, at the Hall of Fame.’ And she said, ‘He played football?!’ That seems to be the story that I get a lot of. And I don’t mind, because when I was a football player, there were times when they said, ‘Oh, you’re just the football player.’ I think for any of us, that bothers you because you want people to understand that you’re more than just a football player. Now I have the opportunity to show that.”
The opportunity came because Strahan applied the same level of preparation for a television career that he used in football, when he painstakingly studied the offensive linemen he faced. During his career, Strahan rarely turned down a chance to appear on TV, whether it was a local sports show or a niche show like SpikeTV’s “Pros vs. Joes” or “Backyard Stadiums” on the DIY Network.
He made himself into a TV-ready product. He took advantage of what people believe is a natural charm.
“He’s likable,” Tisch says. “He’s not threatening to anybody. Guys want to be his best friend. Women I think find him charming and accessible and a gentleman and professional. He’s hitting all those quadrants. And for me, that’s why Michael is unique.”
Tisch thinks Strahan could end up as a movie star. In fact, Strahan was recently cast in the upcoming film “Magic Mike XXL,” a follow-up to the 2012 movie starring Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey. “I’m very appreciative to Channing and the writers for the role,” Strahan says. The movie is slated for a July 2015 release.
Strahan won’t say what’s beyond that, because at the moment he’s thrilled with exactly what he’s doing. Most learned long ago not to even try to guess what he’ll do next.
“I thought maybe he could be a successful NFL commentator,” Giants co-owner John Mara says, “but I never in my wildest dreams thought he could have the success that he’s having right now.”
“It’s funny,” Strahan adds. “Now all the men who used to come up and congratulate me on football are now congratulating me on ‘Kelly and Michael’ or ‘GMA’ or something like that. It’s a little weird. But it’s also cool.
“It means that I’ve done something right.”
—By Ralph Vacchiano