The Inimitable Michael Strahan

by Daniel Ramirez in Fall 2015

Consider it a tale of two empires.

One is a sweaty field of play in nearly constant motion, the soundtrack composed from the notes of violent collisions, barked commands and the unmistakable grunts of an effort, fully given. From high school sandlots to college campuses, the din grows louder, always with the same tone and timbre. It’s any football field in Texas during the fall, when the most dreaded word is, “again,” and dreams reach higher than the endless blue skies, sparking thoughts of playing on Friday, Saturday or, for the dedicated few, Sunday.

The other is a city that genuinely never sleeps, scored by Tony-award winning musical productions, the ever-present din of car horns and the constant shuffle of thousands upon thousands of feet, hastily getting from one place to another, lattes or folded slices in hand. It’s the crowded streets of New York City, where the least welcome thing is an outsider and the most dreaded word is “tourist.” And there are few who don’t know what happens if you “can make it there.”

What do the busy football fields of Texas high schools and the bustling streets of New York City have in common? Who could possibly unite such diverse kingdoms? The answer is a man named Michael Strahan.

If you’ve paid attention to either the National Football League or the top morning talk shows over the past 15 years, you will recognize Michael Strahan. His winsome charm has graced the television screen, alongside morning television star, Kelly Ripa as part of “Live! With Kelly and Michael,” from where he has branched out to be a regular co-host on “Good Morning America” and become quite the household name.

And, while the a.m. coffee set might consider him with a fond regard and a warm chuckle, former NFL offenses and offensive coordinators likely replace that fondness with dread and the chuckle with a grimace. It is on the football field that he first made his mark. Strahan gave nightmares to Cowboys and Texans fans alike as a fixture of the New York Giants defensive unit, where his talent and skill earned him enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In both realms, whether football or entertainment, Strahan is widely known, respected and perhaps, in the long memories of a few Dallas Cowboys, feared.

He is the pride of New York, where he played his entire professional career and where his hit show is set and filmed. But the story of this master of two domains did not begin in the Empire State, much as they might have a valid claim to the man.

His journey to stardom began in Houston, where he played for Westbury High School. Already well on his way to becoming the monolithic presence he would become, he spent his senior year at Westbury, transferring in, a child of military parents. It was there that he garnered enough attention from local college, Texas Southern University, to be awarded a scholarship and make impressions for the next four years that got him noticed by NFL scouts across the nation. And, although New York landed him, his time in Texas – his home base when his parents weren’t stationed abroad and the launching point for his football career – was more than enough to make him a native son of the Lone Star State.

“Everybody knows, in my opinion, if you’re talking about football, the biggest state is Texas,” Strahan explains. For him, the reason football in the state has such a reputation is that Texas deserves it. He attributes the notoriety of the sport in his home state to “the support and the fans and the ‘high school Friday Night Lights’ feel…”

“If you’re a star in Texas, you’re pretty much a star everywhere,” Strahan concludes, and it is this sentiment that is likely responsible for preparing the football phenomenon, not only for the jump to the professional level, but for a successful life well beyond.

Now done with a routine that dictated athletic regimens and readiness, he’s made some adjustments to accommodate for a less sports-centric routine. “Everybody says, ‘football season is here,’” Strahan begins. “I texted Eli Manning [quarterback for the New York Giants and a former teammate] and said, ‘Hey, let’s play some golf,’ and he said, ‘my golf season is over – I’ve got camp starting.’ Man, my life is great. I don’t even know when training camp is. I don’t miss getting beat up. That part they can keep, every day of the week.”

Of course, the game is rarely far from Strahan. With a regular spot on “Fox NFL Sunday,” he still offers plenty of commentary and reflection. “I do look forward to watching games,” he emphasizes. “I’m a fan just like everyone else.”

With regular golf plans and a chance to watch NFL teams play instead of preparing to wreak havoc upon them, you might think that Strahan’s schedule is wide open, full of leisure and the retirement life that a man of his accomplishments has made possible.

Doing so, however, would discount that other part of Strahan’s life, the role as half of the dynamic daytime duo, “Live! With Kelly and Michael.” It is in this role that Strahan has shown incredible talent and range.

Set in the Big Apple, the show captured the local enthusiasm for Strahan’s notoriety, but also discovered hidden depths of talent in that impossible-to-ignore smile and natural charisma. And thanks to the city and what it taught him, he has thrived in a role that demands his time and attention, daily.

“This is the greatest city,” he says, musing on the confluence of events that have brought him here, “the one place to be – in my opinion – in the world. Being a player here, it’s a little more intense as far as the media scrutiny.” Emerging from a run through the gauntlet that the increased attention of New York City’s millions, all who consider themselves ‘expert’ football critics, Strahan learned how to manage a crowd and his image. It made for an easy transition from the field to the screen, since he was media-tested for over a decade. “If you can handle all of that here,” he jokes, evoking the classic Frank Sinatra verse, “you can handle anything.”

Strahan’s history in sports and time in the public eye proved to be quite the asset in the football-obsessed market that is New York City, and reaps benefits that he could have foreseen, but perhaps not counted on. “Being here, now, on the TV side, it’s cool because all of those fathers and sons who would say, ‘Hey, you played great football,’ they love me and now they love Kelly Ripa, too.”

His new career has opened even more eyes and still more avenues, and Strahan recently added “movie star” to the list of things that he is known for. Having maintained an athletic fitness regimen despite being out of professional sports, he lent his physique – and his dancing prowess – to “Magic Mike XXL.”

Strahan happily explains that, despite how busy others might see his life, he looks with a different lens. “I read something the other day that made me realize that my life probably isn’t busy enough,” he explains. “It said you have the same 24 hours in your day as Gandhi and Albert Einstein and Mother Teresa, and all of these people who made such big changes.”

There is, of course, the matter of how he manages to keep his physique without NFL trainers and nutritionists to guide him and opposing offensive linemen to motivate him. Strahan reveals a far more relatable routine and rationale. “I work out five days a week. I try to eat 80/20. 80% of the time, I try to eat clean – vegetables or chicken or fish or something like that,” he reveals. But, when it comes to the remainder of his diet, he’s honest about where he finds the rest of his calories. “I will have ice cream,” he says. “20% of the time, I’ll throw some dessert in there. I have a weakness for chocolate.”

He doesn’t want the world to “remember him when.” Strahan explains, “I lost about 15 to 20 pounds toward the last three years of my career. I didn’t want to be a guy that somebody looked at and said, ‘He looks like he gave up on life.’ I want to look like I still care.” It is still about Strahan continuing to express his work ethic and maximize his exposure, all while silencing critics, albeit less forcefully. He’s created a very admirable image, as a result.

It is an image he is now lending to designers and, through them, to fashion-conscious men across the country, as he launches his new clothing line for J.C. Penney. “In September, I had a suit line come out,” Strahan mentions, almost in passing. “We opened at 240 J.C. Penney stores with suits, ties, sport coats, bowties, suspenders and you name it – the full gamut.”

And if all of this weren’t enough, he has a book out. “It’s called ‘Wake Up Happy,’” he says. “It’s not stiff stories from football. It’s stories from my life and how to take the different things that are thrown at you, good things and bad, and use those things to be the tools that help you advance and make your life the way you want your life to be.”

Strahan seems to have figured out the key to these matters, though he never sounds like a braggart, nor does he claim that his answers or his path are the way for everyone. “My life,” he says, “has truly been a life people look at as a charmed life, with all these things that have happened, but there’ve been a lot of failures along the way.”

He is, as ever, a man in constant motion. But, if you were ever to doubt that he is a well-adjusted Texan, instead of a New Yorker, you need only ask him what to send as a care package from the Lone Star State or who he’ll be rooting for when college football season gets going. “Barbecue. I miss it. I like ribs, brisket, love barbecue chicken – only drumsticks – and some good potato salad,” he requests. “You give me that, and some good cornbread, and you can call it a day.”

As for his hopes for the coming year on the gridiron, his fandom never gets north of the Red River. “My son goes to UT and I would love to see that team do something, that way he could get excited about it,” he says with a pride that could surely only be born in Texas. “They’re on that comeback trail,” Strahan adds. “So, hopefully this is the year they click.”

Fans across Texas can celebrate that Strahan has passed his Texas roots down to his son and has a regular reason to visit his Lone Star State. Fingers crossed, he can also catch some Friday Night Lights this season.