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Michael Strahan: Inside the Legacy of 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee

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Michael Strahan: Inside the Legacy of 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee
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Saturday in Canton, Ohio, with his former team watching, Michael Strahan will become the first New York Giants defensive lineman from the NFL's Super Bowl era to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

The 42-year-old will be the first modern-era Giants player to be inducted this century, which truly makes him a symbol for what has been a remarkably memorable and successful run for this franchise.

In order to take an all-encompassing look at how Strahan went from raw Texas afterthought to a king among Giants, let's look at eight numbers that have defined his career.  

 

39: The number of players who were picked before Strahan in the first and second round of the 1993 NFL draft.

Strahan was never supposed to be this good. He was never supposed to break NFL records. That's not what usually happens to kids who spend the majority of their childhood in Army households in Germany before playing only a single season of high school football. 

Because Strahan's dad, Gene, was a U.S. Army major posted in Mannheim, Germany, his exposure to American football was limited at best before moving back to his hometown of Houston for his senior year of high school.

And because he was already behind, even the naturally talented Strahan could only earn a scholarship to the relatively obscure Texas Southern University.

Because he was still raw and coming out of a small school in a small conference, he wasn't picked until the 40th selection of the 1993 draft. 

Hindsight is a beautiful thing. Here's a look at the defensive ends taken ahead of Strahan that year:

Defensive ends drafted in the top 40, 1993
Player Picked Team Career sacks Pro Bowls
Eric Curry 6th Bucs 12.5 0
Dan Williams 11th Broncos 27.0 0
Chris Slade 31st Patriots 53.5 0
Coleman Rudolph 36th Jets 5.0 1
Michael Strahan 40th Giants 141.5 7

Pro Football Reference

Eighth overall selection Willie Roaf is the only other Hall of Famer from that year's draft class, and only No. 10 overall pick Jerome Bettis should be expected to join those two anytime soon. 

"My goal when I first started," Strahan said on a conference call last month, "was just to make a little money so I didn't have to move back to my parents' house."

But even though he was a second-round pick, not everybody passed on Strahan. Three teams didn't have picks in the top 30—the Cowboys, the Chiefs and, of course, the Giants, who hoped he'd drop to them in the No. 40 spot.

General manager George Young and head coach Dan Reeves knew they liked Strahan all along based on this promising scouting report from that offseason, which was compiled by scouts Jerry Shay, Jeremiah Davis and Greg Gabriel and dug up recently by NJ.com's Jordan Raanan

A tall, gd looking athlete who needs bulk &additional stg for next level--He has plenty of QAB's spd & change of direction to be a VG pass rusher--No reason why he can't grow into a power rush, neutralize & control LOS type--An upfield player for Texas So/not a leverage player & runs self out of too many plays--Michael is agg & works hard in pursuit--Potential to be a top player in NFL--A situational pass rusher 1st yr-Sr Bowl/Indy workout helped his grade.

So the draft isn't a complete crapshoot

 

1: The number of sacks he recorded as a rookie.

Maybe it's a Giants thing. Maybe the Tom Coughlin redshirt season existed even before Coughlin came to New York. Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora each only had one sack as rookies, Jason Pierre-Paul had only 4.5 and Damontre Moore had zero, but they all had Strahan's example to keep them going. 

The Giants were good that year, going 11-5 while compiling 41 sacks. Strahan was only 22 and playing behind double-digit sack artist Keith Hamilton as well as future Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor (who was in his final season).

On top of that, he played in only nine games and never made a start due to a foot injury. 

But because of those circumstances, nobody was giving up on Strahan. He flashed brilliance the next preseason, leading Mike Freeman of The New York Times to write this: 

But what is encouraging is that Strahan is evolving into a premier pass rusher and he definitely has the chance to be one of the best pass-rushing defensive linemen the Giants have had in years. 

...

The Giants have always thought that Strahan could be a formidable presence, which is why they drafted him in the second round in 1993. The problem was that last season, his rookie year, he didn't get a chance to prove it because of a severe foot injury.

 

5: The number of years it took for him to make his first Pro Bowl.

Still, Strahan didn't look anything like a Hall of Famer during the first four years of his career. Despite the hype, he had only 4.5 sacks in 15 starts as a sophomore and only 18 in total between '93 and '96. 

Entering year five, he had a steep hill to climb. 

First 4 years for Hall of Fame pass-rushers (1982-present)
Pass-rusher Sacks Starts
Reggie White 70.0 56
Derrick Thomas 68.0 62
Richard Dent 39.0 43
Bruce Smith 44.5 52
Andre Tippett 43.5 46
John Randle 34.5 38
Howie Long 30.5 37
Warren Sapp 29.5 53
Rickey Jackson 28.5 57
Chris Doleman 22.5 50
Michael Strahan 18.0 46

Pro Football Reference

But Strahan turned his career around, ever so slowly, before busting out with a 14-sack 1997 season, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl. 

The catalyst for that turnaround might have actually been his move from right end (where top pass-rushers traditionally line up) to the opposite side. 

Newsday's Bob Glauber explains

This was 1996, when Strahan had not yet blossomed into one of the best left ends in NFL history. He had played at right end the previous three seasons, and had hoped to stay there the rest of his career. After all, it's the right end who traditionally gets the most opportunities to rush the passer, and Strahan, coming off his best season with 71/2 sacks, felt that was his best spot.

But due to a rash of injuries that left the Giants thin at left end, as well as defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's intuitive feeling that a problem with Strahan's footwork could be fixed more easily by switching sides, he was moved to a position that traditionally involved more run-stopping responsibilities and fewer pass rush opportunities.

So while it took much of the '96 season for Strahan to get his sea legs on that side, part of that '97 explosion—and everything that happened from that point forward—has to be credited to the position change. Strahan proved to be a reliable run defender while continually exploiting mismatches with right tackles, and the rest was history.  

 

22.5: The number of sacks he recorded in 2001, an NFL record.

Strahan had 44 sacks between 1997 and 2000, earning a second Pro Bowl trip in '98 and All-Pro nods in both years. But it was the year after the Giants lost the 2000 Super Bowl to the Ravens when he really became a Hall of Fame threat. 

That year, Strahan had five multi-sack performances, single-handedly carrying a defense that would have otherwise been mediocre at best. And on the final day of the regular season—in controversial fashion, thanks to pal Brett Favre—he was able to leapfrog Mark Gastineau to set the new single-season sack record. 

That and a league-high six forced fumbles were enough for Strahan to capture the AP Defensive Player of the Year award. At 31, he was a late bloomer in the prime of his career, and he wasn't about to slow down. Strahan had 29.5 total sacks the next two seasons, forcing six more fumbles. 

Most sacks between 1997 and 2005
Player Sacks Starts
1. Michael Strahan 111.5 135
2. Simeon Rice 106.5 137
3. Jason Taylor 92.5 137
4. Kevin Carter 76.5 141
5. Warren Sapp 72.5 134

Pro Football Reference

This all happened during a stretch in which the Giants never put together consecutive winning seasons, causing you to wonder how much better Strahan could have been with a strong supporting cast. 

 

253: That's about what he weighed while still dominating off the edge in his Super Bowl-winning final season.

NFL defensive ends can rarely afford to dip below 260, and for the majority of his career Strahan weighed more than 270 pounds. His Pro-Football-Reference.com page lists his playing weight at 275 pounds. 

But in order to stay on top of his game during the 14th and 15th year of his career, Strahan slimmed down. 

"He took his weight down," Coughlin said recently of Strahan's final two years in the league. "He was probably 252, 254."

He was beyond 35 at that point but still managed 12 sacks in 25 starts in 2006 and 2007 while playing a major role in a career-ending run to the Super Bowl. Pretty impressive considering how close he came to retiring prior to that season, as is documented here by John Branch of The New York Times

Everyone talks about Eli Manning to David Tyree, but the Giants wouldn't have slayed the Goliath-esque Patriots without constant pressure from a pass rush led by Strahan and Umenyiora. Strahan had four pressures, two tackles and one final sack. 

And that's how he went out Elway style. 

 

141.5: The number of sacks he recorded in his 15-year career, ranking fifth on the all-time list.

Quite the recovery for a guy who started unusually slow. 

NFL all-time sack leaders
Player Sacks Starts
Bruce Smith 200 267
Reggie White 198 228
Kevin Greene 160 176
Chris Doleman 150.5 213
Michael Strahan 141.5 205

Pro Football Reference

Strahan walked away as one of only four players in NFL history with a 20-sack season and a 120-sack career, joining Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White and Jared Allen. 

 

3: The number of jobs he currently holds.

Strahan is no longer sacking quarterbacks, but he's actually more visible now than he was as a player. He parlayed immediate success on the Fox NFL Sunday set in order to land a pair of high-profile gigs in the world of variety TV—one as Regis Philbin's replacement on what is now Live! with Kelly and Michael and another as a frequent contributor to Good Morning America

All the while, he has continued to endorse products like it's something he was born to do. 

The guy is seriously approaching the A-list. He even starred in a short-lived Fox sitcom called Brothers, and he recently hosted Nickelodeon's Kids Choice Sports Awards. His next goal? Acting in a feature film. Sure, why not?

 

6: The number of years he had to wait before being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

The shame here is that it wasn't the minimum of five, because Strahan deserved to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, just as Sapp, Bruce Smith and Reggie White were. Yes, Greene had more career sacks in fewer games and is still fighting for a spot, and Gastineau isn't a Hall of Famer despite a 22-sack season, but Greene never won a championship, and neither of those players holds the all-time single-season sack record. Plus, Gastineau finished with only 74 career sacks. 

Whatever, that gap-toothed bust has been created now. And when longtime friend and current Fox colleague Jay Glazer presents him at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony Saturday in Canton, you can be sure he'll discuss how the key to Strahan's success was the fact he was always pushing. 

As Strahan himself said when featured on NFL Films' A Football Life last year, he was driven by fear:

I was scared every time I put on a uniform and stepped on the field. I’m scared every day I go into the studio and I come on stage because I fear that I will not live up to what is expected. I fear that somebody who spent a lot of money to come into our studio, to come to New York and they’ll walk away and go, ‘I could have stayed at home.’ I feared that as a player a fan would come to the stands and I wouldn’t perform well. Just the way I’m built. I’m more scared of failure than I am excited about the accolades that come with success.

When it comes to personal and professional growth, there's something to be said for never being too comfortable. And although Strahan has always possessed an uncanny ability to appear comfortable and friendly, he's actually been grinding below the surface. And that same undying ambition that took him from Texas Southern to the second round of the draft, to New York to Canton has him pushing forward now as an entertainer. 

"Let me put it in movie vernacular," Giants co-owner Steve Tisch told the New York Daily News. "His career with the Giants was his first act. His second act is just as remarkable. And it’s just starting."

 

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFC East for Bleacher Report since 2012.

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