A Belated Farewell to New York Giants Great Michael Strahan
One of the greatest debates in sports is the age-old question: "Is he a Hall of Famer?"
Admit it. You've debated that query with your buddies over an alcoholic beverage a million times in your life as a sports fan, about a million different players. I know I have.
A lot of people look simply at the numbers a player has tallied over the course of his career as their basis for a verdict. Others look at the intangibles and leadership a player brought to the table, as well as their career numbers.
While I take into account all of those things when determining a player's Hall of Fame credentials, there's one test I administer that is, without question, my deciding factor.
The test is only one question, but to me it's all you ever need to know when dealing with this topic: Is he a player you'll tell your kids about someday?
Any sports fan knows what I'm talking about. When I was little my father used to tell me the story of how he saw Jim Brown play in person - the way he ran, the way he looked as if he was a man playing amongst boys. Mind you, this was when the Giants were one of the best defenses in the league, a part of the story that is never left out.
The Giants have had their share of players like this over the course of their storied history. I've heard the tales of greats like Sam Huff, Y.A. Tittle, and countless others. I'll tell my kids someday about Lawrence Taylor, and how I was lucky enough to watch him play in person.
I'll tell my kids I saw Michael Strahan play in person. And I'll be damn proud of it.
As he comes to end of his playing career, it's important to understand what he has meant to the Giants, and where he stands in the pantheon of Giants greats.
141.5 sacks, most in team history and fifth in league history. 15 seasons as a Giant, a feat accomplished by only two other players - Phil Simms and Mel Hein. 216 regular-season games played, also a club record. 22.5 sacks in a single season, an NFL record. Seven Pro Bowls. And most importantly, a Super Bowl Ring.
Those numbers alone make him in my opinion a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But a closer look at his career can show you just how great he was, and why the argument can be made he is one of the ten greatest Giants ever.
This man demanded double-teams for the majority of his career, the ultimate sign of respect for a defensive end and making his career numbers that much more remarkable. Take a look at some of the quotes from opposing offensive linemen and quarterbacks - none of these guys are sad to see him go, showing just how outstanding he was.
He was unequivocally a top-10 - maybe even top-five - defensive end in the league for at least 10 of the 15 years he played. But his impact wasn't just felt in his individual accomplishments.
By commanding double teams he allowed the rest of the defensive line to reek havoc. Osi Umenyiora has had his two best seasons as a pro in the years that Strahan was healthy throughout the year. Justin Tuck developed into a force this past season. To say that Strahan has had no bearing on the development of these two young stars is just plain wrong.
He has been a mentor to the young defensive ends, as well as a leader in the locker room. Not many guys could miss all of training camp pondering retirement and be named a team captain. He had the ultimate respect of his teammates, and the ultimate respect of his opponents. That, to me, is a Hall of Famer.
Strahan's absence will be felt throughout the organization, at every level. On the field, the Giants defense will be different. Umenyiora has emerged as a premier defensive end in the league, and Tuck is on the same path. Mathius Kiwanuka will most likely move back to end, and Gerris Wilkinson has been named the front-runner for the outside linebacker spot Kiwanuka will probably vacate.
While that all seems well and good, the impact of losing a player who commanded as much respect as Strahan did will certainly be felt from the first defensive series of the season. You can replace him with a body, you may even be able to replace his production. But you cannot replace the respect he commanded, and you cannot replace the game-planning teams had to do to make sure he was contained.
More importantly, the team has lost in my opinion the face of the franchise. Strahan was a leader both in the locker room and as a vocal mouth piece with the media, and his leadership in those areas will certainly be missed as well. The Giants will need a vocal leader, and noone's really sure who it will be. Antonio Pierce is a logical choice, as is Eli Manning, but someone must step to the forefront and take on the responsibility Strahan leaves behind.
That said, it's hard to disagree with his decision to retire. He leaves the game after 15 seasons in good health, and with a brand spankin'-new Super Bowl Ring.
There's something to be said for a player with the opportunity to go out on top. There's no better ending to a career as far as I'm concerned. I'm sure Strahan couldn't have scripted it any better.
He leaves with the piece of mind knowing he still can perform at a high level, something he stated was important to him. He leaves the game on his own terms, which is something every player can only hope to achieve.
A story-book ending to a story-book career. The numbers don't lie, and the rest of the story shows that Michael Strahan was one of the best ever at his position.
And most importantly to me, I'll be proud to tell my kids I watched him play in person.
Congratulations on a great career Michael. See you in Canton.
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