Hall of Fame Defensive End Michael Strahan
Q: You're getting your number retired, you're a TV star and you're going to outer space. Then we have Eli Manning, who got his number retired at Ole Miss, got his number retired by the Giants, lands a full-time gig with ESPN calling Monday Night Football. My question for you is, who is having a better 2021 right now, Michael Strahan or Eli Manning?
A: I've never thought of it that way. I just kind of look at it as Eli's living Eli's life and I'm living mine. I don't look at it like that to be honest with you. I'm happy for Eli and everything that is going on with him, just like I'm happy for myself and everything that's going on with me.
Q: Two things – one, is it fitting for you that this is coming during an Eagles game? Secondly, you played in this rivalry, so you know when one team's better than the other, the opposing fans invade the building. Will it be awkward for you if you're doing it and there are Eagles fans booing rather than Giants fans celebrating?
A: First of all, it doesn't matter, they could retire my jersey – the Giants could do it in Philly. That wouldn't bother me. I'm used to Eagles fans and it's very fitting to have it done against the Eagles. But, if there are Eagles fans there booing, that's what I want them to do because if they're not booing, that means I wasn't very good at my job. If any team knows, it's the Eagles, that the most sacks I ever had out of any quarterback of any team, is there's. So, if they boo it's an honor for me that they're booing. I'll take it as that. I always loved playing the Philadelphia Eagles. They were always good for a few sacks a game.
Q: What does this mean to you when you look back on your career and sort of how you began in football and to come here now? You obviously had the ultimate honor of being in the Hall of Fame, but what does it mean to have your number retired by the Giants?
A: I mean, it's huge. I guess it's the ultimate honor that you can have from your team. After 15 seasons and being in a few Super Bowls with the Giants and all of that, it's a huge honor. I do go, 'Well, what took you so long?' But it is an honor.
Q: I remember when you first came to the Giants you were this quiet, shy young man and now here you are, you're big time. Can you just speak about how playing in New York in this market has helped you grow as a person and as a professional?
A: I honestly am still quiet and shy in a lot of ways, but I was just comfortable in the locker room and more so comfortable in interviews in front of the camera a lot of times than I am away from that. I just think being in New York and being a Giant, you have no choice but either you sink, or you swim. You adapt to it or you don't, and I adapted to, I guess, what was required of me to play here. It did bring out a lot of my personality because it was almost forced out of me. But there is no city like New York City. This is the best place in the world to be, best place in the world to play. It's the best place in the world to have success. It is true, if you do something in New York, you can do anything. My life is a living testament to that. I'm very grateful that I've come to this city and just being in New York has kind of brought all of this out of me. I truly understand that not playing in New York, maybe my life is a lot different than it is right now, so I'm grateful. It's been fantastic. It's been amazing.
Q: I'm curious, you're more than a decade removed from actually playing, but when you think back about your football career, what are the moments that still resonate for you?
A: Oh man, it feels weird to say over a decade, it has been a long time. It feels like yesterday though to be honest with you. The moments that stand out to me are – I feel like I played in different eras, so the first time (Former Giants Linebacker) Lawrence Taylor walked into the locker room. The first time (Former Giants Quarterback) Phil Simms said, 'Hello Michael,' and I was like, 'Oh my goodness, that's Phil Simms saying my name.' The first time I got slammed on my back in practice and said, 'Oh, don't want that to happen again, I guess I need to get stronger.' (laughs)
Q: Do you remember who did that?
A: Yeah, I'm not telling you (laughs). You never forget. Also, being there with (Former Giants Linebacker) Jessie Armstead, going to our first Super Bowl, what Jessie and I used to say to each other before every game. Just (Former Giants Defensive Tackle) Keith Hamilton, (Former Giants Cornerback Jason) Sehorn, like all these guys there's just so many moments. Eli, (Former Giants Defensive End Justin) Tuck, (Former Giants Defensive End) Osi (Umenyiora), the fun we had my last few years with all of our defensive line, and we continue to have on our text chains. Those are the moments – choking Eli after we won the Super Bowl, I'll never forget that because there's a picture of it (laughs). It's an accumulation of so many things that have happened over 15 years. Some of them small, but still impactful and memorable. A lot of them are failures that really motivated me to try to be successful. Kind of a little bit of the good, the bad and the ugly but it all accumulates to I guess a good feeling at the end.
Q: A couple of things, but you said something before, and I just wanted to check on that. You said, 'What took you so long?' about the Giants. You've been a Hall of Famer for a while, do you think this should have happened maybe a little sooner?
A: You can decide that. I'll be honest with you, I would have honestly expected it a long time ago. I've been in the NFL Hall of Fame for seven years now. All of the things that I did with the Giants, I would have expected it a little bit sooner, but it's still an honor. Things come in the time in which they're meant to come and not at the time in which you want them to come sometimes. That's the way I'm looking at it. I don't want it to look as if I'm ungrateful or I'm not honored by it, because I truly am. I probably would've expected it to come a little bit sooner than it did, yes.
Q: That's fair, the question I had for you is when you look back at that clip of you talking to your offensive linemen, 17-14, 'Believe and it will happen,' and things like that, is really one of the big parts of that Super Bowl. This is a hypothetical, if you guys didn't win that game, let's say one of a million plays doesn't happen down the stretch with Eli and (Former Giants Wide Receiver David) Tyree and everything and you lose, 14-10, certainly your stature and your career is the exact same other than that. Does your life change? Do you have everything you have now? You're not a Super Bowl champion – instead of winning your last game ever, you lost your game through no fault of yours or anything. Have you ever thought about that? What that Super Bowl has meant to you?
A: That Super Bowl was the biggest thing – that's pretty much one of the biggest things to ever to happen to me. I definitely know that if we don't win that Super Bowl, my life is different. I don't think that I'm going to sit here and fool you and go, 'No, I'm still going to have the same life.' No, winning that Super Bowl, especially in the fashion we did it, against the team that we did it against with that record that they had, definitely put me in a different light to a lot of people – which has led to an incredible life. I always thought too, if we didn't win that Super Bowl, maybe I come back the next year. Maybe I play another year. Who knows? There are so many hypotheticals. If I would have quit when I wanted to in college, I never would have been here anyway. There are so many things along your life that happen that you look back on and you go, 'Man, I'm glad that it worked out.' In that moment, you're kind of just in it. You're not thinking about if I do or if I don't. I'm smart enough to understand playing in New York is special for an athlete. It puts you in a different light with so many people and it puts you on a national spotlight, which is something that definitely adds to your legacy. Winning a Super Bowl – that adds so much. Especially winning the Super Bowl in New York and having the parade and just everything that surrounds being in this city. Being in New York, my life is definitely different if I didn't win that Super Bowl, but who says I don't come back the next year and we don't win it then. Who knows? But I'm glad we did it when I did because I was ready to retire.
Q: This is kind of a question that's always been in my head, your first year you came to the Giants you met the media for the first time, and they said, 'What do you want to do as a rookie?' And you said, 'I want 10 sacks,' which obviously made headlines. You then become a journalist on TV. How did that experience change you and prepare you for what you're doing now?
A: Well, I think the one thing that I've learned as a journalist and doing interviews that you guys have to do every day is you've got to learn to be a good listener. Also, for me to say that and it catches headlines is no different than what I do now where a lot of times I have to ask things that hopefully get a response that catch headlines. I also respect journalists. I respect their time more. I respect the time of analysts more. Everybody involved in the whole ecosystem of what the public gets to see about your business and what journalism brings to your business, I respect that more. At the time, and I think for a lot of athletes, you're so caught up in being an athlete and everything is kind of at your beck and call, at your feet and you're the superstar. Now, I look, and I think, 'Man, I should have probably gone to those production meetings and not let them sit and wait while I decided to have an extra bacon, egg and cheese sandwich.' Just kind of respecting people and the craft of what they do a little bit more. Also, trying to get honest responses out of people without – I don't want to – the one thing I learned (in) journalism is my job is to report the news, not be the news. Then to ask people questions that let the public make their own opinion, not try to curb my own feelings into someone else's opinion of an event or a person and trying to remove myself from that. That's what I've learned, but I do have a bigger respect for the craft because being on this side of it, I see how tough it is.
Q: Obviously some tough times for the current team, how much contact do you have with the organization now or at least the locker room end of it and any advice for them as they're sort of swimming up against the stream?
A: Well, I really haven't had much. I think COVID didn't help with that and I also think, I'm like you said a lot far removed from that and kind of have a lot of things going on, so I haven't tried to insert myself. I'll never forget, one reason I kind of pulled back is I had retired, and they asked one of the players who the leader of the team was and one of them said my name. I realized at that point, I need to really remove myself from the team because if I'm not even there and someone said I'm kind of the leader of the team, that's not a good thing for the guys who are currently there and trying to fill that leadership void. I made a conscious effort to kind of step back and let these current players have their time. I always appreciated when the older guys came, they gave their advice, but they were always smart enough to know that they don't play anymore, it's not their team. I wanted to honor that and be as smart as those guys were when it was my turn to kind of take over that reign. That's why I've stepped back. I've played golf with (Quarterback) Daniel Jones and (Wide Receiver) Sterling Shepard in the offseason and I'm always open to conversation with guys about anything that they want. Everybody can freely pass around my cell phone number if anybody wants to reach out. Do I watch every game as if I am still playing and the biggest fan of the Giants? Absolutely. Do I get frustrated like every other fan out there? Absolutely. Do I look at it and think that I could get off my couch sometimes and go play and help the team? Absolutely. But I do think that the team right now, we need to find a way to get back to where we are to be competitive to the point where you're going to a game and you're like, 'okay,' you know? The thing is there are so many games that we've lost literally – and I say 'we' like I'm still there because once a Giant always a Giant – but there are so many games that were lost on last second or on the penalty or on things like that, that completely changed the season for this team. I just want the team to understand that they are not far off. They're really not far off. At the same time, when you're losing, don't look around and blame anybody. Don't wait for somebody to rescue you because no one feels sorry for you in this league when you're losing. Nobody's going to come rescue you. You've just got to go to work and rescue yourself. That would be my message to them.