CANTON, Ohio - When Michael Strahan retired from the Giants in 2008, most believed he would end up here in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But as Strahan pointed out repeatedly during his enshrinement speech Saturday night, for most of his life, his inclusion among the sport's immortals was far from assured.
"My life is improbable," said Strahan, who wore his new gold jacket and a tie striped with Giants red, white and blue. "I am an absolutely improbable Hall of Famer. I'm an improbable football player."
He continued with that theme throughout a 34-minute address that touched on every aspect of his life, from being an overweight 13-year-old who relied on Jane Fonda tapes to get into shape while living in Mannheim, Germany, to being drafted and having to move to the "scariest city" he'd ever been to in New York, to the Giants' Super Bowl XLII win against the unbeaten Patriots.
He wrapped up the address by speaking directly to his four children, who sat in the front row at Fawcett Stadium for the ceremony. "My hope for my kids is that I showed you that improbability means absolutely nothing because anything is possible," he said. Saturday night proved that.
Strahan's speech was True Blue, with dozens of references to his 15 years as a Giant. "I am so honored to represent the G-men family up here today,'' he said.
He spoke about Wellington Mara and Bob Tisch, the co-owners of the team when he was drafted, and acknowledged general manager George Young. He said he was afraid of Lawrence Taylor when he arrived as a rookie, and said he still is afraid of him. He thanked teammate Jesse Armstead and his former coaches, Jim Fassel and John Fox, all of whom were in attendance and with whom he appeared in his first Super Bowl. And then he moved on to his last group of Giants teammates and coaches.
On Tom Coughlin's rule that players be five minutes early for meetings, Strahan said: "That one I still don't get, I ain't gonna lie to you." But he said Coughlin taught him to be a man.
And leave it to Eli Manning to show up the showman. When Strahan made reference to the quarterback's unemotional demeanor, Manning stared blankly into the camera before finally cracking a smile.
"I learned," Strahan said of his time with Manning, "you don't have to be outwardly excitable to be internally combustible."
Unlike the grin on his bronze bust, it's hard to find a gap in Strahan's resume. He is the Giants' all-time leader in sacks with 1411/2 and the NFL's single-season sack leader with 221/2 in 2001. He also led the league in sacks with 181/2 in 2003. When he retired after the 2007 season, he held team records for most seasons played (15), most games (216) and most postseason sacks (91/2).
Strahan was a seven-time Pro Bowler and a five-time member of the All-Pro team. In 2001 he set the single-season sack record, had seven forced fumbles and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He was a member of the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 2000s.
He also acknowledged how "improbable" his recent incarnation has been. As a testament to that, there were representatives from Strahan's second career on hand to honor him for his first. Morning show co-hosts Robin Roberts and Kelly Ripa strained to snap pictures as Strahan walked through the crowd to the stage. Strahan's parents sat in the front row of his section, but the area also included stars such as recently retired tight end Tony Gonzalez, New Jersey senator Cory Booker and singer John Legend.
"My life now is teleprompters and scripts," he said at the outset of his address, the last and second-longest of the night. "This isn't TV Michael, this is football Michael."
And now it's Hall of Famer Michael.