If there's anyone qualified to weigh in on Michael Strahan's Pro Football Hall of Fame credentials, it's Jon Runyan. He knows firsthand the extraordinary talents the former Giants defensive end possessed -- and not in a good way.
"The memories? Always the painful ones," said former Eagles right tackle Runyan, who battled Strahan for years. "He's one of the last of a rare breed of people that considered themselves football players and not just pass-rushers. He took a lot of pride and a lot of effort in studying both the pass and the run game. You don't see that now."
Strahan, who played for the Giants from 1993-2007 and was instrumental in their Super Bowl championship in the 2007 season, for the first time is eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame. The four-time All-Pro defensive end is one of 15 finalists in a class that includes former Giants, Patriots, Jets and Cowboys coach Bill Parcells.
There also are two senior nominees: former Chiefs and Oilers defensive tackle Curley Culp and former Packers and Redskins linebacker Dave Robinson.
Full disclosure: As a Hall of Fame voter, I will present Strahan before the 46-member committee at a meeting that will begin this morning and likely will last more than six hours. The Hall of Fame inductees will be announced late Saturday afternoon. A minimum of four and maximum of seven will be elected.
Full confession: It won't be hard to make the case for Stra- han, whose credentials easily make him worthy of enshrinement. He is the Giants' career sacks leader, surpassing Lawrence Taylor, arguably the top defensive player in NFL history.
Strahan's numbers are unimpeachable: 141 1/2 career sacks, fifth-highest in NFL history. Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year in 2001, when he set the single-season sack record of 22 1/2, which still stands. Most sacks in Giants playoff history (9 1/2).
"I definitely think he should be in the Hall of Fame," said Runyan, now a congressman for New Jersey's third district. Strahan had 21 1/2 sacks against the Eagles, the most of any opponent. "He could do so many things. He could bull-rush you, he could make moves around you, outside, inside, whatever. He'd use the mistake you made against you, and he took advantage of whatever you gave him. And it's not like every move was premeditated. He could react on the fly, instinctively, to what you were doing. So if you're guessing what move he's going to make, he'll take advantage."
Strahan was a dominant force. "I take the most pride in playing the run and being an every-down player," he said. "I was always resentful of just being called a pass-rusher or a run-stopper. I wanted to be a football player, and that means I did everything. Anything less than being the best at it wasn't acceptable."
Strahan said his extra work and preparation paid off in a big way. But not without sacrifice. "When it came time to go home and most guys went home, I stayed," he said. "When most guys would look at the weight room on their way to the cafeteria, I actually stopped in the weight room. The weight room was my friend. It was the thing that was going to give me the confidence against my opponent no matter how big they were and how tough they were supposed to be."
But it was more than just his talent as a defender that defined Strahan. His magnetic personality made his teammates gravitate toward him and feed off his energy. He made the people around him better, if for no other reason than teammates tried to match his performance level.
That leadership quality is what Tom Coughlin remembers most. That and how crucial he was to the team's Super Bowl run after the 2007 season. "Let me tell you, he was essential in our run to the championship that year," he said. "He's a dynamic personality, a guy who is energetic, has the passion and a guy that people like to be around. He could bust people's chops, but he could take it, too. And the way he practiced, he took great pride in going as hard as he could.
"He was very influential with the other players, and when he would speak, they would listen. They followed his example because of the way he practiced and the way he played. He loved everything about the game."
"It's definitely warranted for him to be in the Hall of Fame," Fox said. "One thing you look at is how a guy is as a teammate, a person, a leader, how he raises the level of his teammates. If you look at team accomplishments, individual accomplishments, all that put together, he should be in."
It's no lock that Strahan will get into the Hall, though. At least not this year. The field is crowded with several worthy candidates, and Strahan could be a victim of the numbers. But there's little question he'll be in Canton someday. It's only a question of when.