Michael Strahan's career marked by personality and adjustments

Former NFL player Michael Strahan, pictured here with Former NFL player Michael Strahan, pictured here with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Photo Credit: John Roca, 2012

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.

Michael Strahan was voted into the Hall of Fame Saturday night -- one year later than he should have been -- strictly for his work on the football field. That's as it should be.

But in recognition of this first Super Bowl week on Broadway, let us also celebrate the fact that old No. 92 has reached this hallowed status with panache befitting Big Town.

To an extent matched by few football players before him -- Frank Gifford and Joe Namath come to mind -- Strahan arrived as an outsider, grew into a Hall of Famer and embraced everything that being a New York sports star has to offer.

Not bad for a guy who has said that on his first visit to New York two decades ago, he essentially hid in his hotel room for days out of fear of the big city.

Now, among many other things, the man co-hosts a morning chat show aimed at an overwhelmingly female audience, yet somehow seems as if he were born to the role.

When I told Strahan soon after he got the job on "Live with Kelly and Michael" that the whole idea was difficult to fathom, he said he felt the same way.

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Neither of us should have been surprised.

During his era as one of the best two-way defensive ends (strong against the run and getting to the QB), Strahan could be moody and churlish around reporters (and others). But when he was in the mood, there never has been a star athlete verbally quicker on his feet, versed in history and pop culture and just plain interesting to be around.

How interesting? Well, Giants coach Tom Coughlin doesn't often use words such as "effervescent," but here he is on Strahan: "[He] has an effervescent personality. He's loquacious. He's the kind of individual that's very entertaining.

"But he can be very serious. He can ask very serious questions. When I first got here, he wanted to challenge me on everything. Thank goodness we won him over."

Early in his career, Strahan rubbed some teammates -- particularly those on offense -- the wrong way, but by the end, he had a leadership role to match his stature as a player, culminating in his crowning achievements: making peace with Coughlin, then winning a Super Bowl XLII ring.

Among the iconic moments of that game, captured by NFL Films, was Strahan on the sideline before the winning drive screaming at teammates that the Giants would win, 17-14. As they did.

Key point: The teammates he was yelling at were offensive linemen. Let's just say that would not have gone over quite as well 10 years earlier.

"To me, it meant a lot because I remember being on the team when the defense hated the offense and the offense hated the defense," former receiver Amani Toomer said. "That, to me, was a situation where everything kind of came together."

Giants president John Mara called that the "defining moment" for Strahan in that game. "That's just the way he was around our team," Mara said. "His value to us was much greater than just his performance on the field."

Strahan has seen and done it all since arriving in New York, even living through a divorce that played out on tabloid front pages.

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Now he can say he secured his invitation to the Hall of Fame here.

"Everything is better in New York," he said Saturday night after receiving a raucous ovation at Radio City Music Hall, then departing quickly for another commitment during a hectic Super Bowl week.

On Sunday, he will be back on national TV, talking about all of the above as a Fox analyst.

It's all part of the package, just as his 141 1/2 career sacks are.

The guy has put on a show in every sense of the word during the past 20 years. Where else but on Broadway?

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