The sacks made him famous, earned him a ton of money and ultimately put him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But if you ask Michael Strahan what was most meaningful about his brilliant 15-year run with the Giants, it wasn't only about rushing the passer. Not even close.
"I took the most pride in playing the run and being an every-down player,'' Strahan said. "I always resented being called just 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 may have been the best all-around defensive end of his generation, certainly among the best in NFL history. Whether he played for good Giants teams, great ones or awful ones, he was an incredibly consistent performer and among the greatest leaders on a football team at any level.
He was smart, he was driven, he was relentless in building a career that has come to its logical conclusion: Saturday's induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"The thing about my career, I never played thinking it would lead to the Hall of Fame,'' he said. "I played because I loved to play. I always had great respect for all the guys before me. I used to watch Bruce Smith, Lawrence Taylor, [Charles] Mann, [Dexter] Manley, Kevin Greene. I'd watch them and say, 'OK, I know I can't lean around the corner like Bruce Smith, but I can club a guy out of the way as strong and clean as Reggie White.' I can't be tall like Chris Doleman, but even so, I would look at the history of the game and take bits and pieces and try to tailor that to my game. My game is a mishmash of all the best players who have played. So I had to learn by watching.''
Strahan learned as well as anyone. Blessed with physical gifts that allowed him to play with leverage that almost defied his 6-5, 275-pound frame -- not all that big for a left end -- it was Strahan's ability to study tendencies of opposing offensive linemen and quarterbacks that helped set him apart from most of his peers. He looked at game tape with the intelligence of a coach and translated that knowledge on game day with breathtaking results.
"People have no idea how brilliant he was,'' said Fox NFL Insider Jay Glazer, who was Strahan's presenter for the induction ceremony. "He would have everything figured out before the game. Every week when I would do the sidelines for Fox, I'd call him up and I'd say, 'Hey, tell me about the offense.' He said the left guard does this on these plays, the left tackle does that, the quarterback tips his snap count by clapping his hands. He had every single person on the line, some nuance or tip that he picked up, so that by the time he got to Sunday, he already had you figured out.''
Something else Glazer pointed out: When Strahan walked to the line before a play, he usually was the last to put his hand down and get in his three-point stance. There was a good reason for it.
Said Glazer, "He'll sit there and watch everybody on the line and then he gets down in his stance at the very last second because he's watching for those little things, those tips and tendencies, and then, boom, he has them figured out.''
It's one more example of how cerebral a player Strahan was and what made him so uniquely prepared to become a great player. And now a legendary player.
"To me, it was like playing chess, and that's why I loved it,'' Strahan said. "Knowing what other players did helped me play faster. So once the game started and something wasn't working, I was able to adjust and change it up. I would study how an offensive tackle placed his hand or shifted his weight.''
And now his greatness is forever remembered at the Hall of Fame, his bust alongside all the other greats.
A well-deserved honor commemorating a brilliant career.