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Isn't that cute? Michael Strahan morphs into a 'live' Teddy bear

Michael Strahan joins Kelly Ripa as the new

Michael Strahan joins Kelly Ripa as the new co-host of "Live! with Kelly and Michael." (Sept. 4, 2012) Credit: AP

As the final pink boa feather was plucked from his hair, Michael Strahan again found himself confronted with the fact that his life has taken a most unusual turn.

The future Hall of Fame defensive end turned to the audience and jokingly lamented that he used to be "someone grown men feared.''

So he was, when he was sacking quarterbacks for the Giants.

But that is difficult to pull off when you are wearing a feathered boa, sunglasses and a wig, as Strahan was Tuesday while taping a promotion for a Halloween edition of "Live! with Kelly and Michael.''

Some pink feathers were left behind, and staffers descended to help remove them. Later, he shook his head and pondered the improbability of it all.

"I'm used to slipping on shoulder pads and a helmet and thinking I'm the baddest man on the planet,'' Strahan said. "Now I put on a suit and God knows what else and it's like, those days are gone. No one's going to be afraid of me.''

That has been part of the plan since he joined Kelly Ripa as co-host of the syndicated chat show Sept. 4. The studio and TV audiences, which are more than three-quarters female, know he played football but seem to have embraced him as Ripa's much, much larger new partner.

Executive producer Michael Gelman put it this way: "Even though he's a big, imposing sports figure, when he opens up his mouth and smiles, he's like a big teddy bear and he comes off with a cuddling, reassuring persona as opposed to a big, scary sports guy.''

As many former opponents, some former teammates and coaches and those of us who covered him as journalists during his 15 seasons as a Giant can attest, Strahan most assuredly has a non-cuddly side.

But he always has had the quick sense of humor, charisma and pop culture bona fides that he displays in the 20-minute free-form discussions with Ripa that open the show.

The two make it look easy, so much so that it became a source of parody in the skit that opened "Saturday Night Live'' last weekend.

Here is SNL's Jay Pharoah doing an imitation of the big guy: "Oh my God, this job is so easy! I can't believe I got smashed in the head every day for 15 years while this was a job!''

And the real Strahan -- who loved the skit, by the way -- three days later: "Gosh, if you would have told me I could have had this job without going through 15 years of beating, I don't know, man. The Giants may have lost me for 15 years.''

Strahan then unleashed his trademark cackle, presumably because the beatings became worth it when he secured a Super Bowl ring in 2008 in his final game.

But a man's got to have something to do after the NFL, and Strahan initially followed a predictable path. In 2008, he began as a Fox NFL analyst. In 2009, he co-starred in a short-lived sitcom called "Brothers,'' following an acting trail blazed by other formerly fierce NFL defenders.

But this? Replacing Regis Philbin? "It was kind of an out-of-the-box choice,'' Gelman said.

You could say that. Strahan would. "I knew I could have a career in football talk,'' he said, "but five years out of retirement to think I'd be doing this? It kind of blows my mind, too.''

So far, so good. Ratings have been good, Ripa seems happy and Strahan has fit right in.

On Tuesday, he spent commercial breaks kibitzing with audience members, who ate it up.

On Thursday, he hung with Ripa through a dialogue that veered from a pending worldwide bacon shortage to the state of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson's relationship to the return of locked-out NFL officials.

Strahan, 40, has moved to Manhattan after living in California in recent years. But he never considered giving up his Fox NFL role, which requires him to fly to Los Angeles on Fridays and take the red-eye back Sunday nights.

"If I had to go back and forth for a whole year, that would be tough, but for four months?'' he said. "I know what a real job is. I've had one. To fly across the country, if that's my biggest complaint, I need to get my priorities straight.''

His twin 7-year-old daughters live in North Carolina and North Dakota with their mother -- whose divorce from Strahan became tabloid fodder in 2006 and '07 -- but they visit often and were in the audience Tuesday. His fiancee, Nicole Murphy, will split time between California and New York.

Strahan said football friends have resisted the temptation to make fun of his strange new world. "I think for athletes it's great because it shows we can do something else,'' he said. "Most people think you play football and that's what you're supposed to do and they sprinkle the good sauce on you and that's your lot in life.''

Not Strahan. The pop culture maven already has become part of pop culture himself.

"It's a compliment because you can only hope to get spoofed by 'Saturday Night Live' in their opening,'' he said. "They should have put him in a muscle suit, though.''

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