Michael Strahan hasn't played a down for the Giants in 61/2 years, has only three former teammates remaining on the roster, and only one fellow defensive player with whom he ever took the field is still with the team. Yet his aura hovers over the locker room to this day as if he were still the captain, still the leader.
"Only because of when he comes over," Tom Coughlin said on Tuesday of the regular visitor to the Giants who will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend. "He struck up a relationship with Damontre [Moore]. He was always here for [Justin] Tuck and all the guys in that room. Last year in the fall, we had him over and he sat in with the defensive coaches, sat in there with the players. We haven't been able to get him over here yet this year, but I'm sure we will. I'm sure we will."
That Coughlin looks forward to Strahan's visits is an indication of how their relationship has evolved. Strahan was the lead objector to many of Coughlin's rules when he first became coach of the Giants in 2004. Four seasons later, they won a Super Bowl. Coughlin said making their peace with each other was a key to that success.
"Yeah, we didn't necessarily see eye-to-eye right away, but thank goodness we won Michael over," Coughlin said. "We spent some time together and went through some times that were good and bad . . . Nobody was cheering harder in that last drive [of Super Bowl XLII] than Michael Strahan."
Strahan is the first player to enter the Hall of Fame who had Coughlin as a head coach in the NFL. "It's a wonderful feeling shared by our whole staff," Coughlin said.
Strahan has gone on to find success off the field as an entertainment personality, but he remains close with Giants players. Mathias Kiwanuka, his last remaining Giants defensive teammate, spoke last week about trying to maintain Strahan's legacy. Jason Pierre-Paul has sought mentorship from Strahan and exchanges calls with him. Even the lesser-known defensive linemen have struck up relationships and see Strahan as a role model.
"He sets a great example, let's face it," Coughlin said. "The way he practiced, studied, worked at it. Very opinionated, no question about it. Very loquacious, one of those personalities that had a lot of fun but could get serious and could ask serious questions. You have to respect that. Always."