He won a Super Bowl and then landed the most sought-after daytime television job of the decade. But if Michael Strahan was ever in the right place at the right time, it wasn't by accident.
"My brothers used to call me Bob," Michael Strahan tells me from across the table at a small Brooklyn coffee shop around the corner from the gym where he's just wrapped up his Men's Fitness photo shoot. It's the kind of cold December day that makes you want to find something nearby. Our coats piled on a neutral chair, Strahan takes a seat at the table. Nursing a green tea in both hands, he begins to open up. "They'd laugh at me, and I didn't get it. I'm 13 years old at the time, and then one day my brother's friend says, 'You know what Bob stands for? Booty on back. You're fat.' Like my butt was so big I could reach for my wallet over my shoulder. [Strahan's facial expression suddenly incredulous] And I broke down." It's an honest, unguarded moment with the man who's lived his entire adult life in front of millions on football fields and television sets across the country. "I started watching workout tapes and literally trying to work my ass off," he recalls. "My dad saw me doing it every day and said, 'Hey, I'll workout with you.' We'd work out five or six days a week, and he would always say, 'Don't worry, it'll pay off one day.' "
Gene Strahan wasn’t speaking to his son in generalities. Back in his day, the former Army major held his own in Armed Services boxing tournaments for a 10-year run that culminated in a 1–1 career record against WBC heavyweight champion Ken Norton, who became only the second man to beat Muhammad Ali as a professional when he famously broke the Greatest’s jaw in the 12th round.
It’s clear that Strahan looks up to his old man. While stationed in Manheim, West Germany, where Strahan spent seven years and graduated from high school, the two would stay up past midnight together on Monday nights to watch NFL games on the American Forces Network. Strahan didn’t play high school ball until his senior year, but the life lessons that came with quality-time opportunities like “Tuesday morning football” were enough to arm him with most of what he credits today as the keys to his success—like seizing every opportunity, no matter how new or different. “My senior year, my dad says, ‘I’m sending you to Houston—I think you’re good enough to get a football scholarship,’ ” he tells me. “I didn’t necessarily understand the game. I didn’t understand the technique. I had the work ethic, and I had the desire, but I didn’t have anything else. I had to figure it out.” After five months playing high school football in Houston and living with his uncle Art, a former NFL player himself, Strahan landed a football scholarship at Texas Southern University.