Figuring it out is something that Strahan, like most guys, has had to do over and over throughout his life. From moving to Germany, to essentially learning the basics of football at the collegiate level, to the rude awakening that is graduating to the NFL, and then starting all over again in front of the camera on the set of Fox NFL Sunday and, finally, Live! with Kelly and Michael.
“The momentum doesn’t continue,” Strahan says. “By the time I left college I had won every award you could win—I was Mr. Man! Then I got drafted by the Giants, and you step in that locker room and you feel inferior in every way. You just have to stick around long enough to give yourself the opportunity to build your confidence.”
Starting over is especially hard when you’re comfortable. When Strahan retired in 2008, he didn’t need to leave football. “There was nothing physical that held me back,” he says. Coming off a Super Bowl win against the flawless New England Patriots—one of the biggest upsets in NFL history—Strahan could have kept playing. A lot of people still don’t understand why he didn’t. With an NFL-record 141.5 career sacks and 794 tackles over 200 games in a professional career that spanned 15 years and included two Super Bowl appearances, seven Pro Bowls, and various records and defensive player awards, Strahan was just the man the Giants needed to lead them into the new season as defending champions, and they were willing to pay for it. Alas, Strahan needed something else, and it wasn’t another season on the gridiron. “They offered me a lot of money to come back and play that next season,” he says. “The hardest part is knowing when to stop.”
It’s another lesson Strahan learned from his father, one of the few people who understood his decision to retire at the top of his game. “Just because you did one thing well doesn’t mean you have to stay there,” Strahan tells me. It’s something the former athlete feels strongly about, enough that he’s co-producing Athletes Die Twice, a documentary series about what happens to America’s Monday-night gladiators—not all of whom make enough money to retire—when they reach the end of their career, sometimes voluntarily, often not, and are forced to integrate back into the world. Even marquee players like Strahan can’t rely on recognition to carry them forward. “If your ego and your identity are tied in to what you did for a living, then, long story short, you’re kind of screwed,” he says. “There are kids now who are big Giants fans who have no idea that I ever played football—and I’ve been out for five years. It’s kind of like you were never there.”