CANTON, Ohio -- In a sprawling, 34-minute induction speech Saturday night at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, former New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan invoked Jane Fonda workout tapes, said he still doesn't understand "Coughlin Time" and told longtime rival Jon Runyan that he knew his tells. It was all over the map, but it was kind of fitting for a guy whose life could be described the same way.
The final speaker of the seven new Hall of Famers on Saturday, Strahan began his speech with his memory of being a husky 13-year-old living in Mannheim, Germany, and ended it by singling out his "TV wife," Kelly Ripa, who was in the audience to watch his enshrinement ceremony. He opened by calling himself "an improbable Hall of Famer, an improbable football player" and closed it with these words:
"Improbability means nothing, because absolutely anything is possible."
Strahan is a testament to that, an amalgamation of circumstance, influence and wildly varied success. He's a huge international TV superstar who seemed truly touched by the weekend's celebration of his football career. As he and his bronze Hall of Fame bust showed his famous gap-toothed smile, he told the following tales, among others:
The one about how his brothers made fun of him for being fat when he was 13 and living in Germany because their military father was stationed there. They called him "B.O.B.", which stood for "Booty on Back," and the ribbing inspired him to go out and purchase those Jane Fonda workout tapes. He eventually moved on to Herschel Walker ones, but he says it all worked.
The one about getting drafted out of Texas Southern by the Giants and "going to the scariest city I could ever imagine -- New York City."
The one about how he hurt his foot on a sack dance as a rookie and the late Giants co-owner, Bob Tisch, gave him rides to practices after he saw him walking there on crutches.
Meeting Lawrence Taylor, Phil Simms and O.J. Anderson in the Giants locker room and thinking, "I watched these guys when I was 6 years old. They're still here?"
"When I was a rookie, I was scared of you," he said to Taylor, who was among the returning Hall of Famers on stage. "And now, I'm retired and up here with you wearing this yellow jacket, and I'm still scared of you."
He spoke warmly of current Giants coach Tom Coughlin, with whom he feuded early but bonded late in his career. He said, "I still don't get" why a coach insists that someone arrive at 7:55 for an 8:00 meeting, but he also said, "You made me a better man, Coach Coughlin," and Coughlin's grin was as wide as the end zone.
He also spoke warmly of Eli Manning, who hammed it up by keeping a straight face as Strahan kidded him for never showing emotion. Strahan said he used to walk around the locker room before games trying to pump everyone up but couldn't figure out how to do it for Eli. "I used to say, 'How am I going to reach this boy?' And then I realized I didn't have to. He was already reached. What I learned from Eli was that you don't have to be outwardly excitable to be inwardly combustible."
He singled out former opponents Erik Williams and Runyan, telling Runyan (who was in the crowd) that his right foot gave away everything.
He told fellow Hall of Famers John Randle, Chris Doleman, Bruce Smith and Howie Long that he "stole" techniques from all of them, including Randle's practicing pass-rush moves on shopping carts and Smith's obsession with the StairMaster. "I am a mixture of all of you," he said.
And that might have been the Strahan line of the night. This is a guy who lived through three very different Giants eras until the final game of his career was the most improbable of all -- the Super Bowl XLII victory over the unbeaten Patriots. This is a guy who once said on the air, as a guest on Ripa and Regis Philbin's show, that he hoped someday to replace Regis and did.
Strahan said Friday that "I don't really get excited about many things, because every day is a continuous cycle of interesting stuff, but this is unlike anything else."
He will leave Canton, Ohio, and return to his fabulous and fascinating life. But to hear Strahan speak is to listen to a man who truly appreciates how wild and crazy it's all been. And it's fun to listen to someone like that.