Editor's note: Each week during the season, Graham Bensinger talks with a high-profile NFL figure for ESPN.com's Weekly Conversation. This week, he checks in with Giants DE Michael Strahan.
Graham Bensinger: You turned 35 earlier this week. How was the birthday?
Michael Strahan: The birthday was good. It was relaxing. I spent time with my kids.
Bensinger: You feel old now?
Strahan: Not really. I feel pretty good. I will say that some days I wake up and wonder if I can keep doing what I do for a living.
Bensinger: How did you celebrate?
Strahan: I didn't party. I'm too old to party.
Bensinger: What'd you get?
Strahan: I didn't really get anything. I don't need anything. I tell everyone not to get me anything.
Bensinger: What about a car? You have quite the collection ...
Strahan: No. I have more cars than I can handle. I've been selling a lot lately. I have a Jeep SRT 8, BMW 650 Convertible, a 1989 Aston Martin V8 Volante Convertible – it's an old-school convertible like the British muscle car, an Aston Martin Vanquish, a Mercedes Maybach, and a Cadillac Escalade. That's all I have now.
Bensinger: What's the best experience you've ever had in a car?
Strahan: Being on the Autobahn and able to go as fast as I want. If you're late, it doesn't matter because you're never really late because you can make up for it with speed. It was great. There's nothing better than being able to drive as fast as you want.
Bensinger: I heard you and Jessie Armstead had quite the experience flying to the Pro Bowl after 9/11.
Strahan: (laughs) Jessie thought that he was dying. I look over at his seat and he's looking at me with this look on his face ... He was so scared, it was absolutely ridiculous. He was trying to use his cell phone. I'm like who the heck are you trying to call? We're in the air. There's no one you can call.
Bensinger: What exactly happened?
Strahan: They said that there was some mysterious white powder in the bathroom. They initially told us they had some kind of problem that they wanted to make sure was fixed before we flew to Hawaii. We were already 90 minutes outside of L.A. They turned around. They acted like it was nothing special. When we landed and the plane was turning, we noticed we're on a tarmac that looks like it hasn't freaking been used in 30 years. We make a turn on the tarmac and we look outside and see all these emergency vehicles following us. It was like oh my God. That's when Jessie really lost it.
Bensinger: What were you doing?
Strahan: I was thinking if this is the time to go, it's the time to go. There's nothing I can do. I definitely wasn't looking forward to whatever they had to say.
Bensinger: What did it end up being?
Strahan: Someone had used the last tissue out of the tissue box. Apparently, there was a lot of residue [pieces of tissue that fell out].
Strahan: Yeah, exactly.
Bensinger: Then, were you on your way?
Strahan: We were on our way. We were extremely late, but just happy to get there. I think the best part about it was Jessie's reaction. Jessie and his brother were crying talking about their momma. It was quite the experience.
Bensinger: What's it like for you being so close to passing Lawrence Taylor for most sacks in Giants' history?
Strahan: It's incredible because I never thought I'd get to that point or even be close to it. It's gravy on top of my career because I definitely never thought I'd get to this point or be with the Giants for this long. I've always known I'd try my best and work hard, but never knew it would accumulate like it has. I'm just happy to be mentioned in that same realm, but there's only one of him. There will never be another.
Bensinger: What was it like playing with LT?
Strahan: It was great. I loved it. You can be as talented as you want, but you have to focus on the game. You have to go out there and give max effort in the practices and games.
Bensinger: How would you describe him?
Strahan: He was a great great teammate, but he could be intimidating when he had to be.
Bensinger: You said you would call him to apologize when you pass his record. Why?
Strahan: I don't know how I got here, but I did. It just seems like it's his. It should be his. I guess it's not though if I break it. Maybe it should be mine. As a friend, I think it's worthy of a call.
Bensinger: You predicted you'd get 10 sacks as a rookie. You ended up finishing with one and didn't get your tenth overall until your third season. How much of a rude awakening was it for you?
Strahan: Very. My rookie year I was naïve. I got hurt. Then, once I got out there, it's not as easy as you think it's going to be. In college, you just run around guys and make plays at will. In the pros, it's a whole different ball game. Each sack you come by you better be grateful for and rejoice. That's where I'm at right now.
Bensinger: Presently, you have three sacks. How do you evaluate your success?
Strahan: At this point, I don't worry about what anybody says. I look at the game and my overall production. When we watch the film, I get tons of pressure on the QB, I hit QBs, I get blocked by two or three guys damn near every pass play of each game, and I make plays against the rush. If you don't know the game you say he's not playing well if he only has three sacks. I look at other defensive ends who are good players and they don't get treated by the other teams the way that I get treated. I don't know why. It's frustrating for me to watch some of these players get singled all game whereas I don't get the same treatment when they play me. I measure my success by how much people pay attention to me and if I'm making plays. I'm so far passed the media. If you think you can do it better, I'll give you my uniform.
Bensinger: Why don't people realize that playing the run is just as important as a sack?
Strahan: Because it's not as glamorous. It's a little more exciting to get a sack and be able to get up and dance and all of those things that everybody gets all excited about. Certain guys specialize in rushing passers. Some guys say they're better run players. I do both. I'm a defensive end, not a specialist.
Bensinger: Early in your career, how much, if any, did you get too caught up in the glamorous side of the sack?
Strahan: It's funny. Now, everybody is worried about sacks. Early in my career, they said that I was a run stopper. All of the sudden I get sacks and I'm the sack master. When people were always talking about sacks, of course I felt like I needed to get sacks to keep up with everybody else. Then, it got to the point where it was distracting. I couldn't play my game worrying about getting sacks. I don't care if I get another sack for the rest of my career!
I've earned every sack I've gotten. I don't care what anybody says. Every penny I've earned, I've worked for it. I've done my best. If my career hasn't spoken enough for itself then so be it. As you get older, you realize other things are important besides football. You don't live your life just for football.
Bensinger: You sprained a ligament in your right foot against the Texans on November 5th. What exactly happened?
Strahan: I just got my foot caught in the turf and twisted it up. It felt like somebody was ringing out a wet towel.
Bensinger: How's it feel?
Strahan: I feel good. I should be back soon. I'm looking forward to getting out there and doing what I've got to do to help the team win. I don't care about sacks, I care about wins. That's a lot more important.
Bensinger: How long do you expect recovery to take?
Strahan: I'm week-to-week. I had the injury my rookie season. One day, I woke up, and it was just gone. That's how I'm hoping this thing happens. It gets better every day.
Bensinger: Dr. Elton Strauss, chief of orthopedic trauma and adult reconstruction at Mt. Sinai Hospital, in Manhattan, said he'd be shocked if you come back this season. What do you say to that?
Strahan: I read that. I don't know who Dr. Elton Strauss is. Maybe that's why he's not our team doctor.
Bensinger: The most painful injury you ever suffered was a popped bursa sack behind your knee while going out to dinner in New York City ...
Strahan: It was just strange. It was from the wear and tear. Eventually, the sack behind my knee popped. When it did, it released the fluid into my knee. The fluid had nowhere to drain.
I was going to dinner and there was so much bad traffic that I thought if I got out of the car that I could walk to the restaurant. I got out of the car on 57th street, next to the Russian Tea Room, and walked to where we were having dinner. That was probably the most painful thing. A few days later, I was on the field practicing. That wasn't a pleasant feeling at all.
Bensinger: Recently, the Giants have struggled. What's been the biggest difference between early season success and now?
Strahan: Health. We started out pretty rough even though we were healthy. We were struggling with how to put four good quarters together. We seemed to figure that out. Now, we are struggling with health. You are going to have trouble whenever you can't stick your best pilots on the field against teams that are doing that.
Bensinger: What do you think of Eli Manning?
Strahan: He's a great QB. He's young and only going to get better.
Bensinger: When your QB is going through a rough period, what, if anything, do you say to him?
Strahan: You just try to encourage him. It'd be wrong to jump on him. I see Eli work so I know that the guy is doing his best.
Bensinger: As a teammate, is it the type of thing where you offer encouraging words or is that almost taken the wrong way by a player who's one of the stars of the team?
Strahan: No, no. Eli takes it the right way.
Bensinger: Tiki Barber has decided to retire at season's end. How hard is it as a player to consider retirement?
Strahan: Very hard for the simple fact that this is what you've done for so long. This is what your career has been. What's the next step? Anytime you go into the unknown is scary. Tiki has figured out what he wants to do and he's committed to it. I respect that.
Bensinger: What are Monday mornings like for you?
Strahan: It depends on if we play on grass or turf and a physical or non-physical team. For the most part, it's hard to roll over in bed. It's hard to put on my socks. It's hard to stand up straight out of the bed. It's not the most pleasant thing.
Bensinger: To someone who's never experienced that before, what would you say?
Strahan: You don't want to experience it! (laughs)
Bensinger: You've made your money. You've had a long successful career with many achievements. As you get older, the possibility of injury increases. Why continue?
Strahan: Because I don't have a Super Bowl ring. I love playing, the competition, being around the guys, the locker room, and there's no other feeling like going out and making plays in front of 80, 000 people.
Bensinger: How long do you want to play for?
Strahan: I don't know. I'm not going to put a timetable on it because then I limit myself. Some days I wake up and think today is it and other days it's 10 years. Right now, I take it day-to-day. If I stay healthy, I'm going to keep on playing. I'm going to have plenty of years where I wake up after my career is over and I don't want to regret the fact that I quit early. My biggest fear is not to get the most out of myself and wake up one day and say I really could have played, I really could have pushed more than what I was and did better than what I did. That's the regret that I don't want to have.
Bensinger: Some people say this and others say it's not true. To what extent do you believe you need to win a championship to complete your career?
Strahan: As far as doing it to add on for other people to say you had a great career, that's crap. It's great to do it for yourself to be able to say you have a Super Bowl ring. As an individual, I want the ring. It's crap to say a guy didn't have a great career because he didn't win a ring. There are lots of players who had great careers who just didn't win a ring. It's a team thing so don't penalize the individual.
Bensinger: If the Giants win the Super Bowl this season, will we see you in uniform next season or riding off into the sunset with Tiki?
Strahan: I don't know. Hopefully you'll see me in a uniform, but if that happens, maybe I call it quits.
Graham Bensinger is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Visit his Web site at: TheGBShow.com. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org