The military ethos Gene had drilled into his son, said Art Strahan, "was 100 percent of Michael's success. With he and his dad, when you see one you see the other. Michael never wanted to displease his father."
Funny how it worked out, but the Giants coach who mirrored Gene Strahan's approach the most, establishing a yes-sir, no-sir tone to his camp, was a coach Michael hated.
Tom Coughlin saw that sentiment in Strahan's face during their first contentious meeting in 2004, when the pass-rusher with six of his seven Pro Bowls trips and a single-season league record 22.5 sacks (in 2001) behind him carried that leverage into the new guy's office. Michael wanted Coughlin to know that Giants camp shouldn't be confused with Fort Bragg or the Army garrison in Mannheim.
"I remember when he came up the stairs, he'd already predetermined what he was going to find in me," Coughlin said. "He'd anticipated that the answers were not going to be very good, and he was a little bit disturbed. But even that day when he came to see me, it was a concern for the entire team. He wasn't up there to complain about how he was being treated. With Michael, it was always about the team."
Coughlin understands why his program, in his words, "won Michael over" and turned the pass-rusher into one of the coach's strongest advocates on the way to beating the 18-0 New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Strahan was an invaluable presence on Coughlin's leadership council -- the sturdy bridge between a boss who demanded early arrivals for meetings and a workforce that demanded respect.
"I've thought about this many times," Coughlin said. "I'm grateful for what his dad and mom instilled in him at home. I know there was discipline there, and as time went on that was one of the main reasons that when Michael did come on board, he came on with both feet. We never talked about it, but there's no question Michael's upbringing definitely helped him accept the way the program was going to be run."
By the end of his 15-year career, after his coach had tempered his own management style, Strahan was a blind believer in the Coughlin way. "One of the greatest compliments he ever paid me," the coach said, "was when he said he sets his watch 10 minutes ahead."
Strahan was voted a captain by his fellow Giants in 2007, right after he staged a 36-day training camp holdout in a contract dispute. That doesn't happen in sports. His teammates' respect for him was unmatched.
Coughlin's predecessor, Jim Fassel, saw that respect grow every time Strahan refused his offer to take off a practice rep or two. In Fassel's final season, a 4-12 season, Strahan refused to leave the field for the sanctuary of the bench when his coach was trying to save his body and spare him some endgame indignities.
His father had taught him to finish everything he'd started. "Michael worked like a rookie trying to make the team all seven years I was there," Fassel said.
That work ethic was responsible for 141.5 sacks, or one grabbed jersey behind the greatest defensive player of all time, Lawrence Taylor, whose 9.5 sacks as a rookie in 1981 -- the league didn't start counting officially until 1982 -- would give him 142. Strahan retired as the rare pass-rusher who was just as strong against the run, and as the rare left end who hit the quarterback more often than the elite right ends.