"We'd just given up that touchdown to the Patriots," Coughlin said, "and I remember Michael walking up and down our sideline saying, 'We're one drive away. One drive away from a world championship.' He's one of the most natural captains I've ever been around, from a leadership standpoint, because people just flow to him. He had a magnetic personality, and it was a wonderful thing to see."
A football player needs more than a magnetic personality, his mother's sense of humor and a cute space between his front teeth to become a crossover entertainment star. Michael Strahan had an interesting backstory, and spending his entire NFL career in the New York market didn't hurt. But he wasn't Derek Jeter. Strahan had baggage.
He had his feuds with Coughlin, Tiki Barber and the news media. He lectured one reporter on camera while the remnants of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich came flying out of his mouth. He made an unscheduled trip to the Giants' media room on the day Fassel was burying his mother in California and went on and on criticizing the coach and the team's offense.
Strahan's sacks record was stained by Brett Favre's famous flop, and he didn't exactly come across as a gracious winner when he did his We stomped you out! bit at the Patriots' expense. Strahan also had two failed marriages in his past and one ugly public divorce that left him vehemently denying charges by his wife that he'd abused her (a judge dismissed the claim).
Strahan nearly retired with Barber after the 2006 season, which could've cost him more than he ever knew. He'd marched with his agents into the office of the Giants' rookie general manager, Jerry Reese, and announced he wouldn't play the 2007 season for the $4 million wage he was under contract to receive.
Understanding that he needed to show strength in the early hours of his administration, Reese told Strahan, "There's nothing I can do. We're going to have a great retirement party for you."
Strahan played for the four mil. "If he didn't come back for that [Super Bowl] season," Reese said, "imagine how it might've been different for him. It could've changed the life he's living. He might not have all these opportunities."
Including the biggest one as Kelly Ripa's co-host on Disney-ABC's "LIVE with Kelly and Michael." Strahan was among 59 candidates who filled in for the retired Regis Philbin, including Josh Groban and Seth Meyers.
Strahan's close friend, Dr. Ian Smith, the TV personality and author, told him that if ABC was concerned about putting a black man in such a prominent morning show role, he wouldn't end up in Regis' chair. "But if it's just based on mass appeal," Smith told him, "you're selected."
This wasn't just another ex-jock job in a studio or a booth. Only a handful of football players -- Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson among them -- had made the jump from the locker room into general TV/film stardom.
"Michael has the charisma, he has the skills, and the chemistry with Kelly was most important," said Michael Gelman, the show's executive producer. "He definitely had something special, that twinkle. He's a big guy, but when he smiles he feels like a big teddy bear and people really respond to it.