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Jon Kendle is Director of Archives and Football Information at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His biweekly columns tell unique and interesting stories starting from the league’s founding in downtown Canton in 1920 to the present day.
Michael Strahan made headlines this past week when the Class of 2014 Pro Football Hall of Famer and star of “Good Morning America” underwent an April Fool’s Day dental procedure to remove the iconic gap in his front teeth temporarily.
Strahan was a second-round pick (40th overall) from Texas Southern in the 1993 NFL Draft by the New York Giants. Four defensive ends (John Copeland, Eric Curry, Dan Williams and Coleman Rudolph) were selected before the Texas Southern product came off the draft board.
He would go on to become the first player drafted out of Texas Southern to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. During his tremendous college career, Strahan amassed 41.5 sacks and was named the both the Division I-AA and Black College Defensive Player of the Year.
Strahan recorded the first sack of his professional career six games into his rookie season, on Oct. 17, 1993 against the Philadelphia Eagles. He took down quarterback Ken O’Brien on the last play before the half in game the Giants went on to win 21-10.
It would be the only sack he recorded that year. Strahan, however, would go on to achieve great success. He especially thrived against the archrival Eagles, totaling 21.5 sacks against them, the most against a single team during his career.
Strahan started to come into his own during his third NFL season. On Sept. 10, 1995, he recorded his first career interception in a game against the Kansas City Chiefs. One week later, he recorded his first multi-sack game. He dominated the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line and sacked Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre three times that day. In all, Strahan recorded two or more sacks in a game a remarkable 38 times.
“What Strahan did goes beyond the numbers. He made everyone around him play better,” said John Clayton, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. “His personality kept the locker room loose and kept the minds of his defensive teammates into the game.”
While Strahan’s positive vibe kept his teams focused and playing hard, it was his playmaking ability on the field that kept the Giants winning games.
The disruptive playmaker scored two touchdowns on interception returns during his 15-season NFL career. His first score came Sept. 6, 1998 when he returned a Gus Frerotte interception 24 yards for a touchdown against Washington. Strahan also recorded two sacks that day in a 31-24 kickoff-weekend win. The following season, on Oct. 31, 1999, Strahan intercepted Eagles quarterback Doug Pederson in overtime and returned it 44-yards for a touchdown to give the Giants a 23-17 victory in Philadelphia.
Perhaps the most iconic play in Strahan’s career came in the final game of the 2001 regular season. He flew across the left side of the Packers’ line to sack Favre and set the NFL record for most sacks in a season with 22.5.
Strahan was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year that season. During his career, he would lead the NFL in sacks twice (2001 and 2003) and in a seven-season stretch from 1997 to 2003 recorded 96 sacks.
Being able to play against both the run and the pass was commonplace for Strahan. Eleven times throughout his career Strahan logged 50 or more combined tackles in a season. His career high was 84 in 2003, when he also had 18.5 sacks (his second highest single-season total). He is also credited with 84.5 career tackles of running backs behind the line of scrimmage. These kinds of statistics forced many teams to alter their game plans to account for his disruptive play.
“Michael was a highly, highly competitive individual who was the captain of our 2007 Super Bowl team. He was a strong and integral part of our Leadership Council that year, and he did an excellent job with our young players and also our veteran players,” said Tom Coughlin, the longtime Giants head coach. “He’s a leader in every sense of the word. He was a leader in the classroom, a leader on the field and off the field. He asked great questions. He was inquisitive, but he backed it up by being an excellent example of the way in which a guy should study, practice and play the game.”
So, whether he ever decides to remove the gap in his teeth permanently, it will remain forever on his Bronzed Bust. The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton will forever guard and preserve his legacy as a player and leader for future generations to come.