Recently, television history was made when Michael Strahan beat out strong competition to become Kelly Ripa’s co-host, and Regis Philbin’s replacement on ABC’s nationally syndicated talk-show Live!. Mr. Strahan is no stranger to history-making. After fifteen years as a New York Giants’ award-winning defensive player, a Super Bowl (XXXV) Championship and a successful career as a sports commentator, Michael is obviously comfortable being at the top of his game in front of the American television-viewing public. Indeed, Mr. Strahan is considered a shoo-in for the NFL Hall of Fame in 2013. Live! with Kelly and Michael launched amidst much fan-fare on September 4th.
I spoke with Michael’s mother, Louise, in August, and again on the morning of Michael’s debut. Courteous but initially cautious, she was excited and proud to see her baby boy take the spotlight in this new arena. She was happy he had gotten what he wanted and worked so hard to accomplish.
Mike is the last of six children – two girls and four boys. Precocious and always happy, he was doing “homework” with his older siblings, even as a toddler, and started school in First Grade, bypassing kindergarten altogether. He was, Ms. Louise said, something of a procrastinator, but always “a great student”. Generally described as an army brat, Michael moved from base to base, but spent his most formative years in Mannheim, West Germany.
A rambunctious lot, Miss Louise says the four boys romped and got up to all sorts of shenanigans: but when she had talked enough, to no avail, it was time to break out the strop or the switch and “Let ‘em know who’s boss”! Nothing could dampen Michael’s irrepressible spirit, however. She says he was always well-liked, affable and even then, charming. And beneath all of that there was a fierce determination to succeed. His parents made it clear that whatever he wanted, he’d have to work for it – and work he did: Being industrious was a part of his heritage – his dad, especially, being a US Army Major, enforced this ethic; says Michael in an interview with Veterans’ Advantage,
Mike was always energetic and participated in all sports — his mom coached the basketball team and his dad was a champion Armed Services boxer. But Gene was the primary influence in his athletic career. It’s been reported in different sources that Mike would get up at 5:30 AM to run the 82nd Airbourne Unit’s obstacle course with his dad, going for up to five miles at a time, and this when still a youngster. And it is most likely from Gene that he gets his fierce determination to win at all cost. In his book, Inside the Helmet: Hard Knocks, Pulling Together, and Triumph as a Sunday Afternoon Warrior, Mike describes his feelings after losing a game,
“When you lose, you feel so incredibly sick to your stomach, you want to crawl up into the fetal position and literally hide… you can’t even face the cashier at a McDonald’s drive-through window… After a loss, I feel nauseated. My insides burn. I don’t feel like eating and there is not a single thing that can help me get over it, aside from a win.”
Gene fostered young Mike’s penchant for success, and both parents assured him he could do anything and be anything – but he would have to work for it. Take no hand-outs, work hard and practice often and keep at it until he got to be the best he could be. Mike himself admits he hates to lose, but his biggest opponent is always his own last record — he always seeks to up his game. On his auditions for Live!, he says, “…after the first time, I was like, ‘I can do better’ and I wanted to do better. I’m competitive.”
And Gene says, in this New York Times article,
”I never pushed him to come along on those morning runs, that’s the thing,” Gene said. ”We’d be up in the woods trying to stay in shape for this elite outfit, and the next day, he would be right back there. I never asked him to come to the gym. Something was gnawing at him to make himself better.”
It is this phenomenal sense of greatness that makes Michael the unbeaten record holder for the most sacks in an NFL season; and the Giants’ defensive captain who led them to the 2008 Super Bowl Championship. Mike resigned football immediately after that season and embarked on Life After The Super Bowl. He parlayed his extraordinary NFL career into a super-successful TV personality, a sports commentator, a TV sitcom, and now his co-hosting spot with Kelly on the Emmy-winning and hugely popular Live! Filling Regis’s shoes is no easy task, but this six-foot-five linebacker should have no trouble doing just that. In fact, according to Broadcasting and Cable Magazine, Mike’s self-described “two dearly distanced front teeth” smile has sent Live! into “ratings stratosphere”!
In one of my phone calls to Ms. Louise, as she grew more comfortable with me, her smooth, rich Texas drawl became more pronounced when she expressed how proud she was of Michael, because “he always wanted to be something”. She further explained why she was proud of him,
“One thing I like about him is that even with all this success, it didn’t change his personality – he’s still the same Michael he always was. Everyone says that about him”.
His parents remain his biggest fans. I asked her does he take care of them, and she says, “Oh, yes!”, with obvious joy and pride. Michael himself, in his book, describes how,
“Before I was in the NFL, I told my parents that if I ever made it, I would buy them a house. Ten years later, when I wanted to fulfill my promise, I didn’t put a price limit on finding their dream house. My parents didn’t have an extravagant lifestyle, but I also didn’t expect it to be under $500,000.”
Which brings me to the other side of Michael Strahan: Known to be a popular, charismatic leader, it might surprise many how much family means to him. The word itself, family, appears thirty-five times in his book, a paperback of only 320 pages! He goes back often to visit them, and he, his siblings and parents have always had, and maintain, a warm and close relationship. He considers his family a “solid background that some fellows don’t have”.
Ms. Louise says Mike continues to live by the no-nonsense principles they instilled in him, hard work, earning your keep, honoring your word, finishing what you start, speaking your mind while respecting others, and saving your money for a rainy day. (And Mike’s generosity and sense of community are well-known: he helps out several charities, was one of the first sport stars to contribute large sums to the 9/11 fund and he is also at the forefront of the NFL speaking out about gay rights.)
In her warm, well-modulated anecdotes, the stories of Mike’s childhood are funny and spotlight many of their lifelong tenets:
In spite of their being comfortable, the Strahans encouraged frugality and little extravagance – Mike’s favorite meal was “whatever she put on the table!” He had no choice in the matter. And when adolescent Mike decided he wanted to become a professional cyclist, a la Lance Armstrong, the bike he wanted was waaaaaay outside their budget. His parents challenged Michael to raise half the cost and they’d put up the balance. By cutting lawns, working at the commissary, typing reports for school-mates and whatever else, it took Mike but a few months to present Gene and Louise with his share. And it was this same frugality that insisted that Mike go to a U.S. High School for a semester so he could qualify for an athletic scholarship. And when he did get the scholarship, but didn’t want to stay at the college after the first semester, it was the same frugal, finish-what-you-start mentality that kept him there, “My Dad was like, Son it’s free, I am not paying for you now, you are going.” http://juicychitchats.blogspot.com/
Mike’s racing bike still hangs in Ms. Louise’s garage; at least once per year she laughingly threatens to put it out with the garbage. Mike however, holds on to that bike as one of his first symbols of what can be attained by a dream, determination, hard work, and parental support.
Here are a few basics on Michael Strahan:
DOB: November 21, 1971
Place of Birth: Houston, TX
Complications at birth: None
Birth weight: big
Breast or bottle: N/A
Talked when: normal
Walked when: normal
Potty trained when: normal
Siblings: 3 brothers, 2 sisters
Birth order: last born
Raised in: Army Bases around the country and world
Looks: Takes after his mother and father
College: Texas Southern University