ProfileThe Fifth Quarter
By David Amsden, The New York Times
- Feb. 3, 2013
On the Friday before the presidential inauguration, Michael Strahan
paid impromptu homage to Michelle Obama’s new bangs during a taping of “Live With Kelly and Michael,” the morning show he co-hosts with Kelly Ripa. Seated next to Ms. Ripa at the desk they share five mornings a week, Mr. Strahan entertained the crowd in the show’s studio by donning a wig, batting his lashes and staring longingly into the camera — a ridiculous gesture for any man, let alone one who stands 6 feet 5 inches, weighs 240 pounds and helped the New York Giants win the Super Bowl in 2008 with his talent for driving quarterbacks into the turf.
Not that he has forgone his past life completely. Two days later, Mr. Strahan was on millions of television screens once again, this time in a dapper suit and wide plaid tie, offering as a co-host of “Fox NFL Sunday” a nuanced breakdown of the flaws in the Atlanta Falcons’ defense before the team took on the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs.
“Man, I haven’t really had any free time in, basically, forever,” Mr. Strahan said on a blustery afternoon not long ago. He was exiting the minimalist lobby of his Upper West Side apartment building, hoping to squeeze a quick shopping excursion into a schedule no more forgiving than when he played football. He purchased the apartment, which is a few blocks from the “Live” studio at ABC’s headquarters, last September, after beating out dozens of entertainment veterans (Seth Meyers and Bryant Gumbel among them) to replace Regis Philbin, the show’s host for nearly a quarter of a century.
For Mr. Strahan, the job is the apex of what has been one of the more curious and unexpected professional journeys in recent memory. The combination of his two shows, each No. 1 in its time slot, means he is beamed into a larger, more demographically diverse subset of America than even Ryan Seacrest. And when either show is off the air? There’s Mr. Strahan in Subway’s national ads; there he is in the celebrity-spattered campaign for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital; and there he is lending his support to same-sex marriage. This fall, he was christened by People magazine one of the Sexiest Men Alive; last month he was selected as a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame (the announcement will be on Saturday) — conclusive evidence that Mr. Strahan has established himself as the rare media personality as recognizable to housewives as he is to their adolescent sons.
“He had a following before,” said Michael Gelman, the longtime producer of “Live.” But with this show, “you have three to four million people watching you five days a week. When you think about it, who else is seen by so many people for so long?”
Wearing a puffy black down jacket and crisp bluejeans, Mr. Strahan, 41, ducked into the back seat of a GMC Denali idling out front of his building; his driver, Greg, was at the wheel. “Thing is, I don’t really like free time,” Mr. Strahan said as the vehicle made its way into rush-hour traffic. “People are always warning me that I’m going to burn out” — a justifiable concern given that “Fox NFL Sunday” tapes in Los Angeles, giving Mr. Strahan a single jet-lagged day off each week and meaning his Monday tapings of “Live” are often done “in a delirium” straight off a red-eye.
“But the truth is,” he added, “the only thing that tires me out is hearing people tell me that. Opposite shows, opposite coasts, opposite demographics, opposite everything — I love it, man!”
Here Mr. Strahan flashed his disarming smile: the ear-to-ear half moon punctuated by a cavernous gap between his front teeth — a physical manifestation of the cuddly, confidently clownish personality that won over the core audience of “Live.”
“He was certainly an out-of-the-box choice,” Mr. Gelman said. “Frankly, I wasn’t that aware of him. But whatever we threw at him, he was game, which is rarer than you’d think.”
Ms. Ripa agreed with the assessment, pointing to a particular instance during Mr. Strahan’s auditioning phase that convinced her and others he was right for the job. “Channing Tatum was on the show promoting ‘Magic Mike,’ ” she recalled, referring to the hit film about male strippers. “And Michael says something like, ‘You’re not the only Magic Mike on this stage,’ and ripped off these tearaway pants and started dancing. It takes a special person to come up with that and pull it off.”
Even athletes fortunate enough to find work in television upon retirement typically have to accept radically diminished prospects. “All the sacrifice, all the pain, it can be like you were renting a life and the rental is up; I didn’t want that, no way,” said Mr. Strahan, who is undoubtedly earning more than the $5 million he made during his 15th and final season with the Giants, in 2007-8. Terry Bradshaw, the Hall of Fame quarterback and one of Mr. Strahan’s co-hosts on “Fox NFL Sunday,” joked last fall that Mr. Strahan was now pulling in $16 million, a not unreasonable estimate given Ms. Ripa’s reported $20 million salary. (Mr. Strahan declined to to divulge his salary. “I’m doing fine,” he said, “but that’s just Terry being a knucklehead. I wouldn’t tell him what I was making because he might ask me for a loan.”)
The evening’s shopping expedition turned out to be a good perch from which to witness the diversity of Mr. Strahan’s current fan base, as people ranging from construction workers to 20-something women made a point of saying hello. His first stop was T. Anthony, a luggage and leather goods shop on Park Avenue, where he hoped to find a backgammon board. “Nicole got me into playing,” he said, referring to Nicole Murphy, Mr. Strahan’s fiancée (and Eddie Murphy’s ex), with whom he shares his homes in New York and Bel Air.
The instant he stepped out of the car, he was spotted by a young man driving by, who leaned out his window and, with a pump of his fist, shouted: “Yo, Strahan! Love you, man!”
Moments later, after picking out a leather-encased backgammon set — and wincing at the $1,500 price tag as he handed over his American Express Black Card — he was back out on the street, where a woman who looked to be in her 40s passed him on the sidewalk.
“I watch you every morning,” she told him. “Love you and Kelly!”
Today, Mr. Strahan’s admirers also include a number of fellow athletes, who see his trajectory as evidence that sports broadcasting is not their only option upon retiring. “When you’re a 20-something-year-old athlete and you’re getting a six-figure check every week, you’re not thinking about next week,” he said. “You’re not thinking, ‘I’m going to be broke,’ or ‘I’m going to need another job.’ But I’ll tell you, there are a lot of broke athletes out there — I know plenty — and I didn’t want to end up as one.”
Mr. Strahan recently started a management company with two partners, focusing in part on helping athletes navigate their post-playing-career pursuits. Among his clients are Deion Sanders, the Hall of Fame cornerback, and Tony Gonzalez, the tight end for the Atlanta Falcons, who said in an interview that he was “95 percent sure” he played his final game two weeks ago, when his team lost to San Francisco in the playoff game that Mr. Strahan, of course, was discussing.
“I had other people representing me, but after seeing what Michael’s been able to do, I switched,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “I mean, replacing Regis? Are you kidding me? Michael’s become the model of what’s possible for a lot of us who aren’t going to be playing much longer. Tiki tried it, you know, but he couldn’t get it done.”
Mr. Gonzalez was referring to Tiki Barber, once the running back for the Giants and Mr. Strahan’s former teammate, who caused a stir when he left the sport in his prime after the 2006 season to pursue a career in broadcasting. Poised and handsome, Mr. Barber appeared to be an executive producer’s dream: a star in one world who would effortlessly make the transition into another. He was awarded as such, securing a coveted contract with NBC to work as a correspondent on both “Sunday Night Football” and the “Today” show.
Mr. Barber’s success, however, was fleeting. For starters, his natural charisma turned out to be less infectious once he was off the field permanently. On “Sunday Night Football,” he was demoted from the studio to the sidelines, and on “Today” he struggled for airtime and reportedly clashed with his fellow correspondents. Then it was revealed that Mr. Barber was having an affair with a “Today” intern while his wife was pregnant, a public scandal that no doubt contributed to NBC’s decision not to renew his contracts. Over the past three years, Mr. Barber has all but disappeared from public view.
“Yeah, yeah, people say to me all the time, ‘You have the career Tiki thought he was going to have,’ ” Mr. Strahan said. (When he was named Mr. Philbin’s replacement, New York magazine’s culture blog reported it with one sentence: “Somewhere, Tiki Barber is weeping.”) “Thing about Tiki, he said what he wanted and, in a sense, he got it. What he wanted all along was more on the news side, kind of like Matt Lauer. He’s more intense than I am, more methodical. To be that locked in, it would drive me nuts.”
But like Mr. Barber, Mr. Strahan is no stranger to having unsavory rumors about his personal life play out on the front pages of newspapers. In 2006, he filed for divorce from his wife, Jean, after seven years of marriage, a split that rapidly turned ugly, with Mr. Strahan accused in court of adultery and, in a particularly tabloid-worthy moment, of secretly videotaping his sister-in-law undressing. It was not exactly the sort of behavior, in short, that would endear a man to a daytime television audience. Though all of the charges against him were dismissed, Mr. Strahan was ordered to pay his former wife $15.3 million and child support for their twin daughters — a significant sum for someone who at the time was worth $22 million. (He has two more children, a boy and a girl, with his first wife.)
Though Mr. Strahan knew he was a few years from retirement, he said he didn’t have time to worry that the scandal could derail a potential television career. “That was the last thing I was thinking about at the time,” he said, as his car made its way down to the meatpacking district. “I had my girls, my twins, and I was only worried about not saying something that one day they’d see in a newspaper and say, ‘Daddy, why did you say this about Mommy?’ ”
Unlike Mr. Barber, Mr. Strahan benefited from the fact that he was still playing football at the time of his divorce. By the time he won the Super Bowl, he had been rechristened a local hero. And if his appearances on “Live” served as the final step in pushing the details of his divorce into the recesses of the public imagination, Mr. Strahan believes that this period in his life ultimately helped him prepare for the show.
“It was horrible, of course, but at the same time it was one of the best things to ever happen to me,” he said. “You have all these things being said about you, things that aren’t true, but you can’t control any of it. At first I was freaking out, but then I just realized: the only thing I can be is me. I used to be really worried what people thought, and I always tried to act in ways to make sure I was liked. And you know what? Suddenly none of that mattered. So I just started being myself, and I got really comfortable with that, and I think that’s what people like about seeing me on the show.”
He was in the meatpacking district now, a neighborhood where he lived for a stint during his playing days. He stopped into the Jean Shop, a bespoke denim store, to purchase a few pairs of jeans and say hello to the owner — one of many old friends he has collected over the years. Before leaving, the two did a shot of tequila.
If Mr. Strahan’s anything-goes personality is largely responsible for his success, it also belies a focused ambition. After all, the first time Mr. Strahan was ever on “Live,” a few days after the Giants won the Super Bowl in 2008, Mr. Philbin asked about Mr. Strahan’s plans after football. Their exchange has become something of a legend among the staff:
Mr. Strahan: “Well, there’s a show that I’m on right now that, you know, maybe you want to. ...”
Mr. Philbin: “Are you saying?”
Mr. Strahan: “Live with Michael and Kelly!”
“I wasn’t serious at all,” Mr. Strahan said, back in his car and heading home. “It was just a joke, but it makes me think that maybe if you speak something, it comes true.”http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/03/fashion/michael-strahan-is-playing-on-a-new-field.html?ref=television