After 15 years, Strahan exits the NFL as a true champion

He leaves the game after 15 seasons, more than four times the average NFL career. His longevity fits, because there is little that is average about Michael Strahan.

Seldom does an athlete enter the dramatic, extreme New York sports landscape and survive that long and not only connect, but flourish, with such assurance. Sure, Strahan delivered a bevy of hits and took a few, too, especially in his spectacled divorce a little more than a year ago.

But he leaves a champion. He helped deliver on what he was brought in to do in 1993 from tiny Texas Southern. He joined the Giants' locker room that year and was surrounded by Phil Simms, Lawrence Taylor, Rodney Hampton, Keith Hamilton and others. Dan Reeves was his first coach. Eagles quarterback Ken O'Brien was his first sack in his first NFL game in '93.

It would be followed by 140.5 more.

That included a single-season-record 22.5 of them in 2001 when he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Strahan, the wide-toothed Texan, kept compiling sacks and building his influence. The effects filtered throughout the Giants' locker room and into his forays into TV. He saw enough, did enough in the pro game for his confidence to continually build. And it showed.

It was evident last year when he tap-danced with the Giants over whether he would retire. He gave himself a few days before the season to come back, get in football shape and then ride the most memorable season of his career. The sack record was great. The ring, the Lombardi Trophy, for Strahan, was the peak.

He could have played one more season. Maybe, just one more complete season.

Few saw last season how tough it was for Strahan to stay healthy, to get through practices. The Giants were prepared to offer him a contract that would have paid him at least $6.5 million this season, a contract full of reasonable incentives to achieve, a thank you for being a Giant among Giants, an open arm to continue to lead in the locker room and beyond.

Strahan turns 37 on November 21.

What more was left? Chasing another title, another dream? Back-breaking work rather than a cozy chair on TV? Playing the game or talking the game?

Each athlete wants to end it his way, in his time. Strahan has done this. His surprise Broadway announcement and departure showed that Strahan was paying attention these last 15 years. The team's Super Bowl XLII coronation, in part, became his own. There was room for both.

We have only begun to hear from Strahan.

He can be every bit as good in NFL TV as Charles Barkley is in NBA TV. Strahan has plenty to say and knows how to say it. He leaves the Giants as one of their all-time greats. He is Hall-of-Fame bound.

The Giants found a gem in the second round of the 1993 NFL Draft, overall, the 40th player chosen. Fifteen seasons later, we can easily see that was a steal.

This Texan-turned-New Yorker earned his place among the Giants and throughout the league. Finally, he had enough.

But with his confidence, with that wide smile, with his passionate approach to every task, Strahan is just beginning.

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