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Thursday, September 18, 2008
Updated: September 19, 10:36 AM ET
Strahan saves the best for last

By Mike Loveday
ESPNRISE.com

Former New York Giant Michael Strahan knows how to save the best for last. He played only one year of high school football, set a school record for sacks his senior year of college and won the Super Bowl in his final season as a professional football player.

Michael Strahan
Michael Strahan set the NFL single season sack record in 2001.

After Larry Allen and Dallas Clark, Strahan is the latest athlete we're proud to profile on ESPN RISE as someone who was unknown, unlucky, unrecruited and unappreciated in high school.

Did Strahan give up when his name wasn't on any recruiting lists? Nope. He followed his dream and continued to get bigger, stronger and faster. Once an opportunity was presented to him, he kicked open that door.

Strahan was born in football-hungry Houston, but he did not grow up playing sports. Strahan's father, Gene, was a major in the U.S. Army, and at the age of 9, Strahan moved to Mannheim, Germany.

The summer before Strahan's senior year of high school, his father sent him to live with his uncle Art in Houston so he could attend Westbury High School. Strahan played one season of football, which somehow was enough for him to get a scholarship offer from Texas Southern University. He then flew back for the spring term to Germany, where he graduated from Mannheim Christian Academy.

"After the first half of the school year was over, I was on the first plane smokin' out of Texas," Strahan told the Sporting News in 2001 of his stay at Westbury. "I was like a mercenary sent in to do something. I went in, did my job and got out."

At Texas Southern, a I-AA school in Houston, Strahan followed in the footsteps of his uncle Art, who also had played defensive end at TSU. By his junior season, Strahan had begun to turn himself into a NFL prospect.

As a foreshadowing of things to come, Strahan broke the Texas Southern record for sacks in a season with 19 during his senior year. He still holds the school's career sacks record with 41.5.

The Giants drafted Strahan with the 40th pick in the 1993 NFL draft. He made only one sack his rookie season but by 1997 was wreaking havoc on opposing offensive lines.

Nine years after he broke his university's record for sacks in a season, Strahan made a run at the NFL record books.

In 1984, New York Jet Mark Gastineau took the quarterback to the turf 22 times, a record that stood for 17 years.

It took until the final game of the 2001 season, against the Green Bay Packers and Brett Favre, but Strahan broke the record by half a sack to become the all-time NFL sacks leader when he took down Favre with 2:42 left in the game.

The sack remains the subject of debate, as Favre appeared to fall to the ground before Strahan reached him, but the sack was Strahan's nonetheless.

"I just react to what happens," Strahan told ESPN after the game. "He was booting out on the same play earlier and I missed him, as far as containing and keeping him in the pocket. This time he went down, and I hopped on him. What am I supposed to do? Get up and say, 'Brett! Why didn't you throw it?"'

Few defensive ends in the NFL were more feared or more dominant than Strahan from 2000 to 2005.

It looked as though Strahan would retire after the 2006 season when he did not report to Giants training camp and missed the entire preseason, but the 14-year veteran opted to return for one final year. Turns out it was a good decision.

Michael Strahan
Michael Strahan shows off his Super Bowl ring, which he dubbed the "10-table stunner" for its gaudy, bright design.

His 15th and final season proved to be the Giants' best season since 1991. The team won the Super Bowl in what could be considered one of the biggest upsets in NFL history when it defeated the previously unbeaten New England Patriots.

Strahan went from a raw talent as a high school senior to Super Bowl champion in 19 years and was named to the Pro Bowl roster seven times. He is the Giants' all-time sacks leader with 141.5, passing Lawrence Taylor. He was named the 2001 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and was a two-time NFC Defensive Player of the Year (in 2001 and 2003).

"Looking back 15 years, my career has far exceeded all expectations," Strahan said when he announced his retirement in June. "I was hoping to maybe get in three years and not move back in with my parents. That was really my goal. I just didn't want to have to go home. … And I never really made a plan; things just kind of happened. And for some reason, they happened in the right way."