Minutes before they were about to face the Green Bay Packers in last Sunday's NFC championship game at a viciously frigid Lambeau Field, Michael Strahan gathered his New York Giants teammates and tried to get them to block out the elements. Paraphrasing a text message he'd received earlier from a friend, Strahan shouted, "This weather is very temporary. Championships are permanent!"
Nearly five hours later, the great defensive end stood at his locker thawing out – and basking in the glow of the second conference title of his tremendous 15-year career. New York's 23-20 victory over the favored Packers in overtime completed a remarkable run through the NFC, with the Giants coming from behind as road underdogs three times to score a Super Bowl XLII rematch with the undefeated New England Patriots in Glendale, Ariz. on Feb. 3.
There were nearly 250 congratulatory text messages on his PDA, some from celebrities Strahan declined to identify ("I don't want to name drop," he says). He scrolled backward to reveal one he had received the night before the game, which spoke of the Russian city of Norilsk:
"It is the northernmost city of Siberia," the message read. "Land-wise, it is the second-largest city in the world. Mining is the principle industry. It is closed off to foreigners. Tomorrow will be 20 degrees below. These people are not playing for the big dance. They are living and surviving. Glendale will be 70 during the dance. Who cares about 6 degrees in Green Bay? That's like a sauna compared to Norilsk. I'm tired of the weather report. Weather is temporary. Defense wins championships. Championships are forever."
I asked Strahan who sent the text, and he replied, "My friend Dana Smith. He likes to send me inspirational messages. He thinks he's very philosophical."
Strahan laughed as he explained that Dana is the twin brother of Dr. Ian Smith, the television personality with whom Strahan was publicly accused of engaging in an "alternative lifestyle" by his ex-wife, Jean, during their divorce proceedings in June of 2006.
In other words, Strahan said, "She was claiming I was gay."
That's a charge you don't hear every day, football fans. Though Jean Strahan later backtracked and denied she was referring to her estranged husband's sexuality, it was hard not to take it that way. Her original inference included a qualifier that after the couple experienced marital difficulties, "Michael moved in with Ian in his one-bedroom apartment for the next year."
I'm not particularly interested in Strahan's sexual preference; I certainly take him on his word that he doesn't sleep with men, though it's none of my business. The reason I bring any of this up is it underscores what a traumatic journey this future Hall of Famer has experienced in the latter part of his career.
From the nasty divorce trial that included allegations of domestic abuse to a reported contract dispute to his near-retirement over the past summer to the Giants' many crisis points in '07, Strahan has absorbed more public hits than the average 6-foot-5, 255-pounder. Somehow, he has managed to retain his trademark gap-toothed smile that, in all likelihood, will soon be staring back at you from some NFL-themed TV studio.
In the meantime the defensive end, up there with Hall of Famer Reggie White and Bruce Smith as the greatest of the post-merger era, has helped key a late-season surge, one that has given him a chance to replicate the fairy-tale farewells of Super Bowl champs John Elway and Jerome Bettis.
If the Giants, double-digit point underdogs against the Pats, pull off the Super Bowl's biggest upset since New England stunned the Rams six years ago, there's a good chance Strahan will walk away a grateful winner.
"I think winning this game would determine a lot for me," Strahan said Thursday night. "I looked at one thing Brett (Favre) said in terms of whether he'll come back next year – how do I know if I came back that we won't have a year like New Orleans or Chicago did this year (after playing in the '06 NFC championship)? Now, I don't see that for our team, but it can happen, and do I really want to go through a season like that?
"At the same time, I still love to play. But it would be great to go out like Elway or Bettis – that's the ultimate dream, to do something like that. If we win this game, I've got a serious decision to make."
Make no mistake: Strahan believes beating the Patriots is far from a remote possibility. The Giants battled New England fiercely in the regular season finale, taking a 12-point lead in the second half before losing, 38-35.
"We had nothing to play for in that game," Strahan said. "We just played 'cause guys love to play football. We know we have to play a great team that may not have played their best football lately, and this could be the one game where they may have an incredible performance left in the tank. But I don't see anybody losing sleep over it. Guys expect to win."
Whether Strahan and fellow defensive ends Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck can consistently pressure Tom Brady will have a lot to do with the Giants' fortunes. Twenty pounds lighter than he was in 2001, when he set the NFL single-season record of 22½ sacks, Strahan compensates with savvy and leverage and remains a force both as a pass-rusher and run-defender.
He earned his seventh Pro Bowl selection after an impressive 2005 season but slipped in '06 after missing seven games with a severe foot sprain. He sat out training camp last summer while mulling retirement, though many outsiders speculated that Strahan, who earned a reported $4 million in base salary this year, was attempting to shake down the Giants for more money.
Strahan, insisting the holdout wasn't about money, didn't get a raise – but the experience was a valuable one, and not just because he got to skip what the majority of veterans regard as the most odious part of the season.
"If anything, it revived me," Strahan says. "Having August off, it showed me that life really can be good and fun on the other side. But I really did miss this football thing. It's a great job. I'm just so much more appreciative than I used to be, and I'm having so much more fun."
Despite the lasting ramifications of the divorce – a judge ruled a year ago that he must pay his ex-wife $15.3 million, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars of child support for their now-three-year-old twin daughters, Isabella and Sophia – Strahan seems to have put the drama behind him.
"At first it really hurt me," he said. "She was telling people I beat her up, that I was gay, and I worried how I'd be perceived. Then I finally decided that my friends and family members, the people who really know me, know the truth. If other people wanted to believe her, I just had to let it go. And the kids are the most important thing, and the main thing is to do what's best for them.
"I'm at the point now where I wish we could talk to each other like normal people, but I guess she's not ready for that. I've been ready since the second I left that house, but some people move on faster than others do. In a perfect world, I'd say, 'Hey, kids, let's go on a vacation, and (she can) come with us.' I'd have no problem with that. I hope she ends up in a good relationship with someone. I just want her to be happy."
Strahan's happiness is palpable as he closes in on the one achievement that has eluded him in his career. His previous Super Bowl appearance, a 34-7 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens seven years ago, wasn't so memorable, but he feels his current team is more prepared than the 2000 Giants.
"I think this team handles things a lot better," he said Thursday while trolling for late-night food in the backseat of a town car in New Jersey. "We've got a lot of young guys who don't know where they are, and they're playing loose."
Abruptly, Strahan groaned – Popeye's, his establishment of choice, had just closed for the night. That left Burger King as the only viable option, and the famished bachelor sounded disappointed.
A few seconds later, the spark in his voice returned. "It could be worse," he said.
Absolutely – he could be in Norilsk, for starters.
TAKE IT TO THE ATM
Osi Umenyiora's comments about the Patriots and tackle Matt Light on HBO will have the same impact on Super Bowl XLII as the lucky shirts, underwear and caps worn by fans of both teams … Tom Brady will be perfectly mobile by game time – and he'll maintain a robust, natural head of hair into the second half of the 21st century, because that's how he rolls … USC's football and basketball teams will end up on probation by decade's end.
PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …
We all know I'll be heading to the Valley of the Sun in a couple of days, but for the time being I don't want to go anywhere outside my glorious Northern California zip code, and here's why: I had about as easy of a time getting home from Green Bay as the Packers' Ryan Grant did running the ball against the Giants. After spending seven hours at Austin Straubel Airport on Monday – done in by mechanical delays, eventual cancellations, a raid on rental cars with only a booze-swilling cabbie offering to transport me through the driving snow to Chicago – I ended up making a late-night trip through the Taco Bell drive-thru window with equally stranded Sports Illustrated's Jim Trotter (thanks to our godsend of a shuttle driver from the Wingate Inn) and face-diving into a hotel bed.
The next day, we made it out of the Bay on an American Eagle puddle-jumper that, naturally, included Jemaine Clement from "Flight of the Conchords." After the inevitable delay at O'Hare, I landed 21 hours behind schedule – but in time to kiss my kids goodnight – and jumped into a cab. As I looked down to check a text from Trotter to see whether he'd made it back to San Diego, my cab driver exclaimed something in a language I didn't understand, and I realized we were lost and headed in the opposite direction, with no off-ramp in sight. And on whom did I blame all of this? That's right – it was Jessica Simpson's fault. (Do the math.)
LIES, LIES, LIES
1. Bill Parcells has done nothing but follow the rules since taking over as the Dolphins' director of football operations.
2. In addition to being a renowned expert on nutrition, Mary-Kate Olsen is a medical mastermind.
3. In informing Mike Holmgren that he would not be offering a lucrative contract extension, Seahawks owner Paul Allen summoned the coach into his office and screamed, "No soup for you!"
OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE
Michael Smith of espn.com is a great dude, and a very talented one, so I'm happy that he was the one who broke the story that the Falcons had hired former Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Smith as their new coach. But if someone named Mike Silver ever gets an NFL coaching gig, I had better get that scoop.
LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …
Newborn Zachary Ethan Lago, son of Yahoo! Sports managing editor Jumpin' Joe, whose nickname from older sister Zoe, "Baby Gummy," will come in handy when he throws down for the 2027 Cal basketball team.
YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK
News spouses who fight
ROLLIN' WITH THE ROYALS
In an inspired effort against a star-studded team, the Reading Football Club suffered a 2-0 defeat to first-place Manchester United last Saturday at Madejski Stadium. The match was relatively even throughout, with the Royals launching several dangerous attacks and American-born goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann making a brilliant save to deny England national-teamer Owen Hargreaves on a free kick. Another England stalwart, Wayne Rooney, scored the game's first goal on a fantastic finish in the 77th minute. Reading's James Harper broke through from midfield and came within a couple feet of equalizing before Man U star Cristiano Ronaldo added an injury-time goal. The Royals, now tied for 13th in the Premier League standings (and only two points out of the relegation zone), hope to summon another big-time performance at third-place Chelsea on Saturday.
LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK
Actually, it's a three-tune medley in honor of the drama surrounding a certain Patriots quarterback and the video footage of his footwear – the first two songs (Bob Seger's "Her Strut" and the Eagles' "Those Shoes") from the paparazzi perspective, the third (Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made For Walkin' ") from the passer's.
"He's totally committed
To major independence
Yeah he's Tom Brady through and through
We give celebs a battle
All that they can handle
We'll film some
We'll chase some too
But oh we love to watch him strut
Oh he disrespects us but
We love to watch him strut
Some people they abhor us,
But Tommy he ignores us
Alec Baldwin wouldn't play that scene
I know Gisele is cute
But once her man puts on that boot
This Brady will be all we've ever dreamed
Oh we love to watch him strut
Oh we'd kill for Gisele's butt
We love to watch him strut …"
"Tell us what you're gonna do tonight, Tommy
There must be someplace you can go
In the middle of the tall drinks and the drama,
There must be someone you know
God knows, you're lookin' good enough,
But you're so smooth and the world's so rough
There is no way you can lose
Oh, no, hobbled Tommy, what you gonna
Do in that shoe?
Got that pretty supermodel round your shoulder
Got those slimy paparazzi round your block
You got to have your independence
But we're following you everywhere you walk
Desperation in the singles bars
An' all us jerkoffs houndin' all the stars
You used to shed us and cruise
But now, you can't do that,
Once you started wearin' that shoe …"
THESE BOOTS ARE MADE FOR WALKIN'
"You keep playing where you shouldn't be playing
And you keep acting like I'm really hurt (HAH)
Well, I've just found me a new orthopedic device (YEAH)
And now it is a breaking news alert
Well this boot was made for walkin', and that's just what I'll do
On Super Sunday this boot is gonna walk all over you"
TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)
"Loved the Morning Rush about the Giants. Reading about them being two-touchdown underdogs gave me violent flashbacks of 17 years ago when they ruined my childhood. That being said, is it wrong for me to root for them to win in two weeks?"
Not at all. What the Giants accomplished this season, including that comeback from down 14-0 in the snow in your fair city in late December, was truly inspirational. If you like underdogs and aren't from New England, you pretty much have to root for this team.
"While I am a Texans fan, for the Super Bowl this year I have to let you know that I will be cheering for the Giants. Your article made it sound as if nobody expects them to win … and after getting to watch the Giants-Patriots game in the last week of the season, I knew one thing. The Giants are a force all their own! … and I think that an upset is in the making. Love the column; read it all the time, and would like to get your thoughts on the Texans' chances of getting into the playoffs next season. … Thanx for some intelligent commentary. See ya next season."
I think the Texans, though they play in a brutally tough division, have an excellent chance to secure their first-ever playoff berth in '08.
"Finally, someone gets it. Speak the truth, preacher!"
Can I get a witness (or several million)?
"I've written (and sparred with) you several times relating to your political stance, yet I don't really mind the put-downs and conservative-hating because I find you to be tremendously talented and insightful (as a sports journalist), not to mention entertaining as hell to read (politically and sports related). All that aside, your article touching on Lt. Col Gadson is my favorite yet of your work. For your President Bush-hating ways, you (unlike some of your like-minded political brethren) keep in mind that we in the military serve honorably, and can in turn serve as an inspiration to the athletes so many of us follow, even from half a world away. The Lt. Col is right; football is a major sanity check, and I've spent many a late Sunday night/early Monday morning watching my Seahawks, and it is a very welcome distraction and reminder of home. Keep up the great work."
Thank you so much – for your kind words and, more important, for your brave service. There are many, many indebted liberal and conservative Americans who have you and your fellow soldiers in our thoughts and prayers.
"I just felt compelled to tell you that since I stumbled across one of your articles earlier this year, I have been a huge fan. Anyway, the article on the war hero that inspired the G-Men was probably your best work all year in my opinion and I will be pourin' out a road soda for my favorite column in two weeks."
I wish I could take a lot of credit here, as my ego typically demands. But Lt. Col Gadson and the Giants basically wrote this one for me.
"Thank you! From a lot of vets from a lot of wars!"
Again, thank you.
"I clicked on your 'Road Soda' link, 'Also know as beer. Road sodas work really well while driving. Hey Stumpy Pants hand me one of those cold ass road sodas while I make a jew turn.' I then clicked on the 'jew turn' link. I'm guessing perhaps you didn't see that link."
You are correct, and that is an unconscionable error on our part. Obviously, we abhor such slurs and wholeheartedly apologize for the carelessness.
"You were exactly right in criticizing (Norv) Turner for not going for it on 4th-and-10 late in the game. But even more puzzling was how conservative Turner and the Chargers got three consecutive times, earlier on, when they had first-and-goal at the Pats' 9 yard-line. Running Turner into the middle of the line wasted first down, destroyed momentum and cost the Chargers the game. Like Brian Billick before him, Turner has a false reputation as an offensive guru … just when he needed an inspired call, he went totally conservative against the best team in football, a sure recipe for failure. My question is: Doesn't it feel good to always be right? Love your column … keep the faith."
To borrow from Holly Hunter in "Broadcast News": No, it's horrible. But in fairness, it's tough to be more wrong about Turner and A.J. Smith than I've been all season. Both coach and GM did a hell of a job in '07.
"Norv Turner's decision 'Sunday when, on fourth-and-10 from the New England 36 with 9:21 to go, he punted the ball back to the Patriots rather than go for it' … (was in contrast) to Tom Coughlin going for it … in the fourth quarter against Green Bay. There comes a time when you are 'all in' or you're out. Coughlin was very aggressive, even using his last time out before the 2 min warning. If you don't have a sense of urgency in the 4th qtr, when do you? Another strategy call that influenced the outcome: I heard John Madden on his SF Bay Area radio call-in (last) Friday morning and he didn't think Rivers would play, based on him not practicing Thursday. Madden said you have to be ready to go and play the best game of your life – otherwise, put (Billy) Volek in. Other coaches always stick with their No. 1 guy, or let the player decide. Based on the difference between Rivers and LT, it appears Norv lets the players decide. Would Volek have been able to avoid turnovers and make enough plays to win the game? We'll never know."
San Jose, Calif.
I agree with a lot of what you're saying, but I'm not questioning Turner's decision to play (and stick with) Rivers. I think Norv is the best person to judge which quarterback gave his team the best chance to win, and I think he did that. In my opinion, Rivers most certainly was not the reason the Chargers lost.
"Guys like are so insightful when there is nothing on the line for you personally. Turner had to make winning and losing decision all season long and while doing that get a pounding from Mr. Silver. Now at the end of the season, you couldn't help but slap him down again to show everyone you were right. Your really a peace dirt Silver. Why don't you get a job and put yourself out for a change instead of using your cushy little job at Yahoo! to (expletive) slap people."
"Your really a peace dirt?" I don't know exactly what that means, but I am a peaceful man with a dirty mind, if that makes you feel any better.
"I thoroughly enjoy your explanations and insights on the football world. As a science writer, let me help you with your asparagus question. (There) is a sulfur compound in asparagus that is metabolized into methanethiol, or methyl mercaptan. This is the same chemical that gives skunk spray its charm and is sometimes added to natural gas to make it easier to smell and detect. It has an odor threshold of 2 parts per billion or less depending on your sensitivity. It is remarkable how fast methanethiol can be detected in the urine after eating asparagus. One recorded study showed the first traces in as little as 15 minutes. Because it is absorbed into the bloodstream very quickly, the kidneys begin to process it into the urine very soon after eating asparagus. For the football audience, it is similar to how fast the alcohol and hops compounds in beer will turn their purchase into a rental. What I can't comprehend is why the Chargers punted with 9:21 left in the game. Sure, a 4th-and-10 is a long shot to pick up, but as it turned out, it was their only shot. (Six) plays and (about 3½) minutes later, the Patriots reached the spot where the Chargers punted from and the game was essentially over."
I love smart readers.
"How long is appropriate for post-Super-Bowl-dreams-crushed wallowing?"
Long – at least based on my extensive post-Rose-Bowl-dreams-crushed wallowing experience. Ice cream helps.
"Living in SD, I can't believe how many times today I have heard, 'We gave it a good run' and 'We did better than expected, there's always next year.' The acceptance of mediocrity is mind blowing. People: Get in bed with the covers over your head for three days. You came close and lost! Not to mention the grating whine of 'we had no LT, Rivers was hurt, etc., but hey, we still played pretty well.' Did you hear Colts fans crabbing about injuries when (Marvin) Harrison, (Dwight) Freeney, et. al. missed last week's playoff game? No. Why? Because real fans don't make excuses! If only our Chargers' competitive spirit was as good as our weather, maybe then we'd start sealing the deal. Also, you bear a striking resemblance to former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. Is this why you seem to have a man crush on Tom Brady?"
No. I have a man crush on Tom Brady because he's a great dude who works exceptionally hard for his success. As for Mr. Dukakis, if you see me driving around in a tank before the Super Bowl with cameras rolling, be very afraid.
"Ha! I got you 'none of them is funny' … Anyway keep up the good work. Your columns have helped me waste countless minutes while at work. I would appreciate it if next season you could write an article or two about my beloved Chicago Bears so I can disagree with you, allowing me to send you an email that goes a little something like this: 'youare'are an idoiut.'"
No, "none" is singular – the equivalent of "no one" – so that sentence was grammatically correct, as in: "None of the Chicago Bears quarterbacks is especially beloved by the fan base right now."
"'What you would suggest I do to my nose, I would suggest that you do to me.' I'm using that line. You can't stop me! Seriously, you are so sarcastic that you should definitely be made an honorary Bostonian. I love your column. If I see you in Glendale, the Sam Adams is on me."
Thanks. I'll need it
"'Forehead warmers? Why didn't I know about those before the subzero temperatures came? In the past, I've always relied on my large eyebrows to do the job.' Are you being sarcastic here, or did you really not realize that he was talking about your horrific eyebrows? I mean, this doesn't sound like your normal sarcasm so I can only assume its idiocy. I never thought I'd say, 'You're an idiot, Michael Silver.'"
I guess I missed that one. But I do have a hard time being called an idiot by someone who doesn't know the distinction between "it's" and "its.
"So the NFL is coming back to the UK! I think it's absolutely great and I will be doing my best to get tickets again! I think a rugby stadium such as the Millennium Stadium in Wales or Twickenham Rugby Stadium may be better as far as the turf is concerned. I hope you'll visit the Madjeski again to roll with the Royals but would consider watching some Rugby, which as an awesome game in itself! Also, if you're ever here over summer, watch cricket! … it's far better then baseball! Keep up the good work and thank you for your support for the international game back in late October … Also, know your a grammar expert so I thought I would contribute to some spelling corrections: Colour is spelled with a U in it!"
If you get me into cricket, that will be one of the greatest feats in the history of international relations.
"To Tim Sweeney: I'm a Patriots fan too, and I'm relatively young, so I suppose I haven't quite been sucked into the idiocy of a great number of people I have seen who follow Boston sports. I'm not trying to insult all the Red Sox and Pats fans out there (because I know there'd be a mob outside my house if I did), but I truly do not understand the culture this season of 'we are the best and nobody can ever beat us hahaha!11!' The best thing about Mike Silver is that while he's wrong sometimes (as we all are), he always tries to look at things realistically. Sure, if the Pats win the Super Bowl, they should be ranked as one of the best teams ever, but these Giants are playing out of their minds, and that 38-35 win was too close for comfort. I really wish you and all the other unrealistic Patriots fans would shut up and stop expecting the team to win all the time (because really, what fun is that?), and leave the sports writing to a consummate professional like Silver. I hope there are more Pats fans like me who don't get pissed off when an exceedingly intelligent man suggests that their team is vulnerable."
This man is a visionary. Can someone kindly build him an ark?
"You are a fool. You give people a bad name."
Shot through the heart, and I'm to blame?
"I thought it might be useful to provide some cliff notes for those Yahoo! surfers who seem to read your column only so they can write in to castigate you for having the temerity to find fault with their favorite team, player, coach, city, ranking, et al. Here then is the first draft for The Guide to Trashing Michael Silver: "Michal, yure a dummer ass than the Loan Ranjer's horsy. You are a (expletive) moran and a (expletive) idjit too. You always run down (fill in name of coach, player, team, city, or whatever) like yure sum sort of expurt. But all you are is just a stuped (expletive) hippy no-nothin from Berkly. And who gives a (expletive) about the Bares volleyball and softball teams. Why donchoo rite about Hooters gals instead of those prissy missy Californication rejeks. Ditto for Don Julio Silver, who ever he be. … So take yure colyum and eyebrows and stick em where the sun don't shine. And cansel my subscripshun to Yahoo! Sports. But don't fergit to send me a refund. (Fill in name) (Fill in hometown, like Redneck Junction, etc.)" If they don't get it, Michael, keep on truckin' anyway."
La Conner, Wash.
Like the doo-dah man. I appreciate the serenade