June 11, 2008
Thank God Michael Strahan is retiring. He's doing me a favor by relieving plenty of stress from my life two weeks a year. Number 92 has beaten my ass enough times for any 36 year-old man.
I'm happy I don't have to worry about it anymore, but at the same time I'm a little disappointed. With this offseason's retirement of Strahan, as well as Brett Favre, almost none of my childhood idols are left in the game. The fact remains, though, that Michael Strahan has been, and in my opinion still would be, a major force in the NFL.
In my eight Skins-Giants matchups I would define Strahan as the most intelligent defensive player on the field. I guess that's bound to happen toward the end of a fifteen-year career; a career that began after the 1993 draft, about the same time I was finishing up the sixth grade. He made his first Pro Bowl shortly after I wrapped up my first season on the Logan High freshman football team. Even better, No. 92 set the NFL record for sacks (22.5) and was named Defensive Player of the Year while I sat the bench on a below-average Utah State squad. As I entered the NFL, Michael Strahan became a looming standard of competition. He played at a level far above anything I'd ever seen before and keeping up with him has made me a better player.
One of my favorite memories of Strahan happened last season at FedEx field. Right tackle Jon Jansen suffered a season-ending injury two weeks earlier and our offense was having some problems controlling the right side of the line. We had built ourselves a lead in the game, but it quickly diminished as our offense became extremely conservative. Throughout the second half I stayed in from my tight end position on third downs to pass block Strahan. I had mixed things up and held my own, but in the fourth quarter there was a breaking point.
We finished up a second-down run for nothing and were facing another third-and-long. Michael looks at me and says, "Cooley, I know you've been stayin' in blockin' me all day on third down. You ain't gonna block me anymore!" I didn't give up a sack, but I may as well have. Strahan collapsed the pocket and as Jason Campbell tried to get rid of the ball he fumbled. On the way back to the sideline I hear a voice behind me saying, "You better start running some routes ‘cause you're not here to block me!" As I looked over my shoulder I will never forget that big-ass Strahan grin.
Putting in a game tape of Giants film, the first thing a player will notice about Strahan is that he is a yard in the backfield before most of the offense has moved. Someone might guess he has a spy in the huddle telling him the snap count, but he is just that fast. Whatever football sense he has developed has allowed him a huge advantage getting off and getting around the ball. Pair his knowledge with an uncanny ability to explode 260 pounds around the football field and he is remarkably hard to control.
The Redskins faced the Giants later last season on a miserable windy day in New York. Before we handed the Giants their second-to-last loss preceding the Super Bowl, a Big Blue hand fell on my shoulder. Michael Strahan was there to tell me congrats on making my first Pro Bowl and then something I will always remember: "Good luck." Then he looks toward my eyes and says, "You deserve everything, Cooley. You're a great player."
Well, I'm sure Michael has heard this before, but I want to say it. He deserves everything. He has always been a great football player.
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