Giant defensive end Michael Strahan spent his adolescence in
West Germany, the land of order and obedience. "Germans never
jaywalk," says Strahan. "To cross against a traffic light is
unthinkable." It's considered an indecent act, he says, that
borders on mortal sin. "You're expected to wait politely on the
sidewalk until the light changes."
Strahan has spent his pro career in New York, the land of chaos
and insubordination. In the Big Apple jaywalking is a natural
right. "It's part of the New York mentality," the disciplined
Strahan says. It's a mentality he has adopted on the football
field. "If somebody pushes me, I push back twice as hard.
There's no polite to it."
This season the third-year lineman with the Deutschland
disposition and the Gotham game leads the Giants in sacks, with
4 1/2. When not rushing the quarterback, the 6'4", 270-pounder
can often be found upending the opposition. In their Week 9
matchup, Washington tight end James Jenkins grabbed Strahan on a
running play and growled, "Now what are you gonna do?" Strahan
countered by flinging Jenkins to the turf. "I couldn't let
Jenkins think he was getting away with anything," Strahan says.
"He started it; I finished it."
Strahan acquired this rough-and-tumble attitude from his father,
Gene, a retired U.S. Army major who once beat a Marine named Ken
Norton in an interbase box-off. In 1981 Gene was transferred,
and the family moved from Houston to Mannheim, West Germany.
Every Tuesday during the fall, Gene would wake Michael at 3 a.m.
to watch Tuesday Morning Football on Armed Forces TV.
Michael played football for a couple of years in German youth
leagues before giving up on the game at age 12. "There was no
decent competition," he explains. Still, Gene thought Michael
had shown enough on the field to possibly earn a college
scholarship. So despite the fact that Michael hadn't played
football in five years, he was packed off to spend his senior
year of high school living with his uncle Arthur, a former NFL
defensive end. Michael's efforts at Houston's Westbury High were
rewarded with a scholarship to Texas Southern and a plane ticket
home, where he finished out the school year at Trinity Christian
Academy in Mannheim.
Four years and 41 1/2 college sacks later, the Giants made
Strahan their second-round draft choice in 1993. Strahan boldly
predicted he would make 10 sacks in his rookie season but had to
settle for just one after ligament damage in his left foot
forced him to the sideline for seven games. Last year he became
New York's starting right defensive end, earning 4 1/2 of the
team's 26 sacks. "I'm coming off the ball a lot faster this
year," says Strahan, who also has two interceptions and a
blocked punt this season.
In the off-season Strahan goes back to Mannheim, where he runs a
company that teaches and promotes American football throughout
Europe. In August 1994 Strahan and the Giants met the Chargers
in a preseason game in Berlin. The moment Strahan stepped off
the plane at Tegel Airport, he was taken into police custody.
"I'd forgotten to pay an old speeding ticket," he says. "I
cleared things up in a few hours."
Now, if he had been jaywalking....
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN The Giants' defensive end grew up in West Germany, but he was no foreigner to American football. [Michael Strahan]