The Giants got their coveted tight end in the NFL draft, but they could really use a shrink. When dominating defensive end Michael Strahan went public last month with a perceived personal slight—his unresolved contract—it prompted teammates into taking sides publicly for the second time in less than three years. The rift may have already eliminated the work-in-progress Giants from the 2002 playoffs.
“No question he’s a very sensitive and moody guy,” one longtime Giant beat writer told the Voice. “And it gets him into trouble.”
Strahan’s thin skin first burst open during the 1999 season. He had just signed his first big-time contract: four years, $32 million. Sportswriters expected him to play up to the money, and he was stung by their criticism while he was recording only 5.5 sacks that season, after 15 the year before.
His off-field timing was worse: In November ’99, on a day when coach Jim Fassel was burying his mother, Strahan calmly told reporters after practice that the Giants’ defense was sick of carrying the load. He criticized the offensive players and coaches and took shots at the play calling, which Fassel was handling. By the time Fassel returned from the funeral, the team was in turmoil. Strahan told writers privately that he was stunned and hurt by how his comments were portrayed.
Since then, his oft thorny attitude toward print reporters has stood out in the locker room. After the Giants’ first home game following September 11, Strahan shared with reporters a touching exchange he had had before the game with a fan who lost her husband in the WTC collapse. But when Newsday‘s Bob Glauber lobbed him a softball—”Earlier, Coach Fassel said he knew you were going to have a big game today. How did he know?”—Strahan snapped back, “Because you guys said I wouldn’t.” Chip firmly on shoulder, Strahan charged on: “Guy doesn’t get a sack for one game, and people say he can’t play anymore. You guys put me under the doo-doo pile. Stop doing that. I have feelings, too.”
At that time, nary a negative word had been written about Strahan in well over a year.
Last month, Strahan launched into a locker room monologue after talks on a seven-year, $58 million contract extension broke off when he refused the Giants’ proposed handling of a $17 million signing bonus. By splitting the payout over two seasons, the team’s goal—as it had been with Jason Sehorn and Tiki Barber the previous off-season—was to free up salary-cap dollars to sign free agents. Strahan, though, saw it as a slap in the face and said the Giants would probably cut him before they had to make the second payment. Running back Barber later took exception to Strahan’s unwillingness to take one for the team and called it greed; defensive lineman Keither Hamilton took Strahan’s side. Battle lines were again drawn.
Now Strahan has said that this season may be his last as a Giant. As self-fulfilling prophecies go, this one could be right.