Michael Strahan On Family, Football, And His Job At Live! With Kelly And Michael

Michael signs a Live! audience member’s shirt. Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/Disney-ABC Domestic TV

Editor’s Note:  I really enjoyed chatting with Michael Strahan for the cover profile of January 2013 issue. Take a look below:  the things we most admire and enjoy about him—the mix of humor and humility and hard work—are all there. I was reminded of the interview recently when the New York Giants celebrated Strahan’s selection to NFL Hall Of Fame during their half-time show. The next day “Good Morning America” invited Strahan on to talk about it.  You can enjoy it HERE—and, oh, man, check out the Hall Of Fame ring (which can be seen in the video HERE).  

Michael Strahan had a storied 15-year career as a defensive end for the New York Giants, the only professional football team he ever played for. But as well-known and gifted as he was on the field, it wasn’t until after he retired five years ago and became an analyst on the Fox NFL Sunday pregame show that football fans and others really got to know him. As fierce and imposing as Strahan was as a football player, he revealed himself as smart, funny, down-to-earth, and very likeable off the field—with a star quality that, apparently, has not been lost on entertainment executives.

In case you somehow haven’t heard, Strahan became Kelly Ripa’s new co-host weekday mornings in national syndication this past fall, the first since Regis Philbin retired in November of 2011. Though Strahan has co-hosted the show twenty times over the past two years, he seemed somewhat like an underdog choice given his relative newness to entertainment and television—and his uncommon pedigree as a football hero.

Not to worry. Strahan has been slaying it. Since he joined the show, Live! With Kelly And Michael has had its best ratings in five years, and with over 3.5 million regular viewers, the show ranks as the No. 2 syndicated daytime talk show following Dr. Phil.

Strahan still has the weekly gig on NFL Sunday, which he tapes in Los Angeles, making him a busy traveler (Live! With Kelly And Michael is shot in New York) who also has four children and a fiancée (Nicole Murphy, Eddie Murphy’s ex-wife). His oldest kids from his first marriage are Tanita, who goes to college in Los Angeles, and Michael Jr., who is graduating from high school this year in Houston. His youngest kids—twin daughters, Sophia and Isabella—live with his second wife in North Dakota and North Carolina. To hear Strahan talk about his son and three daughters, it’s clear that he’s one loving father, balancing a soaring second career with as much family time as possible.

You put a lifetime of work into being a professional football player. The new gig is very high-profile, but does the experience feel a bit like being a rookie again?

It’s all completely new. Even though I do Fox NFL Sunday, this is totally different because it’s more of a personality type show, more of an everyday living type of show, and not much about sports—which I love because it takes me out of the box.

Without going overboard with comparisons to Regis, there is one quality that comes right to mind. Like him, you seem to have the common touch.

I think that if you have a genuine like for people and you’re genuinely interested in their lives, then you can be good at this job. This show is built on conversation; it’s built on you being a regular person and making people feel comfortable when the cameras are in their face.

Are you comfortable in front of the camera?

I’m more comfortable in front of the camera than I am not in front of the camera, which is funny to say. But I’m actually kind of shy. I’m not a spotlight guy. I was shy in college, but I think being here in New York has helped me overcome it.

Are there connections between being a professional athlete who has to face lots of pressure in big games and being a TV personality who has to face the pressures of a live show?

For me, the only thing that separates sports and what I do now is just the physical aspect, like hand-to-hand combat with a 350-pound guy. As far as the mental preparation of coming out in front of a crowd and not panicking under pressure and just going with the flow and realizing that every second things change and if you make a mistake you have to forget about it and move on to the next thing—all that is very similar. Plus, it’s all about teamwork, about working with great people who make you look better.

Michael and Kelly demonstrate a family holiday recipe in the Live! kitchen. Photo by David Steele/Disney-ABC Domestic TVTell me about your chemistry with Kelly.

What I love about Kelly is that what you get is what you get. Every morning when I come in, I don’t worry about what mood she’s in today. I’m not afraid to knock on her door to say hello in the morning. And what you see on the air is who she is off the air. I don’t think you can fake chemistry. You either have it or you don’t, and for us, fortunately, we have a lot of respect and love for each other, and that comes across on air.

Was she the one who called you with the good news about the job?

She asked me in person. I was called upstairs after my final time as a guest host and I thought I was in trouble because it felt like I was going to the principal’s office. I’m talking with Dave Davis [President and General Manager of WABC] and Michael Gelman [Live!’s Executive Producer] and I’m getting a history of ABC television. Then Kelly walks in. She didn’t say, “Okay we’re giving you the job.” What she literally said was, “We want to know if you would do us the honor of considering taking over as a full-time host.” So she asked me in the nicest way, which meant a lot and showed a lot. I couldn’t believe it. I stopped her and told her she had me at “considering.”

You have a lot going on, taping two national shows in cities at either end of the country. How do you do it?

The travel doesn’t bother me. When I got the job, I made up my mind that this is what I have to do. It’s good, too, because it breaks up the week for me. I’m here in New York, and then I get to go to LA and do another show that I love doing, too. It’s the best of both worlds. [But] I travel more than I am actually on air, which is weird.

Being in New York more, I assume you have more time to see your younger children, your twin daughters?

Well, I saw them a lot in LA, too. They would come out and spend more extended periods of time with me in LA, like three weeks at a time. Now, being in New York, they’re a lot closer. They’ll fly in and we’ll spend five days together and then they’ll go to North Dakota or North Carolina, and then they’ll come back in two weeks for another visit. So it just makes [the visits] shorter, more frequent periods of time.

How old are the twins and what are they like?

They’re 8. We have Isabella, the older of the twins; I’d say she’s more playful, very chill, never gets very upset or fired up. She’s very “It is what it is.” And then there’s Sophia, the younger of the twins, who is always asking questions, very curious. They’re both very smart; they love to read all these things I never thought of reading when I was 7 or 8 years old. And they do it because they’re generally interested in it, which is amazing to me.

At their present age, what are some of the joys of being their father and what are some of the challenges?

My biggest challenge is not to have them with me every day. That’s really it… I have so much appreciation for watching them grow into who they are now. They make me do things I would never do. I get to be a kid again.

Can you tell me a little about your older kids?

My older daughter, Tanita, is 21 years old and she’s graduating this year from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in LA. She’s kind of like me in the sense that she has a very strong personality, but a silent strong personality. She’s not going to be one to walk into a room and make it all about her. She definitely has an opinion and she’s very smart and she knows what she wants, which I love about her. And then my son, Michael, he’s 18, a senior in high school. He’s funny. He just got his car about two weeks ago, and he washes it and takes care of it every day. He’s a very particular young man. He’s very smart, too. He likes to say to me, “Dad, you’re smart, but you cannot challenge me in the fields of math and science.” I have great kids, and they’re not the kind who look at my life and say “Daddy’s this” and “Daddy’s that.” My kids are interested in making their own way. They have their own personalities and do their own thing. I’m happy to see that.

You’re engaged to Nicole Murphy, after having been married twice. What advice do you have for people who’ve been divorced and are trying to combine their lives and families with others?

I know one thing I said was that I’d never get married again, speaking from an emotional standpoint. I know a lot of people who are worried about their kids. But I think your kids and your family would rather see you happy with somebody else than miserable with somebody you’re with for the wrong reasons. I know my kids love seeing me happy; they’ve embraced Nicole. She loves them; they love her. They see that we’re in a loving relationship. And I think that’s the most important thing to share with your kids, to show them what a loving relationship should be, even if it didn’t work out with your ex-wife.

Speaking of parenting examples, I read that your dad was a major in the army and your mom was a basketball coach. Tell me about them as parents and how their parenting ideas compare to yours.

My parents were great. I learned so much from them. What I learned the most is you never tell your kids “if.” You tell your kids “when.” If they have something that they want to do, you encourage them and you say “When you do that” and “When you do this.” But when you say “if,” that puts them down in their mind. Another great thing my parents did was to include us in everything. I try to do the same with my kids. My parents were my favorite people; they were perfect.

Are they still around?

Yeah, and they’re still perfect.

Before we say goodbye, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you at least one football question. Do you miss it?

Let me put it this way: I went to the Giants game [against the Redskins] yesterday and I was on the sidelines thinking, did I make the right decision by retiring when I could have kept on playing? That’s how much I loved it.

Eric Messinger is the editor of New York Family. Still, that doesn’t seem to give him any more credibility with his wife and children.

Click here to read about Michael’s favorite charities.

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