Breaking Big


Michael Strahan

Teamwork is what allowed Michael Strahan to break big several times over a career that took him from the football field to the television studio. Follow Super Bowl champ Strahan’s trajectory from football star to sports commentator and TV host.

AIRED: July 27, 2018 | 0:25:44

- [Carlos] After winning the Super Bowl

with the New York Giants, Michael Strahan retired

as one of the greatest defensive players

to ever play the game.

But when all is said and done, he may end up

being remembered more for his career after football.

- [Michael] When you said black person, Mark,

every black person went, what?

- [Carlos] So what gave this hall of fame tough guy

the stamina to tackle both personal

and professional controversy on his way to breaking big

several times over and becoming one of the most

widely recognized faces on television?

- [Man] And good morning, America.

A lot of news to get to this morning.

- [Carlos] What makes people successful?

What are the unexpected turns in life

that propel people to greatness?

I'm Carlos Watson, editor of OZY.

I'm out to uncover the real secrets behind Breaking Big.

- [Announcer] Ladies and gentlemen,

presenting Michael Strahan for enshrinement

into the pro football hall of fame.

- Thank you, thank you.

I am an absolutely improbable hall-of-famer.

I am an improbable football player

because I didn't grow up saying, I'm going to do this.

I'm the youngest of six, I'm the one that gets beat up.

My dad said, you know what, start working out with me.

We'd go to the gym, and I didn't wanna be there.

And my dad looked at me and said, son,

one day it'll pay off.

And dad, I gotta say it paid off.

Anybody who thinks that we're up here

because of ourselves, we're fooling ourselves.

This is about family, this is about teammates,

this is about everybody pitching in to make you better.


- [Carlos] How you doing?

Good to see you. - Good, how you doing?

- I was interested to hear

you didn't grow up in the states.

- No, I grew up in Germany.

Yeah, since I was nine years old, in Mannheim.

My dad was a paratrooper,

82nd airborne division, Master Jumper.

He was the commander of the first CEC,

Combat Equipment Company in Germany.

My dad's a natural leader.

He's not a guy that wants to sit back and not have an input.

- And now did you enjoy military culture? - Loved it.

We were on base for four years and my dad retired.

And then after he retired, we moved off-base

for fifteen years.

- We've known each other over twenty years.

I know his parents very well.

We actually spent a lot of Thanksgiving holidays together

and they're two of the kindest, most grounded people

but also, they are hilarious, and his mom runs the show

although his dad thinks he does.

He's got the best of both of their personalities

because they're honest, they're kind, they're giving

but they also don't take anybody's crap.

- [Carlos] So, was anyone in the family

a good football player?

Were you the first person to really--

- Nah, I'm the first one. My dad was bad.

If you talk to him, he's going to tell you something different, so--

(both laugh)

But my mom was a track star.

My mom was a basketball star.

My mom coached my brother Victor and I in basketball

in Germany, and we would win the championship.

My mom was a really, really good athlete.

And my dad was a boxer, so it was kind of a good blend.

- [Carlos] Do you think she was more important

in your athletic development than he was?

- [Michael] I think everybody had an influence

in different ways. My brothers motivated me

by calling me Bob when I was thirteen.

- Which he was all excited about

'cause he was getting to play with his brothers

and their friends, and he was tagging along,

and his brother's friends say,

you know why we call you Bob?

And he was just thinking it'd be like some cool nickname,

and they said, it's because your booty's on your back.

You can get your wallet by reaching over your back

'cause ya booty's so big!

- (Carlos laughs) I like--

- (laughs) Yeah, well, I didn't like that

at thirteen. I was crying, man!

- And his dad said, start working out

if you're so unhappy and if you stick with it

and you have discipline and drive,

then I'll let you come to the gym with me.

- We go to the gym and we write down

how much we lifted, these reps, this weight.

He'd wake ya up at five in the morning, four thirty,

let's go running, every morning.

And we'd hit that trail.

And as I got older and stronger, I would finish

and be waiting at the car for him

for ten minutes or so, fifteen minutes.

And I look back now and I think that helped me

years later in football.

That gave me a work ethic that I still have to this day

and I'll never lose, and it gave me

a great relationship with my dad.

- What may seem like luck to some people

if you scratch the surface,

it's incredibly diligent hard work.

All the things that we're seeing are just

this culmination of years of hard work.

- After being instilled with confidence

and a strong work ethic from his parents,

Michael was sent to Houston, Texas

to live with his uncle and play football

for his senior year of high school.

Talk to me about why you think

you became good at football.

Was it simply hard work, or did you have natural skill?

- When I came from Germany to Houston

for one year high school, I didn't know what I was doing.

And I'm not saying I was the biggest,

fastest, strongest, smartest, bravest,

but I think just the little combination of all

of those things enough to make myself pretty good at it.

- Fast forward in college.

That time at Texas Southern may not have been

like someone's time at the University of Miami.

- Yeah, I don't think I would've survived

in another environment.

I mean, it was the perfect environment for me.

The coaches and the school were phenomenal for me,

and they took care of me.

And thank goodness I could figure it out and Texas Southern,

at least, gave me that avenue for them to see

that there was some potential there.

That I could be a football player.

And now I think that it's so immediate.

If you don't figure it out now, we'll see you later.

- Let's be honest, he went to TSU.

TSU is not a powerhouse in football.

It is not a pipeline to make it to the NFL.

If you are good enough, and you work hard enough,

no matter where you come from as far as the school,

you can make it at that level.

He's a great example of that.

- You talk about the fact that you found

the right situation that allowed you at Texas Southern

to come into your own and do what you had to do.

You talked about your willingness to learn, that desire.

What else that you think has contributed?

- Believe in yourself.

Once I turned sixteen and going into my senior year,

my dad said, you're going to Houston

and you're gonna get a scholarship.

Then when I did it he said, when you go to college,

you're going to be an All-American.

When you go to the pros... It was always "when."

My dad never said "if."

- [Carlos] In 1993, at the age of twenty-two,

Michael was drafted into the National Football League

by the New York Giants and in his rookie year,

he would study under one of the game's

most prolific players ever.

- When he was drafted to the Giants,

Lawrence Taylor was there.

You essentially, you're out for Lawrence Taylor's job.

So, you had to fill some very big shoes and prove yourself.

- When I played with him, what I learned he would go

a hundred miles per hour every time he was on the field.

And I said, wow, this guy is doin' it, he's the best.

Greatest ever defensive player in my opinion.

That's how he is the greatest.

Because he works at it.

So important to me at that first year

to see how a real pro performed.

- [Carlos] Even though you were second round draft pick,

the first couple of years you didn't really stand out.

- [Michael] Yeah, I had to figure it out.

- [Carlos] Were you worried at any point?

- Heck, I was worried about that until like year twelve.

But yeah, of course, I think you're a young player,

you're full of so much insecurity and doubt,

and that's where I learned we doubt ourselves

more than anybody else ever will.

- He's always been that outsider.

I mean, he was, first of all, he grew up in a foreign country

so he was an outlier already.

Then when he got back here and went to college,

he was in a small school.

I think he thrived off of that doubt and that skepticism.

- It was a learning process of living in New York city.

A learning process of being a young man with some money.

A learning process of life outside of just the game

of playing, but once I figured out everything else

around it, then I was able

to be on that field and feel confident.

- He broke out like his third or fourth year.

He had released the shadow of LT and had become

of his own and the team was his at that point.

- I got sixty guys in that locker room,

and I have to make every guy, no matter what

your background is, no matter what you're going through

in your life, I gotta make us all believe

in one singular goal for that day.

Right now.

And that is to be the best.

I had to understand each guy enough to how to get

and pull it out of them was something I enjoyed the most.

I would touch every player and I would

handshake every coach, every equipment manager,

every doctor, everybody.

And it was my way of saying to them, you know what,

you're a part of this and I am accountable to you today

and what I do on this field is accountable to you.

- [Carlos] Over the next decade, Michael Strahan

became a local sports hero and earned a reputation

as one of the toughest and smartest

defensive ends in the game.

But in 2006, injury and a crumbling personal life

would sideline that acclaim.

- He's going through a really tough divorce,

and now he is at rock bottom.

- [Michael] I'm on the front cover of the paper

for getting a messy divorce, and then I'm on the back cover

of the same paper as a sports hero.

- [Ian] The true character of man comes out

when times are tough.

And that's when I learned a lot about that guy.

- It was a lot of self-control,

a lot of growth, a lot of learning.

- He was resilient.

He was contemplative, and I think that when he cocooned,

and found himself figuring things out, he emerged

from that cocoon just a brand new guy.

Sometimes you have to fall in order to get up higher.

- [Carlos] By 2008, Michael had regrouped

and he'd get one more shot at glory.

- Seventeen, fourteen, fellas.

One shutdown, we are world champions.

- [NFL Announcer] Steps in the pocket, he's sacked

by Michael Strahan!

That is it!

The New York Giants have knocked off

the New England Patriots!

- [Carlos] shortly after that historic Super Bowl victory,

Michael announced that he was retiring from football.

- When I left football, I did not cry

at my press conference.

I was happy.

Fifteen years, I'm done!

No more getting beat up.

No more stress of this.

- [Constance] He went out the way most athletes dream of.

Winning a Super Bowl.

He retires a couple weeks later.

He goes out on top.

- That moment after the Super Bowl,

when he became the face of that story,

was really a great opportunity to leverage his familiarity

with American audiences across the television spectrum.

- [Carlos] So why did you turn on to television?

- It just happened!

I remember the first thing I was invited to do

was the local Fox station here in New York said,

Michael would you like to go

to the Sports Illustrated swimsuit party?

I mean, come on, of course I'll go!

I'm there for like forty-five minutes just like,

oh, this is great!

They hand me a microphone and they go, we need you

to interview the ladies.

Oh, it was the worst interviews ever.

I think they only talked to me out of sympathy.

I was so bad but it ended up being one of

the scariest things I've ever done but also liberating.

- Michael started preparing for life

after football I think without really knowing

what a big career he was going to have.

Even during the season, a lot of people

don't know this about him, once a week, he would go

to a local studio in New York city and he would satellite

into the Best Damn Sports Show on Fox.

- You guys look great in your costumes, man.

Happy Halloween, ya'll.

a few of you actually look better.

- He wasn't getting paid for that. He didn't need to do that.

But that's how he was practicing his reps.

- [Fox Host] TV career or a villa at the beach?

- TV career.

It'd be more interesting.

- [Fox Host] You gotta fill the gap in though.

- No, I wouldn't.

- He would go work all the Super Bowls

for Fox at the time.

So he actually had his NFL on Fox contract done,

I think two or three years before he even retired.

'Cause they also saw something in him,

I think that the world now gets to see.

- I think this suit, suits me just fine.

- [Carlos] Capitalizing on his championship persona,

Michael became a regular on the leading game day program

Fox NFL Sunday.

- Michael Strahan!

- [Michael] Thank you.

- [Curt] Recently retired from the New York Giants.

- Hold the applause.

We added some looks to the show now.

Thank you. - Oh, please.

- [Carlos] When Michael showcased his boundless talents,

the world noticed.

- You use that emotion for next season

by saying, ok, if we go outta here working hard,

possibly, guys, we can be that team.

Remember the feeling of walking off that field,

the confetti's falling, and it's for somebody else.

Those are what they're gonna have to face

for the entire off season.

- It's a really competitive field for athletes

walking off the field into broadcasting.

You have to have the personality,

you have to have that work ethic.

- You have to come across as being credible.

You have to be conversational.

I mean, these are real skill sets.

- Despite being such a huge star,

he's the guy interviewing, means placing your ego aside,

because you're throwing the shine on someone else.

The star on that other side of the camera feel like

all the attention is on them.

And that's a different type of gift.

- Thank you very much, thank you.

- He had so much potential.

That it factor and one day he went and filled in for Regis.

Regis was on vacation.

And when he was done, I go, that's it!

And he's like, what do you mean?

I go, that's what you're doing!

- [Carlos] In November 2011, iconic talk show host

Regis Philbin announced his retirement.

Shortly thereafter, the network introduced

their brand new morning show, Live! With Kelly and Michael.

Overnight, Michael Strahan was introduced

to the world outside of football.

So only one question remained: Would audiences accept him?

- When I read that he was

doing the Kelly and Michael show

I was like wait, Michael Strahan?

This was the complete opposite

of what anyone would've predicted.

- It's very difficult for people to accept

that here's a guy who crushed bodies for a living,

who could transition into television,

and be just as successful.

That's intimidating for others and it's hard to accept.

- Here you are, six five, 200 pounds plus.

You ever worry about the intimidation factor?

- Of course, absolutely.

- So what do you do with that?

- I'm not trying to intimidate you

and I'm scaring you, that's more of your problem not mine.

Nothing I can do with that, but now I've been in situations

where I realized if I'm in a discussion and I stand up,

it's a totally different discussion.

And all of a sudden, I'm aggressive and hostile.

But I realized people don't understand that.

So it made me realize how to act in situations

where I realized it was very easy for somebody

to feel like they're being intimidated.

- Michael's very presence, as a black man,

as a strong, solid, virile black man says a lot.

White woman are waking up every morning,

one of the first things they see is this big, black man.

So I think the fact that he has been able to succeed

says a lot of great things about Strahan's ability

to know what works and what doesn't.

- [Carlos] Over the next four years, Michael and Kelly

received back to back daytime Emmys

and made Live a ratings juggernaut.

And then, banking on Michael's talents,

executives at ABC made the bold decision to move him

to the network's flagship show, Good Morning America.

- Our good friend Michael Strahan is joining us

full-time here at Good Morning America!

I love Amy's hashtag, two days was just not enough.

(panel laughs)

- Depending on who you ask.

- [Carlos] Though it was another huge career move,

poor communication about the announcement

had left Kelly feeling slighted, and left many

pointing the finger at Michael.

How tough was that really?

- I mean, it's not easy being criticized.

It's not easy being painted sometimes as the villain.

- Michael's career as an athlete

definitely trained him to deal with the media.

If you think about what he went through

as an athlete in New York city.

The fans love you when you're winning

and the loudest boos when you're losing.

- I've seen both sides.

I've realized you don't get too high, you don't get too low.

And that's how I took that.

It was like you know what, I'm onto something

that is great for my career.

Something that I was asked to do by the bosses

at Disney and at ABC, and I'm happy I did.


It's a great show.

I'm on a great team.

Everyday is interesting, everyday I'm learning

something from some brilliant people.

And who could turn down that opportunity?

And I'm glad I took advantage of it.

- He's eager to learn.

Even though he's learning, he's bringing

something to the table.

He's contributing while he's learning at the same time.

He is the real deal.

- To go to Good Morning America

makes really good business sense.

To become, not just a friendly and affable presence,

but also one whom we trust to tell us

what's going on in the world,

to deliver the news of the day.

It's a really savvy move on his part to really open up

his own brand in his sense as a media property,

and made himself ultimately much more valuable.

- [Carlos] Despite his wall to wall schedule

with Fox NFL and Good Morning America,

Michael continues to expand his brand

evolving as both a producer, and as a businessman.

When you think about it, are you a good business person?

- [Michael] I think so.

- and why?

- I have a great partner.

that's the first thing.

Have a great partner but someone

that doesn't exactly think the same way you do.

Someone who you can bounce ideas off, but yet

you can come to resolution, and someone who has

the same vision of where you wanna go as well.

- One of the main reasons that we work

so well together is we both are self-made.

It's more than the drive, it's more than the rehearsals,

it's more than the perseverance.

It's an innate talent.

To not just seek out the right people,

but the right businesses.

And not be afraid to fall on your face.

- We have a management company.

We manage Tony Gonzalez and Deion Sanders,

Wiz Khalifa, Erin Andrews.

So, some great names out there who do great work.

And the production company has been phenomenal.

I mean we produce $100,000 Pyramid.

Welcome back to the $100,000 Pyramid.

- We just finished twenty-six episodes.

And this guy was doing two hours of GMA everyday,

going to work out, and then coming in

and knocking out Pyramid as if it was

the only thing he had going on that day.

- You shoulda saw that table behind you.

They turn around.

(audience laughs) - Take that and apply it

to all the other facets of his career.

- As a partner of his, he is always trying

to put me in a position to succeed and be at my best,

and I think that probably comes out of his sports career.

He recognizes that, he understands the function of a team,

and that's how you ultimately, you know, win it all.

- It's winning for the people around him.

It's teamwork and it starts from the top.

- I have four basic rules

for successful businesses.

The first one is focus.

Creative people being able to extend themselves,

whether that's themselves as brand

or their own talent into different areas.

Studio personality business into the clothing business.

If you look at it as those individual businesses

and you wanna be successful in those businesses,

you need to focus.

And I think that's much of what is the core secret

for the success he's had.

- He takes on every project,

researches it, learns.

Does he have to be at every meeting with our design team

for his clothing line? Of course not, but he is.

- You're busy enough.

I mean, GMA, you're doing football,

you got lots of things going on.

So why did you decide to start a fashion business?

- Think about it.

Between GMA, between Fox NFL Sunday,

between $100,000 Pyramid, I'm in a suit six days a week.

So it's organic to the life that I live.

And it's something that I love

because growing up in sports, you have to make sure

your suit game is right. -(Carlos laughs)

-They gonna talk about ya.

And my suit game was not always right.

I'm gonna be honest with ya.

- I was gonna say, coming in as a rookie--

- I had purple suits.

I looked like skittles, man, yeah, it was not good.

- Right.

Why do you think you've had as much success

where lots of guys who wanted to do it didn't end up

making the full transition?

What would you tell me?

- For a lot of people, they put that pressure

on themselves to be perfect and to come across polished

straight out the gate, but when you do that

and then it doesn't work out, how do you adapt to that?

If you look at something that's perfect,

it's probably not too interesting.

You wanna see something with some flaws,

you want something that's relatable, and I feel like in

that sense, I'm maybe relatable to people.

- We were walking down the street,

and we saw some construction workers,

and these guys were like, number 92 forever,

we love you Strahan, stuff like that.

Then we got into the elevator, we were coming up

and there were these young women,

all they wanted to know was like, what is Kelly like

in real life?

Then we went and we sat down and these old women came up

to us and were like, we love you on Good Morning America

and I was like, Michael, man,

you've touched every demographic.

He has that ability with every audience he's around.

- I'm myself, and I think that

that is the difference for me and maybe some other people

that I've never had to get on TV and look at

what somebody else has done and say, well I gotta sit up

a little bit straighter and I have to talk perfectly.

I don't have to do that.

Hey, good morning, man.

I think that it puts people at ease.

For me, I'm able to go on TV and be myself.

I'm able to look like this because it is me.

The one thing I think that I realize and I do everyday

the only thing I can control is my attitude.

I never wanted to be the guy that walks in the room

and people go, oh boy, here he comes.

That's not a good feeling.

- He greets you every morning with a kiss.

I thought, you know at first, okay, it's your first week.

Every single day, he greets me with a kiss and everybody,

every woman here, shakes every man's hand.

Every single day.

- You want the feeling of knowing

that when you walk in a room you bring value,

you bring joy, you bring the best out of people.

- Michael Strahan has applied his knowledge

and work ethic that he learned as a child

to every single aspect of his busy career.

They impact his attitude and his relationships

and have become as integral to his various endeavors

as the man himself.

What else might I not immediately recognize contributed

to you breaking big?

- Believe in yourself and if you see

where you wanna go, and you truly believe

you're gonna get there, all those little steps

in between seem minuscule.

When you look back, you go, boy, it really wasn't

that hard at all now that I'm here.

I do that everyday.

- Strah's family is the ultimate key to his success.

He gets his motivation from his family.

He gives credit to his mother and father,

and his siblings all the time.

- I've been predisposed in a lot of ways

to always think when.

I never say, well, you know, if that happens, no.

That means I'm doubting and I don't doubt.

- Where does this story go next?

- I mean, I love my clothing business.

I love having our management company.

I love having our production company.

I don't think I wanna be on TV forever.

For a lot of people, this is a lifetime thing.

For me, it's like I proved that I can do it.

Let's figure out something else that people think

that I can't do and see if I can do that too.

This whole Me Too movement is focused on,

"Do we value women?"

And the answer is "no."

- It's really been her issue for 10 years.

- I can't think of something more egregious, more under--

- She takes issues that other people are afraid to address.

- We need more women in congress.

Your voice isn't being heard in Washington.

- Best thing I have is my temperament.

- She took on the guy with the biggest bully pulpit in the world,

and paid a huge price for it.

- I always say the curse of the kid

with a big space in your teeth,

it's like a curse because of all the jokes,

but now that curse is a gift.

My friend always says, "How do you have a job

talking on TV when you can't say the letter S?"

I'm like--

- I like that, I like that. - You're right!


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