This story first appeared in a special Watches issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
It was a striptease that launched the latest chapter in Michael Strahan‘s career. Just two years ago, the former New York Giant defensive end was a regular among the parade of guest co-hosts (59 in total) on the daytime show known as Live With Kelly since Regis Philbin had retired in 2011. Then on June 28, 2012, a breakthrough moment vaulted Strahan to the forefront of contenders being vetted by Kelly Ripa and executive producer Michael Gelman. Channing Tatum was a guest that day, promoting the release of the male stripper film Magic Mike, and Strahan went all-out in a bit involving tear-away pants and a dance that ended with a split and had both Ripa and Tatum cheering.
“From my understanding, I got two jobs out of that,” Strahan, 43, remembers. “One being [the sequel] Magic Mike XXL, because Channing never forgot that I did that, but the other was the Live job. They saw that and thought, ‘Wow, this guy really is game for anything’ — it’s amazing what stripping on live TV will do for your career.” About nine weeks later, Ripa introduced Strahan as her permanent co-host.
Strahan with Ripa in 2013
What’s so impressive about Strahan’s story is how seemingly smooth his transition has been from pro athlete to television star. Whether it’s for his easy affability or for that signature gap-tooth grin (his GMEN Gear clothing collection that he sells online includes T-shirts that say “Mind the Gap”), audiences simply seem to love Strahan. In his third season on the rechristened Live With Kelly and Michael, the show’s viewership and household ratings are at their highest since 2007.
Strahan’s career has continued to tick along this year. In April, Good Morning America came calling, signing him to a part-time gig. Then in August, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “You never allow yourself to think about making the Hall of Fame, so when it happens, it’s kind of overwhelming,” says Strahan (who’s newly single after splitting with longtime fiancee Nicole Murphy over the summer). In mid-October, he headed to Savannah, Ga., to film his scenes for next year’s Magic Mike XXL. “It’s very intimidating,” says Strahan of shooting his first film role. “You’re 95 percent naked for all the world to see on the giant screen, alongside Channing Tatum and Joe Manganiello. You don’t want to be the guy thought of as ‘the chubby stripper.’ ” Of course, that’s not a moniker he’ll be stuck with — especially if you caught the Instagram that GMA posted from the movie set of Tatum gleefully pointing at Strahan’s eight-pack.
Among his go-tos is Hublot’s King Power Tourbillon Ayrton Senna
Strahan’s self-deprecating humor is just one trait that has endeared him to Live‘s audiences. Viewers also may have noticed the assortment of watches adorning his left wrist, and some fans even tweet at him asking what brand he wore that day. His answers include an IWC Big Pilot and a Hublot King Power made of carbon fiber. “I’ve been a watch guy forever,” says Strahan, who recalls the Movado his parents gave him when he graduated high school. “I was the cleanest man on campus with my Movado. I’ve appreciated watches ever since.”
In his Hall of Fame speech, Strahan talked about his career as a series of “improbable” moments: He was born in Houston, but from the age of 9 was raised in Mannheim, Germany, where his father, Gene, was stationed as a major in the U.S. Army. After his dad realized his son’s athletic potential in high school, he sent him back to Houston to stay with his uncle, Arthur Strahan, a retired NFL defensive end. In his senior year of high school, Strahan was offered a scholarship to Texas Southern University. Four years later, after racking up collegiate sack records, he was drafted by the New York Giants in the second round.
One of Strahan’s favorite watches is the Devon Tread
Strahan celebrated his inaugural NFL season by purchasing a Breitling. “That was a big deal, so I bought it and proudly displayed it,” he says. When Strahan was voted into his first Pro Bowl in 1997, he bought the entire defensive line and coaching staff Breitlings as well. “We all had the same thing, and it became our little tradition.”
Strahan ultimately spent his entire 15-year NFL career with the Giants, earning the record for single-season sacks in 2001. Then, just four months after he scored his first Super Bowl ring in 2008, when the Giants upset the New England Patriots, he announced his retirement at age 36.
Strahan wears his Franck Muller automatic Conquistador King in New York City on the Hudson River
That Strahan could find work as a sports commentator wasn’t surprising. David Hill, then-CEO of Fox Sports Media Group, signed the charismatic player to a contract on the analyst desk of Fox NFL Sunday before Strahan even retired. But it wasn’t clear that doing a home-improvement show called Backyard Stadiums on the DIY Network and commercials for Subway and Vaseline Men (he’s currently a spokesperson for Meta, Procter & Gamble’s line of wellness products) would add up to an entertainment career.
During football season, he now crisscrosses the country weekly for his TV duties, flying Friday afternoons to L.A. for Fox NFL Sunday tapings and then back to NYC on a red-eye Sunday nights for Live. “It’s a totally different mindset,” he explains of the two jobs. “Football is players and stats and guys and grrr — you know, the testosterone. With Kelly it’s almost like a relationship, a marriage. We have to listen and balance and laugh and joke.” The biggest surprise of the latter job? “Having them walk in [my dressing room] and ask what my bra size was,” says Strahan, who has dressed up as Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry’s Madea for Live‘s annual Halloween episodes. He also has set up a management and production company with partner Constance Schwartz, SMAC Entertainment, managing such artists as Wiz Khalifa and selling a pilot, The Rebels, to Amazon Originals in February.
Strahan continues to mark milestones with timepieces. For his Hall of Fame enshrinement, he wore a watch you see often on his wrist, a Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph by Audemars Piguet. It’s not uncommon to find him at the Swiss brand’s events, including a splashy Miami party in 2013 to celebrate the launch of a new Royal Oak Offshore, a limited-edition collaboration with LeBron James. “What first struck me about Michael is that he pays very close attention to details,” says Francois-Henry Bennahmias, CEO of Audemars, who met Strahan more than a decade ago after getting to know him through the Tisch family, co-owners of the Giants. “He is very athletic but also a very elegant person.”
Sports reporter Jay Glazer, who shares airtime with Strahan on Fox NFL Sunday, has known him for 21 years. “I have a tendency to lose my watches, and it drives Michael a little crazy,” Glazer notes. But Glazer has managed to hang on to his latest acquisition, a fantastically engineered Roger Dubuis Excalibur he bought just prior to this year’s Super Bowl. “Michael knows his watches, and when he saw what I bought, he treated me like I had grown up a little, like he had a new respect for me. And next thing I knew, he came in wearing a Roger Dubuis as well, but an even nicer one. He had to one-up me.”
Strahan wears his 44-mm Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph
Strahan has honed his watch preferences over the years, noting that he favors oversized pieces purely for reasons of scale. “I need something that’s big. Otherwise it just gets swallowed up on my wrist,” the 6-foot-5 Strahan explains. “I want something that’s sturdy, but also has some style.”
A few watches still reside on Strahan’s wish list: a Richard Mille skeleton and Christophe Claret’s 21 Blackjack, a six-figure piece with a working roulette wheel on its caseback that he became enamored with on a trip to Las Vegas. Up next likely is a Patek Philippe. “It’s beautiful, timeless, classic,” he says of the brand. “I’ve always loved it and admired it, so it’s time.”
And you can count on Strahan’s watch collection to keep growing, if only because he’s thinking long-term. “You don’t really own the watch; you’re just saving it or preserving it for the next generation,” says Strahan (he has one son, 19-year-old Michael Jr., and three daughters — 22-year-old Tanita and twin 10-year-old girls Isabella and Sophia — from his two marriages). “That’s how I feel about all the watches I own, that all of them have some value because I know I’m going to pass them on to my kids.” Strahan thinks for a moment, then adds with a laugh, “But not anytime soon.”