Michael Strahan’s Autograph
by John Delach
The buses left the hotel in Cleveland just past 2:30 on Sunday afternoon carrying about a hundred fans who had all made this journey to Ohio to witness Michael Strahan’s induction into the NFL Hall of Fame. The drivers were taking us south on Interstate 77 to Canton for the second day of the festivities. Yesterday, we visited the Hall, had a dinner and reception in a BBQ joint and watched the seemingly endless induction ceremonies that dragged on for five and one-half hours.
Today, our destination was a meaningless exhibition game between the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills to be played that night in Fawcett Stadium, a rinky-dink semi-ancient high school field. But that’s not the reason we went. Prior to delivering us to the field, the twin travel services, Big Blue and Road Crew had planned a reception and buffet diner at a Courtyard by Marriott in Canton where every fan attending would have a photo op with Mr. Strahan.
We had nine in our group, my son Michael, his two boys, Drew (14) and Matty (12), my cousin, Uncle Bob, his friends, Vinnie and Joe, my tailgate buddies, Dave and Tim and me. I had ordered white GMEN brand tee shirts for each of us before the trip. Strahan has an interest in this company and I thought he’d take notice. I had the back of each shirt customized by a local printer in the same black ink that proclaimed, GMEN, on the front:
We decided that all of us who wore these shirts would have our photo taken with our former defensive end. Three hours passed between our arrival and Strahan’s during which we ate, smoozed and took advantage of the open bar. My second grandson, Matty, a natural born salesman and politician, worked his magic with Jim Fassel, the former Giants head coach who was our guest celebrity. He told Fassel how nice his 2000 NFC Championship Ring looked and the coach asked, “How’d you like to wear it for a while?”
Next we knew, Matty was sporting the ring showing it to anyone willing to look at him. It was big on his ring finger and he followed his dad’s advice to keep that finger curled up.
Meanwhile, Drew made his way to the lobby where he staked out a perch near the entrance. He carried a white-panel football made for autographs and a permanent-ink Sharpie pen. And there he waited and waited forgoing lunch or any other activities. As the time for Number 92’s arrival grew near, Matty decided to join his brother, but Drew had little use for this Johnny-come-lately and shooed Matty away. When he persisted, both his father and I shooed him away too.
But Drew’s plans were foiled as Strahan came in with four or five other people and walked straight by him without taking notice. Disappointed for the moment Drew joined us to wait for our photo while scheming how to pull off a post-photo signing.
We were lined up in numerical order based on numbered wrist bands previously issued to us. We were all in the forties and when we reached Mike, the fellow in charge, we explained that we’d all like to go together. He agreed as this also made his life easier and told us to spend a little time talking to Strahan. Our session went off well and he was enthusiastic about our shirts and amazed that my son was taller than him. We had photos taken of us facing the camera and with the back of our shirts to it.
As we left the room, both Drew and Matty lingered by the exit door. As Strahan left, Drew offered his football and open pen, but distractedly, 92 ignored it and grabbed an old visor with a Giants logo from Matty and signed the bill. YES: You read that correctly; HE IGNORED DREW AND SIGNED FOR MATTY!
Undaunted, Drew turned and joined the other fans chasing him and managed to get close. At just this point, Strahan was passing our buddy, Vinnie, who called out as he held up his hat, “Hey, Mike, would you sign this for a Vietnam vet.” (Vinnie had fought there earning three Purple Hearts.)
Drew had reached the Hall of Famer as he turned after hearing Vinnie. Instead of offering his ball for signing, Drew grabbed the hat from Vinnie, hustled back to 92 and gave it to him. Strahan took the hat from Drew, signed the bill and returned it while continuing toward the exit. Drew had had two choices, offer his ball or grab the hat from Vinnie. He chose to grab the hat but, in the process, lost his own opportunity. With that, Strahan was out the door. Drew stopped and before he could react, we all mobbed him praising him for his selfless act. All of us that is, except Michael who told his son, “Give me the ball and wait here.”
With that Michael went out to the car and chased the group down. That same fellow, Mike (in charge of the photos), told Michael, “Sorry, no more autographs.” But Michael went right by him and told Strahan, “My son gave this up so you could sign for a vet. Please sign his ball, he deserves it.”
Michael Strahan signed Drew’s ball.
The Giants won the exhibition game that night. We didn’t care; our day had already been made.