In the Sack

The impact of an NFL player is best measured by statistics. They provide the convenient entry and exit points to a career, help determine the greats from the near-greats. Numbers are very cool.

When the Hall of Fame committee eventually considers the work of Michael Strahan it will turn the page back to October 17, 1993, the day one of the most illustrious sack masters in league history got his start.

Victim No. 1: Eagles quarterback Ken O'Brien. Time: Last play of the first half. "I remember that I got the sack on the last play of the half," Strahan said. "I got up and started to celebrate, thinking the crowd was cheering for me. It turns out they were just cheering because it was halftime."

There's no telling when the last one will come.

In a few years, the reaction to Strahan's work would change dramatically. And since his breakthrough 1997 season – his 14 sacks were the most by a Giant since Lawrence Taylor's 15 in 1989 – it was assumed he'd be the one to someday surpass LT as the team's top sack master.

The Giants still assume that's a mortal lock. But it's all on hold now after Strahan sprained his right foot in the second quarter of the Giants' 14-10 victory over the Texans. Strahan was already in a walking boot by the time he left the stadium that day and only had to wait for tests to be completed Nov. 6 to hear what his immediate fate would be.

"Michael underwent an MRI and CAT scan to determine the nature of the injury to his right foot. The tests revealed that he has a sprain to the Lisfranc ligament," Ronnie Barnes, the Giants vice president of medical services, said in a prepared statement. "There is no fracture or dislocation. This is not an injury that requires surgery. Michael will be on crutches and in a boot for at least the next week."

Strahan injured himself when his foot twisted after being planted into the synthetic turf as he was being blocked.

"They [the doctors] told me [he'd miss] anywhere from two to eight weeks, they don't know for sure," Strahan said. "It's really up to how long it takes to heal. It's not torn, but it's similar to the injury that I had as a rookie that kept me out for several weeks.

"They said I was lucky, because if I injured it by someone coming down on the back of my heel, that would have been much worse. I guess we'll just have to wait and see how fast I can come back from this. I want to get back in there as soon as I can."

Giants coach Tom Coughlin did not want to speculate about Strahan's future.

"We're still trying to understand how progress is going to take place and how we'll see it," Coughlin said. "I never thought of it as anything season-ending."

"He isn't gone, don't write him off," linebacker Antonio Pierce said. "He will be back."

Strahan had hoped his record-breaking day would come against the Texans, as much to get the process over with as to be able to celebrate with the home crowd.

Strahan, a seven-time Pro Bowl pick and holder of the NFL's single-season sack record [22.5 in 2001], needed only a half-sack more to pass Taylor's official record of 132.5.

"Good for him," Taylor said recently.

Strahan moved to the precipice with two sacks in the Giants' 36-22 victory over the Cowboys in Dallas to tie Taylor and Leslie O'Neal for seventh place all-time in league history. Taylor actually had another 9.5 sacks in his rookie season [1981] before the NFL officially adopted the statistic.

"Lawrence Taylor is the guy I grew up watching and was my idol," Strahan said. "I had the opportunity to play with him for a year [1993] and I play golf with him now. It is amazing; I thought I'd never be in the situation where I'd be close enough to make that happen."

Strahan then added an additional, and prophetic, thought.

"Now to be on the verge, God willing, to be healthy enough to get it done, that would cap off my career," Strahan said.

This is the second major injury Strahan has suffered in the last two seasons. He recovered from a torn pectoral muscle that cost him the final eight games in 2004 to record another 11.5 sacks last season, when both he and Osi Umenyiora (14.5) went to the Pro Bowl.

But age had not made an impact on him. His play had been first-rate this season.

"The way Michael played in Dallas [in October] was just outstanding," Coughlin said. "Talk about a guy who is constantly aware of what has to be done in order to win … I just think he is an outstanding football player that stays focused, looks ahead, knows the opposition, knows the circumstances, wants to win. That is his priority. He is very motivated. He has great pride."

Strahan did not have a sack in the first three games this season, highly unusual for a player with at least one against 28 different teams and 60 different quarterbacks. After finally getting his first against the Redskins Oct. 8, he was shut out again in Atlanta on a day his teammates dropped Michael Vick seven times.

"There's nothing you can do. Sacks come in bunches. You can't get down about it," Strahan said. "At the same time, you just have to keep working. If you do, they just come. Before you know it, you're in double digits and that's where I want to go and what I want to do. And if I can do that I am going to help this team win."

To a large extent, Umenyiora, whose great speed has commanded the attention of offensive coordinators, has helped Strahan the last two seasons. But Umenyiora did not play against the Bucs or Texans because of a hip injury and he was replaced by first-round pick Mathias Kiwanuka, who also has great speed. Kiwanuka celebrated by beginning his own historical log with a sack of rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski in the first half.

"Yeah, they've got a couple other ends," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "But Mike Strahan, like [Tiki] Barber, he's great. He's not good, he's great. He's a handful."

Strahan says time has taught him to adapt to the blocking schemes designed to neutralize his ability.

"I'm still getting doubled and tripled [teamed]," Strahan said. "I'm getting what I'm used to getting. It's tough. I'm no spring chicken. I thought at this age they would leave me alone a little bit, but they keep messing with me. I guess I'm showing something to make them think I still have the ability to play."

Whether Strahan has enough time remaining or is motivated enough to approach Bruce Smith's all-time league record [200] is uncertain.

"The sack stuff was not something I set out to get," Strahan said. "My biggest thing is the Super Bowl, that's why you play. You go out there and no one wants to get beat up and take the abuse we take just for nothing. Of course you make the money and that's good, but at the same time, there's nothing like the Super Bowl.

"But without a doubt, I would have never believed this. I can barely believe it now. I feel like I'm just along for the ride. I'm just hanging in there and these years seem to add up and things happen. You look back and think, ‘Why do I deserve to be here and do some of these things.' At this point, I don't even answer the question. I put my pads on and do what I've got to do."

Now, he'll just have to rely on his patience to get him through the next few weeks.

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