Michael Strahan has tackled something few football stars have attempted — Broadway.
The gap-toothed co-host of "Live with Kelly and Michael" made three short appearances at Wednesday's matinee of "Elf" and said he has new respect for Broadway performers.
"I was surprised at how nervous you get and the adrenaline and that feedback from the audience — it really was an amazing thing," the former football player said after the show. "To see these performers who do it every day — eight or nine times a week — is really amazing. I take my hat off to them."
Fans can see a behind-the-scenes recap on Thursday's TV show.
The musical is adapted from the Will Ferrell film from 2003 about Buddy, a human raised in the North Pole who travels to New York in search of his parents.
Strahan thought making his Broadway debut would be fun and represented a new experience for a guy who holds the single season sack record. He found himself more nervous than he has been for high-stakes football games or live TV.
"It's a little nerve-wracking because so many people depend on you, you want to get you line across and you have to play to the crowd. It's a lot more intricate with everyone hitting their marks. You don't want to be the guy that messes everyone up."
Strahan, 41, played both a police officer and a Salvation Army Santa in the first act and later came on as himself in a scene with the real Santa in the second act. As he waited in the wings of the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, he saw the toll the musical takes on its dancers.
"Some of these performers are breathing as if they just went into a football game and played a 12-play drive," he joked. "I was tired walking up and down from my dressing room."
Strahan rehearsed for an hour in the morning with stage managers and associate director Casey Hushion. At 1 p.m., some in the cast came in early to work with him, including Jordan Gelber, who plays Buddy, and Beth Leavel, who plays Buddy's stepmother.
The audience was quiet at first when Strahan first appeared as an officer with another cop after Buddy gets kicked out of Macy's. But the seven-time Pro-Bowler and Super Bowl winner flashed his trademark smile and they went wild. More applause greeted him after he played a Salvation Army Santa as he and Buddy wrestled over the kettle bells.
In the second act, he waited to ask Santa for a present. Santa asked him his name, the newly minted actor said "Michael Strahan" and he then asked for a red Schwinn bicycle with a bell shaped like Miss Piggy. The crowd cheered when Strahan identified himself and he got another wide round of applause at the curtain call, where the cast gave him flowers.
Strahan was named in September as Kelly Ripa's permanent co-host aboard the morning show "Live with Kelly and Michael." A former defensive star who spent 15 years in the NFL, he is also currently a host of "Fox NFL Sunday."
He follows in the footsteps of Joe Namath, a quarterback nicknamed "Broadway Joe" who made an appearance on Broadway in 1983 as a replacement in a revival of "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial."
Strahan would not rule out a return to the stage. "I will take it off my bucket list but if the opportunity came across again, I might just take it up and do it again. I had a great time."