Kelly Ripa (L) and Michael Strahan film a segment at the "Live With Kelly" taping at the ABC Lincoln Center on June 28, 2012 in New York City. Credit: Ray Tamarra/Getty Images

The wait is over!

After 291 days and 59 guest hosts, Kelly Ripa finally found a permanent LIVE! co-host. On September 4, the bubbly blonde, 41, revealed former NFL player Michael Strahan, 40, has taken over for Regis Philbin, 81, who left the program on November 18, 2011.

"Before I bring him out, I just want to take a minute, sincerely from the bottom of my heart, to thank all of you," Ripa told viewers. "You stood by us . . You're the best audience. I'm not kidding. I love you guys. I really appreciate all of your input during our co-host search."

Before Strahan entered the New York City studio where LIVE! is filmed, Ripa told the audience, "It's time for a new era of our show to begin."

Once Strahan walked on set, he was showered in confetti before Ripa jumped into his arms and gave him a friendly kiss. "I'm speechless. I am so happy to be here," Strahan said. "You know how they say it's a dream come true? I truly can't say this, because I didn't know I could dream this."

"I adore you," Strahan told Ripa. "I am so happy to be here with you and to be a part of this."

News of the former athlete's hiring was leaked in late August by Broadcasting & Cable and TMZ.  Before Strahan was offered the job, guest hosts included Nick Lachey, Josh Groban, Jerry O'Connell, Seth Meyers and Ripa's husband, Mark Consuelos

Ripa herself was a former LIVE! guest host before she replaced Kathie Lee Gifford, 59, in 2001. LIVE! won its first Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk Show on June 23, 2012.