A year or so ago, I read an article by Michael Lewis in The New York Times entitled “The Ballad of Big Mike.” The article, which was adapted from Lewis’s book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, concerns a poor, black teenager adopted by a white family in Memphis. The story, while interesting, might have remained local news had the boy, Michael Oher, not been a phenomenal football player.
I gave a copy of The Blind Side to my dad for Christmas. He loved it. My mom also enjoyed it, and she recommended it to me. I trust the Sr. Colton’s literary opinions, but a book categorized under sociology and sports sounds pretty dull to me. Happily, The Blind Side is insightful, inspiring, and humorous.
Based on Lewis’s previous output, I should have known the book would be highly readable. Lewis has a knack for telling a unique story and connecting it to broader social trends. His engaging books cover the bond market, Liar’s Poker, Major League baseball, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, and the Internet, Next: The Future Just Happened.
Lewis begins his narrative not with Michael’s sad family history but with a discussion of “the blind side.”
Neophyte drivers learn that they have dangerous blind spot, which lurks just outside the window of their vehicle. In football, the quarterback has a blind spot too. Just like a driver is at risk of being hit by the unseen vehicle as he switches lanes, the quarterback risks being “sacked” by an unseen opposing player. Since a quarterback is an important (and highly paid) member of the team, protecting him from injury is crucial. The particular offensive lineman who guards the quarterback’s most vulnerable side is important (and highly paid) as well.
Apparently this was not always the case. A lineman was a lineman-left or right didn’t much matter. Why a left tackle now makes as much money as the quarterback (or more), and how the focus on the blind side changed the way football is played, coached, funded, and recruited provides the framework for the story of Michael Oher.
Left tackles can’t be just big; they have to be quick as well. More than one coach refers to these players as “freaks of nature,” and Michael Oher was just such a freak.
But elevating Michael to football greatness was going to take all the resources of his adoptive family. Before Michael arrived at the Tuohy home, he never had his own bed or regular meals. He could barely read and write. He had no social skills. And he had never played football. To get this one child to functionality takes the unrelenting efforts of a team of teachers, coaches, tutors, counselors, friends, and all the members of the Tuohy family.
The culture of big football and the Memphis projects are worlds apart. With his remarkable talent and tenacity and loving adoptive family, Michael Oher manages to transcend both.
Michael Oher plays left tackle for Ole Miss. According to many football gurus, he is a top prospect for the 2009 NFL draft.
This ECW Classic Review was originally published in NFocus magazine.