One of the most common questions I was asked when people saw that I was reading this book was, “Didn’t you see the movie?” I don’t live that much under a rock. The movie was amazing. But as a lifelong reader, I’ve discovered that sometimes the book offers you much more than the movie ever could. My belief in this maxim was only strengthened when I closed Michael Lewis’ wonderful book, The Blind Side.
In addition to the amazing, inspiring rags to NFL riches story of Michael Oher that we all know so well from the wonderful movie named after the book, The Blind Side, Lewis offers us the idea that football as a sport has evolved over the past twenty years to make Michael Oher and his athletic gifts as a left tackle so highly prized. Once upon a time, offensive linemen were essentially indistinguishable from their O-line teammates. No player (except maybe the quarterback) was any bigger than the game. Ask anyone who watches football, and very few people can tell you after the game how the right guard performed, or if the right tackle made all his blocks. But everyone can tell you where the ball was and who caught it thirty yards downfield.
That all began to change when a player named Lawrence Taylor at right defensive end began to make quarterbacks’ lives hell on earth. He was the first NFL player to ‘sack’ a quarterback, and the keeping of sack statistics began thanks to Taylor. Even worse, no one could stop him thanks to his size and speed. Enter San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh, who comes up with the idea to add a larger, more agile left tackle (the offensive player who lines up against the right defensive end) to better protect the quarterback’s so-called “blind side” (if he was right handed) from the new defensive threat. It worked. Since that time, huge left tackles like Jonathan Ogden (formerly of the Baltimore Ravens) and Chad Clifton of the Green Bay Packers have gone from obscurity to making the second highest salary (next to the quarterback) on most NFL rosters, paving the way for Michael Oher to make it to the NFL. He would be chosen with the 23rd pick overall in the 2009 NFL draft to play for the Ravens, where he still plays today at left tackle.
The stories Lewis tells of the Tuohy family and their welcoming of Oher into their family are heart-rending and hilarious, much like the movie. My favorite was the story of how Oher chased his sister Collins around their house in his underwear trying to get his pants from her, because she refused to let him leave the house in black pants with a blue blazer to accept an award. Of course this all happened right in front of the head coach from Tennessee, who came to the house for a surprise visit! The book goes much more in depth into Oher’s life before meeting the Tuohy’s, and finding out how grim and desperate his younger years were, having one set of clothes on his back and having to beg for food and drink water to “feel full” only made his meteoric rise more astounding. The college recruitment process was also pretty interesting. As depicted in the movie, Oher was wooed by several big-time colleges, such as LSU, Tennessee and of course, the Tuohy family’s alma mater, Ole Miss. The visits by the coaches, most memorably the incoherent Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron with his Cajun accent, and their subsequent promises to Oher’s brother Sean Junior, were hilarious.
Lewis ends the book wondering how many kids like Oher, with amazing athletic ability yet no opportunities to better themselves financially or educationally, are missed by the system. He reports throughout the book that there are so many athletes recruited by top colleges who never make it to the pros, simply because they don’t have the educational background to hack college, or end up getting arrested or just dropping out. Oher was extremely fortunate to have a family that loved him and supported him in bettering his life and learning. Was it Oher’s athletic ability alone that got him as far as he did? No way. Behind him was the Tuohy family, his tutor Sue Mitchell, his high school and later college coach Hugh Freeze, and Big Tony Henderson, who took the leap of faith in inviting Oher to come with his son to apply to Briarcrest. Things could have turned out so differently, and thank goodness they didn’t.
An amazing book. If you loved the movie, you will like the book too. Don’t miss this amazing short about the real Michael Oher.