I would like to say that I am an above average football fan. My winter months are spent in front of the TV each Sunday, unless I’m tailgating outside of the Ralph. I watch football like it will give me some sort of special password, and the more I watch the closer I get to the answer.
However, there is much about the game I am ignorant to. It’s really not my fault; no one has ever told me to devote myself to the game’s intricate details. I have never played on an organized level, and while I understand a zone blitz, the majority of my defensive knowledge comes from NFL Quarterback Club ’98 or one of the Maddens.
The thing is, I want to get better at it. The fact of the matter is that I understand hockey on a much deeper level than any other sport, and I want to level that depth of understanding.
A book such as Micheal Lewis’ Moneyball helped out a few years back on the baseball front. Since then publications such as Baseball Prospectus have became the norm in the summer months, and much about the way I watch baseball has changed. Heck, I even have a shred of respect for YES Network because of it; they show on base percentages when batters come up.
As far as football is concerned, it took another book from Michael Lewis to move things along: The Blind Side.
In the book, Lewis takes his inquisitive nature and turns it upon the offensive line. He asks the simple question: why is the left tackle paid more than any other offensive lineman? What he found was an important development in football strategy (West Coast Offense), a revolution of sports economics (Free Agency), and the impact of a single linebacker (Lawrence Taylor). Most important of all, he found him.
This is Michael Oher, and he is the focal point of the book. There is far too much story to replicate here, but the important thing to know is that Michael was born to play left tackle. He is an absolute monster with regards to stature, but has a quickness in his feet, a wingspan, and a surprising power that gives him the perfect skill set to counteract the fastest pass rushers in the game.
The reason the left tackle is so important is because the majority of quarterbacks are right handed, which means they block the defenders he can’t see: “the blind side.” The rise of the West Coast Offense and its clash with Lawrence Taylor brought the left tackle to a place above the offensive line in regards to importance. Suddenly your best lineman had to be at left tackle; and no matter what anyone thinks, he must be handsomely paid for it.
While the game’s evolution is extremely interesting to follow, the real reason to read is to hear Michael Oher’s story. He grew up in the third poorest zip code in the country, West Memphis, Tennessee. One of thirteen children born to a crack-addicted mother, he was homeless for most of his life until a grandmother’s dying wish made a man bring his son to the doorstep of Briarcrest Christian School. “Big Mike” was dragged along, hoping to get a basketball scholarship. He got a scholarship, but the hardwood would be his second sport. (Shot put would be his third)
It is a complicated story, complete with a struggle to maintain grades, assimilate to a wealthy lifestyle, and to simply communicate with his peers. Amazingly, a family takes him in and became his legal guardians. He started 10th grade almost completely illiterate, yet graduated on time and with a high school diploma.
His true purpose was found on the football field. The Briarcrest football coach got one look at his body type and knew he was born to play left tackle, and so he did. With only 15 games in his high school career, Michael Oher became the top left tackle prospect in the country. Hundreds of college coaches tried to lure him to their schools, and within the span of two years Michael Oher goes from a poor black teenager destined for gang activity to a budding NFL star.
If the above summary sounds absurd, you have to get your hands on the real text. It is an amazing story that doesn’t end where I leave it. Lewis does a fantastic job retelling a story Michael himself seemed too shy to disclose, chronicling his brief life as a human interest piece as well as sociological interpretation of our culture. The simple question of football economics morphed into an amazing tale of one youth overcoming a society firmly stacked against him.
I really don’t want to ruin the story, and it would be impossible to tell it any better than Lewis in this space. However, I did learn a great deal from the book, and have a new appreciation for the play of a left tackle. I know I’ll look at the work of Jason Peters much different come September, and the name Michael Oher won’t leave my head for some time.
Overall the book was done very well. It was hilarious, heartbreaking, and engaging, all at the same time. I’ll leave you with my favorite part of the book, and you can leave your thoughts in the comments.
Michael listened to Sean’s little speech without responding except to grunt “okay.” He was still eerily calm, as if this whole fuss didn’t really concern him. Finishing his lecture, Sean looked over at the Munford bench: Michael had picked up a 220-pound defensive end and moved him at least 60 yards. In seconds
“Michael,” said Sean. “Where were you taking him, anyway?”
“I was gonna put him on the bus,” said Michael.
Parked on the other side of the chain-link fence was, in fact, the Munford team bus.
“The bus?” asked Sean.
“I got tired of him talking,” said Michael. “It was time for him to go home.”
Sean thought he must be joking. He wasn’t. Michael had thought it all through in advance; he’d been waiting nearly half a football game to do just exactly what he had very nearly done. To pick up this trash-talking defensive end and take him not to the chain-link fence but through the chain link fence. To the bus. And then put him on the bus. Sean began to laugh.
“How far did you get?” asked Sean.
“I got him up against the fence,” said Michael.