Monday, April 27, 2009

The Blind Side by Michael Lewis

I had originally planned to write about another book today, until, late last week, skimming some headlines in Google Reader, I saw the name Michael Oher and decided it was time I revisited Michael Lewis' 2006 book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game instead.

In football, the blind side is most often the right side of the field, the side the quarterback cannot see and is therefore vulnerable to. The Blind Side the book is part biography, part football history, and altogether an engrossing read. It's an account of opportunity and necessity, how left tackles became so important to football teams and how one left tackle in particular, Michael Oher, suddenly appeared on the radar of every Division I football team in the country.

According to Lewis, there are two main reasons left tackles are so important: Bill Walsh and Lawrence Taylor. Walsh, because he developed the West Coast offense, in which precision passing (and hence, protecting the quarterback long enough for him to deliver the ball to his receivers) is of utmost importance, and Taylor because of the ferocity of his pass rush and his ability to change the outcome of a game singlehandedly with his combination of size and speed. The influence of Walsh and Taylor spread throughout the NFL, as other teams started to throw the ball more while trying to find some way to stop Taylor and the linebackers or defensive ends who had the ability to disrupt their passing attacks. The need for a skilled left tackle, protector of the quarterback's blind side, suddenly became paramount.

As NFL coaches moved to the college level, bringing with them their NFL schemes, college teams needed a left tackle who could do more than run block. And so college coaches would scour the country, looking for high school players to recruit, athletes who could successfully play left tackle in college.

Which brings us to Michael Oher, who grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. The bad side of Memphis, Tennessee, until a series of fortunate events landed him at Briarcrest Christian School. In telling the story of, to quote the subtitle of the book, the evolution of football, and left tackles in particular, Lewis also gives us the story of Oher, formerly a poor black kid, "one of thirteen children born to a mother who couldn't care for them, and so had more or less raised himself on the streets of Memphis," and the Tuohys, the rich white family who takes him in (p. 292).

I've read at least one article disagreeing with Lewis' account of football history, but The Blind Side is still worth reading. Fascinating, especially if you're a football fan, with great anecdotes from legends like Bill Parcells. The human interest side of the story is pretty good, too. Lewis has such a conversational way of describing events and a knack for capturing the little details in brief turns of phrase that tell you more about a person than other writers can manage in a paragraph, that you are immediately drawn into the narrative, and the intersecting lives of Oher and the Tuohys.

For more sports books you might enjoy, check out the Okay to Read without a Cup booklist here at Guys Lit Wire.

And as for Michael Oher, he was drafted on Saturday, in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens.

[cross posted at The YA YA YAs]

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