If you read one football book this year, make it this one! It’s two stories in one. One, call it the main story, is a human interest story about a wealthy, white Memphis family that takes a poor, black student into their home and makes him part of their family. The other, call it the back story, is a technical, information-rich sports story about the profound changes that occurred in football over the course of 20 years, beginning in the early 1980s. Both stories are worthy of your attention and I could not put it down.
The first chapter starts with that fateful Monday night back in 1985 when Lawrence Taylor (Giants) ended the football career of Joe Theisman (Redskins). It’s a riveting account of that moment, but more so a treatise on the effect that LT had on the NFL. LT echoed in the era of the huge, speedy, violent, versatile linebacker/defensive end that wreaks havoc on the offensive backfield. The NFL has not looked back since.
Along with the advent of the super-linebacker, came the offensive reaction to stop these monsters. Since most quarterbacks are right-handed, his blind side, or left side, is most vulnerable because he can’t see much of that side of the field during the standard drop-back. This aspect of the game eventually turned any offensive tackles who were especially skilled in blind side protection into some of the highest paid men in the sport.
Thus far, the attribution for this blind side protection requirement has been laid at LT’s doorstep. But as you find out, it’s more attributable to a confluence of the rise of the passing game (brought about by Bill Walsh) and LT. This confluence came to a head in January 1981, when Bill Walsh’s highly technical offense (Montana, 49ers) came face-to-face with the relentless passion of LT’s pass rush (Bill Parcells, Giants) in a playoff game. Walsh stopped the fiery LT with a makeshift blocking scheme that had left guard John Ayers pulling back from the line of scrimmage to pick up LT. Walsh won, but knew that this scheme would not last forever and what was really needed was a left tackle that could handle the likes of LT without scheming or assistance.
Michael Oher had the physical attributes to be just such a left tackle. He was a huge, strong, fast, mobile wall of humanity; but he was mired in the Memphis public school system, which meant basically that he didn’t go to school . One day, in like 2002, Michael’s guardian (named Big Tony, note that I did not say legal guardian either) decided to find a better place for his son and just brought Michael along. He drove the two kids across Memphis to a primarily white, evangelical Christian school called Briarcrest. The two kids could not have been further from the prototypical Briarcrest student if they had tried, but Big Tony got them both enrolled.
It just so happens that Briarcrest has a lot of wealthy, interested athletic boosters. Sean Touhy is one of those. He is a Memphis businessman and former record setting point guard for Ole’ Miss. His daughter went to Briarcrest and he is sort of an athletic counselor and coach’s assistant for the school. Sean is married to a headstrong former Ole’ Miss cheerleader, also has a son named Sean Junior, owns a bunch of Taco Bells, and is the Memphis Grizzlies color analyst. Sean just seems to hang around the Briarcrest athletic facilities a lot, he eventually befriends Michael, and introduces the rest of his family to the shy young man.
Everything unfolds from there and you are let into this world of football, high school politics, NCAA rules, and race relations in Memphis. It’s a strange story. It’s also very current. Michael Oher is still at Ole’ Miss if I’m not mistaken. This book really sucked me in. I loved it.
If you like football, you will like this book. In fact, if you have a pulse, you’ll like this book. Lewis brings a few things to the table, in my view, that make him a sports author worth reading. First, he brings a quantitative, analytical approach to explaining the whys and wherefores of his thesis (I like quantitative and analytical). Second, he brings a genuine care and concern for honoring sports and their import in American life (I honor sports). Finally, he is a great storyteller. He delivers the back story with a tone of resolute detachment that has a chilling effect at times (case in point, chapter one on LT/Theisman) and he retells the main story with a lot of passion for the characters.
Great stuff, grab it and read it.