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Friday Night Fun: Blinded by the Light

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The big story in the 2009 draft was the unlikely rise of Michael Oher from a guy who was homeless to one who was one of the top rated tackles coming out. What makes his story even more spectacular is that he only played high school football for 2 seasons and was a top ranked recruit after his first high school season. What is it about Oher that had college scouts drooling over him after only one season of football and that had NFL scouts also drooling over him after one college season?

In The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, author Michael Lewis takes a look at Oher's story and integrates it seamlessly with an investigation of the rising importance of the left tackle position in the NFL. Join me after the jump as we discuss both the book and the resulting movie.

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From the snap of the ball to the snap of the first bone is closer to four seconds than to five. One Mississippi: The quarterback of the Washington Redskins, Joe Theisman, turns and hands the ball to running back John Riggins. He watches Riggins run two steps forward, turn, and flip the ball back to him. It's what most people know as a "flea flicker", but the Redskins call it a "throw back special". Two Mississippi: Theismann searches for a receiver but instead sees Harry Carson coming straight at him. It's a running down--the start of the second quarter, first and 10 at midfield, with the score tied 7-7--and the New York Giants linebacker has been so completely suckered by the fake that he's deep in the Redskins' backfield. Carson thinks he's come to tackle Riggins but Riggins is long gone, so Carson just keeps running toward Theismann. Three Mississppi: Carson now sees that Theismann has the ball. Theismann notices Carson coming straight at him, and so he has time to avoid him. He steps up and to the side and Carson flies right on by and out of the play. The play is now 3.5 seconds old. Until this moment it has been defined by what the quarterback can see. Now it--and he--is at the mercy of what he can't see. Four Mississippi. Taylor is coming. From the snap of the ball Theismann has lost sight of him. He doesn't see Taylor carving a wide circlde behind his back; he doesn't see Taylor outrun his blocker upfield and then turn back down; and he doesn't see the blocker diving, frantically, at Taylor's ankles. He doesn't see Taylor leap, both arms over his head, and fill the sky behind him. Theismann prides himself on his ability to stand in the pocket and disregard his fear. "When the quarterback looks at the rush", he says "his career is over". He's 36 years old . He's certain he's got a few good years left in him. He's wrong. He has less than half a second.

We know what happens next. Lawrence Taylor crushed Theismann and snapped his leg into many pieces. Theismann's career was over and a new era was born in the NFL.

Lewis credits three things with changing the left tackle spot from an anonymous lineman to being the second highest paid position in the league, behind only the quarterback (and sometimes surpassing the quarterback).

1.) The arrival of Lawrence Taylor in the league. Prior to Taylor's arrival in the NFL, linemen were considered equal in all respects. If you played guard it was assumed that you could also play tackle. There was no difference between left tackle and right tackle. Linemen received little pay and even less glory. (Bill Walsh once cut  one of his linemn who dared to ask for a pay raise). Taylor was so much bigger, faster, and nastier than any other defensive player in the league that offenses had to put their biggest, fastest, nastiest lineman on the left side to block him. Any old lineman wouldn't do.

2.) Bill Walsh and the West Coast Offense. Once the league went from a primarily running league to one where the passing gme was essential protecting the quarterback became vitally important.

3.) Free agency. Prior to the advent of free angency Anthony Munoz was told that no lineman was worth $500,000 a year. Immediately after the opening of free agency in 1993 the Broncos were paying two linemen $1.5 million a year. Kirk Lowdermilk went from the Vikings to the Colts for $2 million a year. The Packers paid $1.52 million a year to get a guard named Harry Galbraith. Suddenly the offensive line spot was a high commodity.

Perhaps the most shocking contract of all was that of left tackle Will Wolford who left the Bills to sign with the Colts. His contract amount was $2.2 million a year but the real shocker was the clause in the contract that said as long as he was on the team he would be the highest paid player for the Colts. Suddenly the offensive lineman went from being anonymous to being wealthy. It was a new world.

This brings us back to Michael Oher. Michael's mother was a crack addict who had 13 children, and wasn't able to take care of any of them. Michael went to 11 different schools before landing at Briar Christian School. Oher's grade point average was something like .5, and he had to sit out his sophomore year before he could play football. He was huuge though, and that's the thing that everybody noticed about him. Not only was he big he was quick too--he wanted to be Michael Jordan and worked every day at playing basketbll and running to be light and quick. When he first stepped on the football field he had no idea what was going on but when his adopted family started sending out highligh reels college coaches started showing up in droves to watch him play.

None of this would've happened without the evolution of the left tackle position.

The book is a fascinating study. On the one hnd we get a great, in depth biography of the transformation in Michael Oher's life. Juxtaposed with that we get a history of the evolution of professionl football and it's trickle down effect on college and high school football. The book is a must-read in my opinion and easily rates 5 stars.

The movie is an entirely different beast. Sandra Bullock stars and her accent is both fake and annoying. There isn't enough focus on Oher's story. In fact it feels to me like the filmmakers are barely skimming the surface of who Michael Oher is and what he's about. I give the movie 3 stars and that's only because it's a football movie and it has a great story.

I can't recommend the book highly enough.