The Blind Side
Michael Lewis
Norton, 2006
Buy: Amazon US, Amazon UK
Listed: Pro Football Journal Top 100, #88

The Blind Side traces the development of the left tackle position over 30 years and, alongside that, tells the story of Michael Oher, a boy from the Memphis ghetto whose life may just be transformed by his physique, which is perfect for playing left tackle. Lewis’s insight into NFL strategy is fantastic but equally fascinating is the examination of the class and race divide in America.

Michael Oher is 16 when we meet him, the barely literate child of a drug-addicted mother. Schools have often given him passing grades just to get rid of him. By chance, he ends up at Briarcrest Christian School where for the first time people take an interest in his education. Meanwhile, the coaches are amazed that the 6’4 teenager, who weighs more than 20 stone, can move so fast.

Another chance encounter leads to his adoption by a rich white family, who help Oher to develop his social skills, force him to study and buy him the first bed he has ever had. They also encourage his progress as an American football player.

This is no easy task, according to Lewis. Oher has barely played the sport – he dreamed of being a basketball pro, refusing to accept that he was too heavy. Lewis relates several very funny episodes as Oher learns the sport. In one incident, he snaps after being taunted by an opponent throughout the game. He lifts the player, who weighs 15 stone or so, off the ground, charges him down the field, onto the sideline, across the bench and is finally stopped by the fence at the side of the field. When asked where he was taking the player, he says he planned to put him back on the bus.

For years left tackles were seen as interchangeable parts of the offensive line. They were insignificant and paid as such. Lewis traces the history of the game and shows how the art of sacking the quarterback – tackling him while he still has the ball – became an increasingly important defensive tactic.

The defensive ends and linebackers trying to get the sack realised that their best chance came from the QB’s blind side which, with most quarterbacks being right handed, is usually the left. Thus the man protecting the blind side, the left tackle, became more important and increasingly highly paid.

As Lewis points out, Michael Oher could easily have been lost to the ghetto, where his most promising career prospect was as bodyguard for the local drug dealer. His starting point in life virtually condemned him to a similar fate as his parents – one a drug addict, the other murdered. Lewis considers how many other talents – potential lawyers or doctors – are lost to America because of its ghettos.

In 2009, Oher was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens, winning a Super Bowl with them before moving to the Tennessee Titans and, after a season, the Carolina Panthers. He was cut by the Panthers in July 2017, after eight years in the NFL.

Meanwhile, as tactics have shifted even further, the left tackle position is no longer as valuable as it was while Lewis was writing his book. Many of the NFL’s top pass rushers play on the left side of the defense – which is the offensive line’s right. The logic is that, rather than attack the QB from his blind side, rushing from the left puts them closer to the ball – and a potential fumble or deflected pass – as well as putting themselves in the QB’s peripheral vision and perhaps causing him to lose focus.

The NFL doesn’t stand still for long. This is a great book for anyone who wants to read a good, human story, follow the development of a core part of football strategy or explore the links between sport and some of the most deprived parts of American society.

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