the green fields beyond


Location: Charles City, Virginia, United States

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Blind Side

Saturday afternoons in my childhood often found the family seated around the TV, watching college football. When the game was exciting, it was lots of fun; if the action was slow, then at least the crowd's chatter and the droning commentators provided good background noise for a nap.
Like a lot of people who enjoy watching college ball, I thought I understood what was happening on the field, and usually focused my attention on the quarterback, the wide receiver, or whoever seemed to have the football at the time. I thought that's where the crucial action was.
I was wrong.

I know that many readers of this blog aren't big football fans. Some of you (I'm looking in your direction, Ros) may even disdain it as a strange and brutal American curiosity. But I'm going to recommend Michael Lewis's book The Blind Side to all of you, anyway. The Blind Side is the true story of Michael Oher, a poor, shockingly neglected young black man from Memphis whose bleak life was transformed by three things: first, the fact that he was gifted with amazing speed, strength, and size; second, the rich white family who gave him a home, a change of high schools, and lots of love; and third, a strange evolution in football strategy that created an intense demand (first in the pros, then in college and high school) for people like Michael to protect quarterbacks from getting smashed from behind (the quarterback's fatal "blind side," usually on his left, provides the book's title).
The story is incredible enough, and would probably make a terrific movie. But Lewis's fine writing takes it to surprising places, dealing sensitively with race, religion, class, money, and more. He explains football tactics and strategy in ways that novices can understand. The book features many quotable passages (my longsuffering wife has put up with me, all weekend, saying "hon, let me read you this page..."). Here's one, describing the game that became a duel between professional quarterback Joe Theismann and his nemesis, the quarterback-assassin Lawrence Taylor. The key play began three seconds ago:

"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 circle 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, with both arms over his head, and fill the sky behind him. Theismann prides himself on his ability to stand in the pocket [the sheltered space created by his blockers] and disregard his fear. He thinks this quality is a prerequisite in a successful NFL quarterback...Theisman has played in 163 straight games, a record for the Washington Redskins. He's led his team to two Super Bowls, and won one. He's thirty-six years old. He's certain he still has a few good years left in him. He's wrong. He has less than half a second."

Okay, so that wasn't one of the hilarious parts, of which there are several. But it was good. Anyway, go check out the book; I don't think you'll be disappointed.


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