I have never cared that much about football. Playing can be a blast, but I never watch it and I have only a vague sense of when the college & pro seasons begin. So, I was surprised that I enjoyed this book so much. The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game has a couple of stories going on. One, it’s about the evolution of football. And it’s also about race and class in America.
Michael Lewis starts with the evolution of the NFL strategy and the market for players. The NFL has roots as a rushing game, but later changes in official rules and informal bias led to the rise of passing and the notable West Coast offense. The new passing offense of the NFL befuddled some observers—quarterbacks thought to be below-average were able to perform well beyond expectations. And great quarterbacks, even better. It was the system, with all the right parts in place, that made it all work.
With passing as the preeminent strategy, you need premium quarterbacks. And with high-value quarterbacks, the opposition fields players (e.g. Lawrence Taylor) who want to destroy those quarterbacks. Which means that the formerly hum-drum role of left tackle becomes essential, as the protector of the quarterback’s blind side. And the demand in the NFL trickles down through college and into the high school level.
Enter Michael Oher, one of the top left tackle prospects in years. Explosive, nimble, flexible. Oh, and also 6’6″ and 322lbs. But he could have been stereotypical fall-out of inner city neglect. He was one of 13 kids with no father raised by a junkie mother in a blighted, predominantly black area of Memphis. Not good, all too common. But, through happenstance he got connected with a white family with money, social connections, high expectations, and a deep, abiding love—a social version of the West Coast offense. A potential statistic becomes a potential star.