It usually takes a little time for a movie about an athlete to come out. Rudy Ruettiger waited so long for the film bearing his name that Notre Dame football fell and rose again. Even LeBron James, for whom all processes are accelerated, was a grizzled, six-year NBA veteran before October’s release of “More Than a Game.”
But Baltimore Ravens rookie offensive tackle Michael Oher doesn’t have to wait. The movie about his rise to stardom, “The Blind Side,” comes out Friday.
Until the credits, the film actually has nothing to do with Oher’s Ravens career. Those who read Michael Lewis’ book “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game” when it was first published in 2006 learned about Oher while he was playing for the University of Mississippi. But movies reach a far wider audience. And you won’t find Sandra Bullock jumping off a book’s pages wearing a blond wig and designer outfits that appear to have been sprayed onto her body.
The book and film tell the story of Oher, who was born in the slums of Memphis, Tenn., and was homeless when he wasn’t being shuffled from one foster home to another. Extremely shy and academically failing, Oher - nicknamed “Big Mike” because of his sheer immensity - was taken in by the wealthy Tuohy family and guided down a different path. Loved, cared for and respected for the first time, Oher embarked on a remarkable journey that led to a new sense of self and the world, a fully realized intellect and sets of values and social skills and, not least of all, a football scholarship to Mississippi.
But no one, not Lewis nor Leigh Ann Tuohy (Bullock’s character) nor her husband, Sean (played by country music star Tim McGraw), knew how things would play out, that Oher would end up as the 23rd pick of the 2009 NFL draft and become an almost-instant starter for the Ravens.
As with most books adapted to film, much is omitted, and there is more to Lewis’ book than Oher’s story. It also dissects the evolution and importance of the left tackle position in the NFL. It’s the left tackle who protects the blind side of most quarterbacks (hence the title) and helps keep them intact. Remarkably, given his lack of fundamentals when he started playing in high school, Oher became an All-American left tackle at Ole Miss (he now plays right tackle for the Ravens, although he did switch to the left side for a couple of games after Jared Gaither got hurt).
All the serious football stuff understandably is left out of the movie except for the opening scene: a graphic, slow-motion replay of New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor breaking the leg of Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann on “Monday Night Football” in 1985, the play that ended Theismann’s career. The book starts there, too.
Also absent from the film is Lewis describing how the Tuohys were so frustrated trying to find the right clothes to fit Oher that they turned to a friend of Sean Tuohy’s for help. He was none other than Patrick Ramsey, the Washington Redskins’ quarterback during what fans recall less than fondly as the Steve Spurrier years. Ramsey gathered clothing from his larger teammates and sent them to Tuohy, a former all-SEC point guard at Ole Miss who went on to become a fast food millionaire and the radio voice of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies.
The movie, directed by John Lee Hancock (“The Rookie,” “The Alamo”) focuses mainly on the relationship between Leigh Ann Tuohy and Oher. The previously unknown Quinton Aaron plays Oher, but Bullock steals the show - already there is Oscar buzz.
Oher did not attend the film’s premiere Tuesday in New York. Although a DVD copy was made available, he has not seen it.
“Michael is playing football. He is not going to movie premieres, he is not going to movie theaters,” Sean Tuohy pointedly told reporters during a conference call earlier in the day. “He is not going anywhere.”
Oher did not read the book until earlier this year and was not happy with how he came across. Despite his redemption, he did not ask for the unfortunate details of his life to be exposed to the world. And now that he’s a first-year NFL player in midseason, he is uncomfortable with the attention unrelated to football. Asked if the movie has posed a distraction, Oher two weeks ago told reporters: “Definitely, if you’re in a locker room and you want to talk about something Hollywood. I just want to talk about football.”
The next day, the Ravens’ public relations department issued an edict to the media that Oher no longer would discuss the movie.
The Ravens drafted the 6-foot-4, 309-pound Oher (he has slimmed down since college) intending that he start from the very first day, and he has not disappointed. He had a rocky outing against Minnesota, going head-to-head with veteran Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen, but that was one of the games in which he played left tackle. Allen, who is second in the NFL in sacks, has been known to abuse linemen with far more experience.
“If you play one position for a while and then you go to another, it’s very awkward,” Oher said. “It takes longer than a week or two. But if that’s what the team wants me to do, that’s what I’m gonna do.”
Given that some veterans can’t or won’t change sides, Oher impressed the Ravens staff with how he accepted the challenge.
“This is a very unique guy,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “He’s special.”
Offensive line coach John Matsko said it was “interesting” watching Oher deal with Allen.
“The first time, Jared made the inside move. Michael didn’t block it, and [Allen] hit the quarterback,” Matsko said. “The next time he bulled Michael. And the next time he had the speed rush. After each one, he came to the sidelines and we said, ‘Well, Mike, you’ve seen his best stuff now. You’ve got to get up with the speed of it.’
“I think Michael competed against him. I thought he grew from each play, and I think he learned about himself and how good Jared Allen is. I think he really grew and benefited from the experience.”
In a moment of candor, Oher afterward cited Allen’s big salary and said there was “nothing special” about him. Uh-oh. When the fiery, outspoken Allen heard about that, he ripped Oher. One of the words Allen used was “idiot.”
There still is much for Oher to learn, but no one is worried about him. Besides, he has been through a lot worse.
“He’s a real man of integrity, an unbelievable kid, a very, very humble man,” Matsko said. “He has a real passion for helping people and a real passion for being the best he can. … He’s very bright, very bright. He practices hard, he studies hard, he’s very focused in the meetings. And he really, really tries to do it the way you teach him.”