The Blind Side (Magill's Literary Annual 2007)
It is likely that few but serious students of baseball and football will go the whole distance with either of Michael Lewis’s sports-themed books, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (2003) and The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game. Moneyball took readers inside the halls of a major-league baseball franchise—that of the Oakland Athletics. This team has combined baseball’s lowest payroll with its highest winning percentage through the acuity of general manager Billy Beane, who did it by the numbers—using statistics compiled by a curious battery of “outside insiders” who demonstrated that the traditional yardsticks of success for players and teams may be flawed. Only baseball insiders will grasp Lewis’s “new baseball.”
While Moneyball is replete with baseball anecdotage—intimate and original portraits of big-league ball players and game situations—The Blind Side conveys its dedication to football’s modern playbook novelistically through one player’s poignant—if unlikely—success story. Sometimes, however, Lewis’s narrative goes awry. Just as the reader becomes engrossed in that player’s drama, the author runs a literary double reverse and starts talking about the evolving game.
The reader does not meet the protagonist of The Blind Side until the first page of chapter 2, twenty-five pages into the book. That is because Lewis wants readers to know from the outset the role of his book’s antagonist, perhaps professional football history’s most violent defensive lineman. In physiology, “antagonist” is defined as “a muscle that acts in opposition to other muscles.” That is how New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor (L.T.) destroyed opposing quarterbacks throughout the 1980’s.
In his zestfully manipulative way, Lewis serves up the menacing presence of L.T. as catalyst for the larger human story that he really wishes to tell. Yet, unless readers accept this subtext for the book’s powerful bildungsroman—the rags-to-riches rise of a giant (6 feet 5 inches and 330 pounds) but destitute black teenager—that the primary fact of modern-day football is the position of offensive left tackle, the impact of The Blind Side diminishes.
Fifteen years ago this position was the lowest paid in the National Football League (NFL) but is now, after the quarterback, the highest. The offensive left tackle protects the right-handed quarterback’s blind side. It is the pass rush the quarterback cannot see coming that results in injuries like the one Lewis describes on page 1: Washington’s Joe Theismann’s career-ending leg fracture in a 1985 game against L.T. and the New York Giants in a “busted” play that inadvertently caused Taylor to wedge the quarterback beneath another Giants pursuer, with Theismann’s leg paying the price.
Injuries to star quarterbacks cause coaches anxiety about their jobs. By the 2004 NFL season the average professional left tackle’s salary was $5.5 million a year. In Super Bowl XL, played February 5, 2006, the highest-paid player on the field was Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who had just signed a six-year deal worth $8.2 million a year. The second highest was the man who protected Hasselbeck’s blind side, left tackle Walter Jones, who earned $7.5 million.
When, in chapter 2, Lewis introduces Michael Oher (pronounced “oar”), he is one of the thirteen children of Denise (Dee Dee) Williams, a crack addict. He does not know his real name, his father, his birthday, or any of the things a child might learn in school—like, say, how to read or write. Moreover, he has no experience playing organized football. When national football scout Tom Lemming, who had received thousands of tapes from football coaches and parents who wanted their kids to make the various high school all-American teams he selected, watched a clip of a Gulliverian express bearing down on a Lilliputian attempting to pass, he knew the boy from Memphis was a special case. “The tape was grainy and you couldn’t see very well,” said Lemming, “But when he came off the line, it looked like one whole wall was moving. And it was just one player! You had to look at it twice to believe it: he was that big. And yet he would get out and go chase down, and catch, these fast little linebackers.”...
(The entire section is 1774 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 2007)
Booklist 103, no. 4 (October 15, 2006): 4.
The Economist 380 (September 30, 2006): 95.
The New York Times 156 (October 5, 2006): E9.
The New York Times Book Review 156 (November 12, 2006): 12-13.
People 66, no. 16 (October 16, 2006): 55.
Publishers Weekly 253, no. 39 (October 2, 2006): 29.
The Spectator 302 (November 11, 2006): 59.
Time 168, no. 8 (August 21, 2006): 63.