Michael Lewis on Michael Oher
Michael Lewis is the best-selling author of Moneyball, and while that's one of the most important baseball books I've ever read, his 2006 follow-up The Blind Side strikes markedly different chords. That's largely because of Michael Oher, who was a central character and whose backstory could draw tears from a stone. So when the Ravens selected Oher with the 23rd pick in the first round of Saturday's draft, I knew we had to hear from Lewis. I used a couple bits in my column Sunday, but here's some more of his comments, interesting stuff that ranges from Oher to Ole Miss coaches to Todd McShay to a very interesting plan for Jonathan Ogden:
It’s so seldom that things work out the way they’re supposed to work that I’m a little shocked. It’s interesting to me because it’s so hard to look at a 16-year-old kid and say he’s a first-round NFL draft pick and that Tom Lemming did that when he was 16, it’s unbelievable. You know, baseball scouts look at 22-year-old college students and whiff completely. I’m really impressed that someone was able to see that in him so early.
And I’m impressed by him. It would have been so easy for him to give himself an excuse to fail and to not listen to people, to rebel. It would’ve been so easy for him to give himself an out. He worked very hard to get to where he is.
In fact, the one thing that slightly disturbed me about this whole process is, I watched these guys who supposedly project the draft and actually have no idea what will happen, these guys on ESPN. Todd McShay went on the TV and said he was one of the three greatest character risks of the draft. This kid has unbelievable character. I say that as someone who has occasionally been on the wrong side of him. I’ve seen that he’s sensitive and occasionally a little fragile. But to get where he is from where he was, is an unbelievable act of courage and determination and willpower and all the things you need to succeed in anything in life. For people not to see that – even if they didn’t have this book to read – for people not to see that is appalling.
I think what happened was, I think the Ravens were unbelievable lucky that he fell to 23 in the draft. Several things happened. The Raiders having these brain seizures when they drafted. Al Davis, I think, is single-handedly responsible for him falling a bunch of places.
I think that had Michael had a more stable college coaching environment – had he played with the same coaches for four years in a successful football program – I think he’d be a top-5 pick. But what happened was, the scouting types in the NFL went for some data on him, some anecdotal stuff on him, and they called all these fired Ole Miss coaches who were kind of bitter and disgruntled, and they reflected more on them than they did Michael.
I just watched this kid for so closely for so long. I could tell you that he’s not a perfect human being, but he’s just a really solid kid. It’s incredible to me that he got this little bit of a rap. I think you’re going to be delighted. The Ravens have such a great track record in the draft.
I was secretly hoping the Ravens would reel Jonathan Ogden back in. Jonathan Ogden has a role in The Blind Side. I don’t remember what chapters he’s in. I spent time with him, though; I wrote about him. I’m hoping they can reel him back in to tutor Michael because I’d bet he’d be the perfect coach. And he’s the only one bigger than Michael, so maybe Michael would listen to him.
It seems like he’s in a really solid place. I don’t know how many of these teams I’ve spent time with – maybe four or five of them – and Baltimore is a really good organization. I think he’s in a good place.
Click below to read how Lewis' concluded Oher's story in The Blind Side.
As they found their seats, Craig asked Michael if he noticed the many people pointing and staring at him. Michael smiled and Craig could tell that he not only noticed but loved it. "What if you don't make the NFL?" was the question Craig wanted to ask next, but he didn't. Instead he asked "When you think you be ready for the league?" At that Michael laughed and said "I'm ready now."
Craig laughed. The world might have changed, but his friend had not. "He's the same guy," Craig said. "Everyone say Michael got cocky. What they don't know is that he was always cocky. He just didn't show it."
Still Craig thought Michael must be joking. He wasn't.
"I could take Dwight Freeney right now," said Michael, seriously.
Dwight Freeney played for the Indianapolis Colts. He was the most feared pass rushing defensive end in the NFL, and maybe the fastest the NFL had ever seen. He'd arrived in the NFL in 2002 with his 4.3 forty-yard dash and his wild spin moves, and quickly figured out where he needed to be: The blind side. Two seasons later he rocked the order of the football universe when he went by Jonathan Odgen and sacked the Ravens' quarterback not once but twice. No one went by Jonathan Ogden -- but Freeney did.
Freeney understood he was a man working in a tradition. When he was eight years old he'd seen a highlight film of Lawrence Taylor and right then and there knew who he was going to be when he grew up. "If you ask me to list my favorite players, I'd tell you L.T. and there be nobody second." he said. Freeney took it for granted his job was to defeat the superstar of the offensive line. Best on best. That was his great strength: finding ways to win the most important one-on-one contest on the football field. And so when he heard there was this kid down in Memphis who thought he was on his way to the league and said he could "take Dwight Freeney right now" he just laughed and said "That's the way he's got to be." But he was curious enough to ask, "Who is this kid?"
Dwight Freeney stood outside the Colts locker room sweating in his pads, helmet in his hand, and listened patiently to a summary of the brief career of Michael Oher. How Michael had been one of thirteen children born to a mother who couldn't care for them, and so had more or less raised himself on the streets of Memphis. How he hadn't reported to serious football practice until his junior year in high school -- but by then he was six five, 350 pounds and had been timed in the forty-yard dash in 4.9 seconds. How his forty yard dash time didn't really capture his speed: to appreciate his quickness you needed to watch him in short bursts. He he'd been one of the best basketball players in the state of Tennessee, and held his own on the court with high school all-Americans, and still secretly believed his natural position was shooting guard. How, on the brink of adulthood, with a measured IQ of 80, no formal education and no experience of white people, he had so insinuated himself into rich white Memphis that white people no longer noticed the color of his skin. How he was now six six and 325 pounds and the starting left tackle at Ole Miss, and a fair bet to be named to the all-SEC team at the end of the season. How, fast and strong as he had been at 350 pounds, he was faster and stronger now. How every day he felt a little bit less a lost boy and more a man with a mission.
Dwight Freeney understood the rules of the game. In the NFL, on the quarterback's blind side, you came and you went. You had your moment when you played so perfectly in the sun that you were mistaken for the sun -- and you were eclipsed. The summer before the start of the 2006 season was still his moment, and would remain his moment -- until it wasn't. Until he lost a step. Or got hurt. Or until the next Jonathan Ogden showed up and was maybe a step quicker, or fractionally more gifted, than the original. As he listened to the biography of Michael Oher, Dwight Freeney's expression changed. He was no longer smiling.
"What's his name again?" he asked.
"You tell Michael Oher I'll be waiting for him," he said, and walked into the locker room.