Michael Oher prefers his Super Bowl role to being in ‘Blind Side’
NEW ORLEANS — He’s a real person. He’s not some cartoon giant being dragged out of a cold fog by Sandra Bullock in a scene that made America cry.
He’s a real football player. He’s not just some lost soul in oversized pads requiring an on-field pep talk from Bullock before blocking someone in a scene that made America cheer.
When Michael Oher sat down at a ballroom table Thursday with bright eyes, firm handshake and thoughtful answers, one could immediately understand his dislike for the incessant rewinding of a scarred and distant childhood.
The movie was “The Blind Side.” Yet, it turns out, it was the main character who has been blindsided.
“I’m tired of the movie,” he said this week. “Football is what got me here, and the movie, it wasn’t me.”
Four years after the $300-million run of a tale about an impoverished black child adopted by a wealthy white family and mentored to football stardom, its real-life inspiration would like to be viewed in real life.
He is no longer Big Mike. He is a Baltimore Raven. He is no longer a man-child who sleeps on a rich family’s couch and plays with their son and crashes their car and eventually becomes part of their brood. He is the starting right tackle on an offensive line that will be greatly tested by the powerful San Francisco 49ers in Sunday’s Super Bowl.
In navigating a Super Bowl madness that magnifies every crumb of a man’s past, he does not want to be seen as a pep talk about compassion or a living poster of perseverance. He wants only to be like the other several dozen teammates in this room, just another big dude on the verge of winning a big football game.
“It’s all been extremely crazy, man,” Oher explained Thursday in his Southern drawl. “That’s why I play football and don’t deal with Hollywood.”
The movie, which was based on a book by Michael Lewis, followed Oher’s life from his troubled adolescence to his earning a football scholarship at Ole Miss. It received worldwide acclaim and an Academy Award for Bullock, who played Oher’s strong-willed adoptive mother, Leigh Anne Tuohy. It is one of those family flicks that many have seen more than once.
Many, but not Oher. He has seen it once, and never again.
“It’s all I needed to see,” he said. “I watch a lot of movies, and I just haven’t gotten around back to it.”
He has never met two of the film’s most famous actors, Bullock and Tim McGraw, who played his father. He met only Quinton Aaron, the man who played him, about a year after the movie’s release. He talks about the stars as if they aren’t real, which, in the scheme of his life, they weren’t.
“People who watch ‘The Blind Side,’ they’re not going to have a chance to get to know me,” he said. “People I’m close to, as long as they know me, know who I am, I don’t have a problem with it.”
And, oh yeah, he said this movie that made so much money from his troubled soul has never netted him a penny
“No, nothing, nothing at all,” Oher said with a laugh. “Nothing coming to me on a quarterly basis.”
But Oher said his biggest specific problem with the movie isn’t about the glamour or glitz, it’s about the football. He said its depiction of his early struggles with the basics of the game was wrong. He said he didn’t mind being shown as someone struggling with poverty and abandonment. But, goodness, he always knew how to block.
“The movie is great, it’s very inspiring to tons of people all over the world, but the main problem I have is with the football part of it,” he said. “Sports is all I had growing up, and the movie made me look like I didn’t know anything.”
He is reminded of these inaccuracies every time one of his teammates makes a joke about the movie, which happens a lot. When the life of a supposedly anonymous kid suddenly appears on 70-foot screens around the world in the middle of his rookie season, well, Ravens center Matt Birk has a name for that.
“It’s low-hanging fruit,” said Birk. “Talking about Michael’s movie is the easiest joke in the world, and we make it a lot. Think about it. This is an offensive lineman who, in his first year, became more famous than anyone on the team.”
Oher heard about it again recently when Ravens Coach John Harbaugh, while stressing the need for completed blocks, showed the team the outrageous “Blind Side” film clip in which Oher supposedly blocks a high-school opponent the length of the field and dumps him over a fence.
“Everybody laughed and fell on the floor, it was all fun,” said Oher.
But was it? Sean Tuohy, Oher’s father, understands his son’s discomfort.
“He’s tired of it, and I can’t blame him,” said Tuohy in a phone interview. “It’s easy for us and everybody looking in, but when you’re the object of it, it can get old.”
Tuohy, a Memphis businessman and part-time Grizzlies broadcaster, laughingly said that he never tires of watching himself, considering his character is played by the popular McGraw. But he said the movie is much more painful for Oher.
“Think back to when you were 16.… Would you like to see those days relived over and over again?” he said. “I’m sure there’s a time he’ll look back and truly realize he made a difference in the world, but right now he just wants to play football.”
This year, though, the movie even stuck its neck into his football business in an ironic way. The title is a phrase used in football to represent the quarterback’s most vulnerable side. When the quarterback is right-handed, that side is protected by the left tackle, which is considered the most important position on the offensive line and a spot manned by Oher. Yet at the start of the postseason, the “Blind Side” guy was moved out of the blind side, with an inconsistent Oher going to right tackle to accommodate natural left tackle Bryant McKinnie.
The switch was like asking a left-handed pitcher to suddenly throw with his right hand. The adjustment required time, but in the playoffs, the Ravens’ offensive line has helped the offense rack up some of the best numbers in franchise history.
“It’s a lot of work; you do a lot of things backward. It’s very hard, but you do what you got to do,” said Oher.
Which is a good way to describe his journey, which has been lost in the glare of its telling.
“It’s incredible, knowing the road I had to travel to get to this point,” Oher said. “I’ve come a long way. It’s unbelievable, amazing, what I had to overcome, it’s all remarkable.”
He said he would have to “think long and hard” about being involved in a “Blind Side II.” One suspects a Ravens victory in Super Bowl XLVII would be sequel enough.
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