Since I'd greatly enjoyed Lewis' baseball book "Moneyball", I figured this would make a nice companion to read during the NFL playoffs. The book's subtitle is "Evolution of a Game", so I expected a somewhat similar book looking at the transformations underway in professional football. And to a certain degree, that content is there, via a brief discussion of the rise of the passing game and Bill Walsh's crucial role in this, as well as Lawrence Taylor's impact on the game. The book opens with a blow-by-blow of LT's famous leg-snapping sack of Joe Theisman -- an event I vividly recall watching on TV as a 12-year-old Redskins fan. This leads off the discussion of role of the left tackle and this position's counterintuitive rise in the NFL pay scale. All of which segues into the book's main subject: Michael Oher.
Oher is one of thirteen children born to an alcoholic, drug-addicted mother in the West Memphis ghetto. He grew up in total poverty with her, in and out of various foster homes and various public schools. Along the way, he filled out into a 6' 6" 340 pound behemoth with natural grace and speed unnatural to those of his size. He also came to the attention of Lewis' old elementary school classmate, and ex-college star point guard Sean Tuohy. Now a successful businessman and pro-basketball announcer, Tuohy takes an interest in MIchael and works the system to get him into his daughter's elite Christian prep school.
The lily-white conservative Tuohy family's quasi-adoption of Michael, along with his meteoric rise to prominence in college football recruiting circles forms the central storyline. The Tuohy's basically work their upper-crust and sports connections to shepard Michael along, pressuring people, exploiting loopholes, and using their money to smooth his path. Lewis originally wrote about this for the New York Times Magazine, and in many ways, the book feels like an extended magazine piece. It's essentially a very smooth and readable extended human interest profile. The main problem is that the book has no ending -- it ends with Oher a sophomore at Mississippi. The more natural ending would have been two years later, with Oher getting drafted and about to get enter the maelstrom of the NFL.