The story of Carolina Panthers offensive tackle Michael Oher was written six years ago. It was called “The Blind Side,” a movie about a homeless, traumatized boy who was saved by an adoptive family.
The movie grossed $300 million at the box office and earned a Best Picture nomination. It seemed that almost everyone liked it except the main subject himself. Oher believed that his desire and determination in the face of adversity was left on the cutting-room floor, that “somebody else takes all the credit, like I didn’t do anything to get here.”
“First reaction, I thought it was all right,” said Oher, whose team is one victory away from what would be the second Super Bowl title in his career. “I would tell people that everybody has a story, mine just got told. Everybody probably has a worse story than I had. Mine just got told. I’m fine with that.”
The Oher story has taken several twists since then. In 2014, he struggled with the Tennessee Titans and was released only one season into a four-year contract. Not longer afterward, the Panthers signed Oher to a two-year, $7 million deal. A number of critics gave the move a thumbs down.
Quarterback Cam Newton wasn’t among them. His brother, Cecil, had been a lineman on the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad while Oher played for a Super Bowl-winner there. He told Newton that the veteran was a good teammate, worked hard and deserved a hard look.
For Newton, the term Blind Side has a different meaning. That’s his vulnerable side, the one that the left tackle protects on pass plays. Quarterbacks have a vested interest in the position, and the more Newton heard about him, the more he became convinced that Oher should be the one to have his back.
“With the free agent pool, I’ve sent texts out before, called guys and said, ‘We’d love for you to be part of the team,’ but Mike was different,” Newton said the other day. “I didn’t say, ‘I want you to be here.’ It was, ‘I need you.’ That’s different. Want and need are two different words, and that’s what I used in that text along with other explicit words before the ‘need.’ And I think he got the feeling from that.”
Oher knew better than to pass up the opportunity to play for a quarterback and team on the rise.
“Need is you ‘need’ something,” Oher said. “Want [means] we ‘want’ you here but if you don’t come, it will still be OK. When you tell someone you need ’em and you must have them to get something done, it was a special moment. Knowing it’s Cam Newton right here that’s texting me. He’s telling me he needs me? It made my decision a lot easier to come to Carolina.”
For one season at least, the move couldn’t have turned out much better for all concerned. Oher allowed a career-low four sacks, eighth-fewest in the league. He was penalized only three times for 25 yards. As a Titan, he allowed a half-dozen sacks in 11 starts, although it should be noted that Newton wasn’t around to run over and around defenders there.
“He’s been a key asset to say the least,” Newton said.
This week Oher can add another sequence to his story, one that he would like as much if not more than the rest.
“Probably a little bit,” Oher admitted. “You come from one of the worst teams to one of the best teams. You get people telling you that you’re not good enough to be around anymore and now you’re here in the Super Bowl. It just shows that you can do anything you want to and that you put your mind to. Just don’t listen to people or what people say. You’ve got to look yourself in the mirror.”
A sequel beckons.