Lewis begins by describing how in the late seventies and early eighties, there was a major change in the way football was played at the highest levels. Rushers became bigger and faster, meaning that quarterbacks had slightly less time to react or pass the ball to their receivers. Perhaps the defining football moment of the period came in 1985, when Lawrence Taylor “sacked” the legendary quarterback Joe Theismann, ultimately breaking Theismann’s leg and ending his career. In the aftermath of the Theismann injury, coaches began recruiting big, heavy left tackles who could protect a quarterback’s blind side—i.e., the area, usually to the quarterback’s left, that was left defenseless when the quarterback turned to throw the football. Where before, all linemen had been treated equally, left tackles were increasingly paid high salaries—if the left tackle didn’t do a good job of protecting the quarterback, the quarterback could be horribly injured, just like Theismann.
In the early 2000s, at a time when left tackles were beginning to command massive, seven-figure salaries, a man named Big Tony, who lived in the Memphis inner-city, tried to enroll two students in the prestigious Briarcrest Christian Academy. One was Tony’s son, Steven; the other was a kid named Michael Oher. Big Tony had taken Michael in because Michael seemed not to have a family of his own; now, he tried to provide Michael with an education. Reluctantly, the Briarcrest administration agreed to admit Michael, in spite of his low test scores, partly because Michael seemed like he could be a talented football player, and Briarcrest was full of football-loving teachers, administrators, and alumni.
Michael’s early days at Briarcrest aren’t happy: he’s incredibly shy and lonely, and barely speaks. He’s a slow learner in class, largely because he hasn’t had many of the experiences that his classmates take for granted—he’s spent his entire life in the inner city. Michael isn’t allowed to play sports right away, because his grades are poor. However, the Briarcrest basketball coach, Sean Tuohy, notices Michael watching the team’s games. Sean is a self-made millionaire who grew up in an impoverished household. As a result, he’s better than other Briarcrest coaches at having a rapport with black students from poor neighborhoods, such as Michael Oher. Sean is sympathetic to Michael, but his wife, Leigh Anne Tuohy, is even kinder: she buys Michael food and clothes, and drives him wherever he needs to go.
Michael works with special tutors and brings up his grades just enough to play basketball and football. He’s an excellent basketball player—big, but also fast and agile. But Michael’s greatest talent seems to be as a football player. He’s so big and wide that he can tackle anyone—indeed, his coaches think he’s probably the biggest kid ever to attend Briarcrest. Shortly after he begins to distinguish himself as a football player, Leigh Anne decides to let Michael stay at her house, rather than going back to the inner-city every night. She gathers that he lives with his mother, but doesn’t ask any questions about her.
As Michael begins to distinguish himself in football practices, he begins receiving scholarship offers from Division I colleges. He becomes calmer and more outgoing around his peers—where before he barely spoke, he now laughs and jokes. Around this time, the Tuohys decide to adopt Michael as their own child. Michael endears himself to Collins and Sean Junior, the Tuohys’ two biological children—in particular, Sean Junior, who’s much younger. During Michael’s junior and senior years of high school, the Briarcrest football team does exceptionally well, thanks largely to Michael’s massive size and skillful maneuvering. In 2004, Michael’s senior year, the Briarcrest football team wins the state championship of Tennessee. Michael is generally thought of as the best football player in the state.
In his senior year, Michael begins considering his college options. Football coaches from around the country tell Michael that he’s going to be an NFL player, and probably a very good one, too. They offer him full room and board, tuition-free, at their colleges. Michael begins to narrow down his choices to three schools: LSU, Tennessee, and the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss). Michael seems to be most interested in Ole Miss, in part because the Tuohys, as well as his tutor, Sue Mitchell, attended school there.
Michael has a problem, though: he needs to bring up his grade point average in order to attend college on a sport scholarship. With Sean’s help, Michael qualifies as learning disabled, meaning that he can bring up his GPA by taking correspondence courses with Sue Mitchell’s help. His GPA rises to above the NCAA minimum, and he ultimately chooses to go to Ole Miss, tuition-free, where he’ll be given free room and board and coached by Ed Orgeron.
Shortly after he chooses Ole Miss, Michael becomes involved in an NCAA investigation. Someone—perhaps more than one person—has complained to the NCAA that the Tuohys have adopted Michael because they wanted to recruit top talent for Ole Miss (and may even have accepted money from the University of Mississippi for adopting Michael). Leigh Anne and Sean are hurt by these accusations, but Sean cooperates with Joyce Thompson, the woman the NCAA sends to talk to Michael and Sean.
During Michael’s freshman year at Ole Miss, he distinguishes himself as a left tackle, even though the team overall doesn’t do particularly well. Sue Mitchell continues to help him with his classes, and the Tuohys build another house near the University of Mississippi campus, where they’ll be very close to their adopted son. Although Michael seems to be adjusting to his new college life, he gets in a violent argument with a teammate, Antonio Turner, after Turner makes sexually offensive comments about Leigh Anne and Collins. Michael beats up Turner, and accidentally hurts a young child who happens to be walking nearby. Panicked, Michael runs away from the scene of the accident. However, with Sean and Leigh Anne’s help, he regains his composure, returns to Ole Miss, and avoids arrest for his actions.
Toward the end of the book, Michael Lewis gives us more information about Michael’s family and background. His mother, Denise, was a crack cocaine addict and a negligent parent, and Michael spent much of his early childhood searching for food and clothing, with the help of his older brothers. When he was eight, he was placed in a series of foster homes, but often ran away. Later, he was sent to a hospital center, but escaped and returned to living in inner-city Memphis. When he was a teenager, he began living with Big Tony (the point at which The Blind Side begins).
Michael goes on to have a brilliant career at Ole Miss—as the book ends, he’s still extremely close with Leigh Anne, Collins, Sean, and Sean Junior, and is likely to be drafted by the NFL.