BILOXI — Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy know the Michael Oher story better than anyone, at least better than anyone other than Michael Oher himself.
And they’re thrilled with “The Blind Side,” John Lee Hancock’s feature film, starring Sandra Bullock, which is in movie theaters now.
The Tuohys spoke with the media on a teleconference recently to promote the release of the movie, which is based on the former Ole Miss offensive lineman’s rise from living on the streets of Memphis to becoming a first-round draft pick of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens.
Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy took Oher in and later had him enrolled at the prestigious Briarcrest Christian School before going through the legal adoption process with the budding football star.
Noted author Michael Lewis, who like Sean Tuohy grew up in New Orleans and graduated from Isadore Newman High School, chronicled Oher’s odyssey and recruitment by big-time college football programs in “The Blind Side,” which was released in 2006. Oher would decide to sign with Ole Miss, where Tuohy had been a basketball star nearly three decades earlier.
“We’ve seen the movie. We’ve seen it several times,” Sean Tuohy said. “I loved it. It’s a little different than the book, which would take about 18 hours to read, and me, 22 hours to read. The movie’s two hours. Obviously, there’s gaps. But the director is able to fill in those gaps. You know they have to leave out some details.”
Several prominent coaches have cameo roles in the film, including former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron, who is now an assistant at Tennessee; former Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer; former South Carolina coach Lou Holtz, who is now an ESPN analyst; former Auburn and Ole Miss coach Tommy Tuberville; and Nick Saban, the Alabama coach who actually portrays himself during his LSU days, purple-and-gold attire and everything.
“Nick Saban took his Alabama team to see the movie last weekend, and they loved it,” Leigh Anne Tuohy said.
One thing to keep in mind, Leigh Ann Tuohy said, is that the movie focuses primarily on a young, bashful Oher, who grew up in abject poverty in Memphis and was found by the Tuohys on the city streets on a cold night at a bus stop. Young actor Quinton Aaron, who grew up in New York City, portrays Oher, while Bullock and actor/musician Tim McGraw are cast as Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy. Hancock’s movie was filmed in Atlanta and pays particular attention to the relationship between Oher and Leigh Anne Tuohy.
“I think (Aaron) was spot on, on how Michael was at the beginning,” Leigh Ann Tuohy said. “He’s come so far in the last eight, nine years, it’s hard to remember him like that. He was so quiet, he wouldn’t look you in the eye.
“Michael walks in a room now, and he lights it up. He’s not even the same kid.”
Oher, 23, signed a five-year contract with the Ravens worth about $13.8 million after helping Ole Miss reach the Cotton Bowl last season. The movie addresses race relations and the elimination of stereotypes, Leigh Ann Tuohy said, and includes the Tuohys’ other two children, 23-year-old daughter Collins, another Ole Miss graduate, and 16-year-old son Sean Jr.
“The hero in this movie is Marilyn Beasley, the teacher at Briarcrest who takes a special interest in Michael,” she said. “If she doesn’t go beyond the normal fence line, we probably never meet him. He probably would have fallen through the cracks.
“You don’t know how many Michael Ohers are out there, on the streets of America.”
Jim Mashek/The Sun Herald (MCT)