Former Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher became a household name in his rookie year in the NFL in 2009.
The movie, The Blind Side depicted Oher’s life story and hit theaters late that year.
Oher overcame insurmountable odds in his native Memphis, TN to play college football for the University of Mississippi Rebels from 2005 to 2008.
Oher’s impressive play prompted the Baltimore Ravens to make him the 23rd overall selection of the 2009 NFL Draft.
Oher showed plenty of promise during his up-and-down, eight-year pro football career from 2009 to 2016.
Oher eventually earned his first and only Super Bowl ring following the Ravens’ victory against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
Michael Oher’s inspiring pro football journey should motivate future gridiron warriors to pursue their dreams no matter what the cost.
Michael Jerome Oher (pronounced “Oar”) was born as Michael Jerome Williams, Jr. to parents Michael Sr. and Denise in Memphis, TN on May 28, 1986. Oher had eleven siblings.
Oher had a troubled childhood in West Memphis. His mom, Denise, battled alcoholism and drug addiction. On the other hand, his dad, Michael Sr., was frequently incarcerated.
Oher watched the 1993 NBA Finals featuring the Chicago Bulls against the Phoenix Suns when he was seven years old. That series inspired him to become an athlete and overcome his hardscrabble beginnings someday.
“Sports is all I had to grow up on,” Oher told The Baltimore Sun’s Michael Sragow in February 2011. “I didn’t have too much of anything else.”
Oher lived a vagabond life during his early years as a student. According to The New York Times‘s Michael Lewis, he attended eleven different schools in his first nine academic years.
Oher also hardly showed up for his grade-school classes. Lewis discovered Oher was absent for 46 days in first grade. It wasn’t surprising when Oher repeated both first and second grades.
The disturbing trend continued when Oher reached ninth grade at Westwood High School. He was absent for 50 days and garnered a barely passing D average. When Oher left Westwood High, his GPA was 0.6.
Oher, who people referred to as “Big Mike,” attended Briarcrest Christian School in his hometown of Memphis, TN.
At this point in Oher’s life, he was homeless and slept in whatever accommodation he stumbled upon. When he started at Briarcrest, he slept on the floor of a house that belonged to a certain Tony Henderson.
Briarcrest Saints head football coach Hugh Freeze implored the school president to give Oher a chance. The latter, in turn, told Briarcrest principal Steve Simpson to admit Oher if he felt it was the right thing to do.
Simpson admitted Henderson’s son Steven but politely turned Oher down. However, If Oher did well in a home-study program for one semester, Briarcrest would admit him afterward.
Tony Henderson rang up Simpson in the fall of 2002 and told him Oher was getting nowhere with the stack of books piled on top of his desk.
Simpson gave Oher a lot of thought and finally allowed him to enroll at Briarcrest on the condition he would not play any sport, per Lewis.
Simpson also asked Jennifer Graves, who managed Briarcrest’s program for special-need students, to help Oher.
When Graves took Oher to several classrooms during the day, the 16-year-old behemoth sat in silence without any of his books. It was clear he was completely unfamiliar with a traditional school setting.
Not only that, but Oher also flunked his classes at Briarcrest.
“That child didn’t even have tactile sense,” Graves told Lewis in 2006. “Big Mike was a blank slate.”
Oher wore the same cutoff shorts and enormous t-shirt to school daily. He even wore them whenever it snowed in Memphis.
Meeting a New Mentor
One day, prominent businessman and Memphis Grizzlies radio analyst Sean Tuohy saw Oher at the school gym. He introduced himself, and soon, they started bonding over lunch.
Tuohy and his wife Leigh Anne saw Oher disembarking from a school bus several weeks later. The latter felt compassion for Oher, who was wearing the same outfit he had worn when he first met Sean.
Before long, Leigh Anne showed him around town and bought him new clothes. When he stayed at their house frequently, Collins Tuohy remembered her mom asking him if he wanted to stay.
Michael Oher replied in the affirmative and became a part of the Tuohy household. He bonded with eight-year-old Sean Jr. playing video games for hours.
The Tuohys eventually allowed Oher to join the Saints’ basketball and track teams in his sophomore year. He joined their football team as a junior.
Oher’s massive frame (he weighed 344 pounds as a high school sophomore) gave Freeze hints he could play high school football. One time, Oher took off with a 50-pound tackling dummy in practice and ran with it effortlessly.
Oher’s teammate Joseph Crone told The New York Times in 2006 that opponents found his new teammate very intimidating. Once they caught a glimpse of the gargantuan Oher, they would shiver in fear.
Unfortunately, Oher wasn’t as menacing on the gridiron as they thought he would be.
“He just wasn’t aggressive,” Freeze told Lewis. “His mentality was not a defensive player’s mentality.”
With that, Freeze asked the Saints’ left tackle to switch over to right tackle. Michael Oher was officially Briarcrest’s new left tackle.
Catching the Eye of a Scout
Renowned high school football recruiting analyst Tom Lemming soon found out who Michael Oher was as the latter’s high school football career wound down.
Lemming drove 50,000 to 60,000 miles around the country interviewing 1,500 to 2,000 high school juniors every year. He had to whittle them down and include the best of the bunch in ESPN’s All-American Team.
In 2006, Lemming told The New York Times that high school coaches in the Memphis area did not know much about Oher.
However, Lemming thought Oher could become the second coming of Orlando Pace.
Lemming interviewed Pace, a Hall of Famer and seven-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle who played for the St. Louis Rams, in Sandusky, OH in 1993.
Lemming thought Oher’s athletic prowess and even his appearance resembled Pace’s.
“Michael Oher’s athletic ability and his body—the only thing you could compare it to was Orlando Pace,” Lemming told The New York Times in the fall of 2006. “He kind of even looked like Orlando Pace.”
Lemming had issues reaching out to Oher during his scouting trip in Memphis in 2004. The 18-year-old had no permanent address and, worse, he had no phone.
Briarcrest school officials picked up Oher and drove him to the University of Memphis, where he spoke with Lemming.
— TSSAA (@TSSAA) November 6, 2014
Getting into College
When Lemming saw Oher for the first time, the latter’s enormous size floored him. Oher was so huge, he barely fit through the meeting room door.
When Lemming interviewed Oher, the latter shook his hand and barely uttered a word. Oher even left his invitation to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on the table.
Oher’s GPA improved from 0.9 to 1.564 at the end of his junior year at Briarcrest. Leigh Anne Tuohy intervened and asked his teachers what he needed to do to get a B average in his classes.
Just as Michael’s senior year at Briarcrest kicked off, he told Leigh Anne he could not continue anymore. Undaunted, Leigh Anne reached out to Sue Mitchell, a professional with 35 years of teaching experience tucked under her belt.
Mitchell worked with Michael for 20 hours every week so he could improve his grades and get into the University of Mississippi, her alma mater.
Their hard work paid off. Oher never got a grade lower than B as a senior. Unfortunately, his cumulative GPA of 2.05 fell short of the NCAA’s required minimum of 2.65 so he could play college football.
Making It Happen
Sean Tuohy stumbled upon online courses that Brigham Young University offered. Michael could wipe out a high school semester’s worth of grades in just ten days.
Michael and the Tuohys settled on a character education course. Sue Mitchell chose Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations as the topic of one of Oher’s book reports. She felt Michael could relate to Pip, the main character who was an orphan.
Before long, Oher complied with the requirements and upped his GPA to NCAA standards. Leigh Anne Tuohy had to ask his biological mother to find a baby photo for his high school yearbook before he graduated. She gave him a photo of Michael when he was ten years old.
Since it was not a baby photo, Leigh Anne went online and downloaded the cutest photo of an African-American baby. She promptly sent it to the Briarcrest high school yearbook editors.
The NCAA finally gave Michael Oher the green light to play college football on October 1, 2005.
Oher, the gentle giant who never stepped on the gridiron until his junior year in high school, was ready to take Ole Miss Rebels football by storm.
College Days with the Ole Miss Rebels
Michael Oher attended the University of Mississippi from 2005 to 2008. He majored in criminal justice.
Oher suited up for Ole Miss Rebels head football coaches Ed Orgeron and Houston Nutt.
Prior to Oher’s first down with the Rebels, the NCAA investigated his background because of his adopted father Sean Tuohy’s connection with the school. Tuohy played for the Rebels’ basketball team during his college days.
The NCAA eventually concluded Ole Miss did not commit any violations in recruiting Oher and cleared him to take the field in the fall of 2005.
Oher, a left tackle in high school, started ten of eleven games for the Rebels at right guard as a true freshman.
Oher, who had played just two years of organized football in high school, exceeded expectations. Although the Rebels won just three games in 2005, Oher became a First-Team Freshman All-SEC selection that year.
Orgeron switched Oher to his more natural left tackle position in his second year with the Rebels.
— Michael Oher (@MichaelOher) August 5, 2021
Behind Oher’s stellar run-blocking abilities, Ole Miss running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis became just the third player in program history to rack up 1,000 rushing yards in a single season, per ESPN.
Oher continued to flourish as a sophomore. He became a Second Team All-SEC selection in 2006.
Ole Miss did not make much progress in Orgeron’s second year at the helm in 2006. The Rebels won just four games and did not play in a bowl game for the third consecutive season.
Oher, firmly entrenched at left tackle, picked up where he left off in his junior season with the Rebels in 2007. Oher opened up running lanes for Green-Ellis, whose 1,137 rushing yards were the second-most by a Rebels halfback.
Although Ole Miss stumbled to a 3-9 win-loss record in 2007, Oher became a Consensus First-Team All-SEC selection. He decided to skip his senior season and declare for the 2008 NFL Draft.
However, Oher had a change of heart just two days after going public with his decision. He eventually took the field for his senior season in 2008.
Oher finished his college football career on a strong note. He earned Consensus First-Team All-SEC honors for the second straight year.
Oher also made The Associated Press‘s First-Team All-American roster in 2008.
Despite getting a late start in football, Oher proved he was a legitimate left tackle prospect. He would eventually spend five of his eight-year pro football career with the Baltimore Ravens.
Pro Football Career
The Baltimore Ravens made Michael Oher the 23rd overall selection of the 2009 NFL Draft.
According to ESPN, Oher agreed to a five-year, $13 million deal with the Ravens on July 29, 2009. Oher’s rookie deal included $7.82 million in guaranteed earnings.
Oher decided to wear No. 74 in the National Football League because it was the number one of his high school coaches wore.
Oher’s rookie season in the NFL coincided with the release of the movie, The Blind Side, in the fall of 2009.
Actor Quinton Aaron portrayed Oher in the movie, which made more than $300 million at the box office. Sandra Bullock portrayed Leigh Anne Tuohy while Tim McGraw portrayed Sean Tuohy.
When Oher was in his first season with the Carolina Panthers in 2015, he admitted the movie’s portrayal of him had taken a toll on people’s perception of him as a football player in subsequent years.
“This stuff, calling me a bust, people saying if I can play or not… that has nothing to do with football,” Oher told ESPN’s David Newton in the summer of 2015. “It’s something else off the field. That’s why I don’t like that movie.”
Oher started at right tackle as a rookie. He shifted to left tackle midway through the season due to Jared Gaither’s injury. Oher returned to the right tackle spot from Week 8 onward.
Oher helped protect Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and opened up running lanes for running back Ray Rice.
Oher’s solid play on the offensive line helped the 9-7 Ravens earn a spot in the 2009 AFC Wild Card Game against the New England Patriots.
Oher did not surrender a single sack in Baltimore’s 33-14 win over New England. Unfortunately, the Ravens lost to Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Divisional Round a week later, 20-3.
Final Years with the Ravens
Oher spent his next three seasons shifting from the right side to the left side of the offensive line. Regardless of where Ravens head coach John Harbaugh assigned him, Oher continued playing at a high level.
— Michael Oher (@MichaelOher) February 5, 2021
The Ravens averaged eleven wins per season from 2010 to 2012. That memorable three-season stretch culminated in Baltimore’s 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
Michael Oher was a Super Bowl champion for the first and last time in his NFL career.
Oher’s autobiography, I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness, to The Blind Side, and Beyond, hit bookshelves at the end of his third NFL season in February 2012.
Unfortunately, Oher played below expectations in his fifth and final season in Baltimore in 2013.
Oher’s poor play on the Ravens’ offensive line earned him a minus-17.1 grade from Pro Football Focus, per Newton.
Back to Tennessee
After Oher played out his final year with the Ravens, he signed a four-year, $20 million deal with the Tennessee Titans on March 15, 2014.
Oher suited up in eleven games at right tackle for first-year Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt in 2014. He surrendered 6.0 sacks and 26 quarterback hurries in those eleven appearances. Oher sat out the Titan’s final five games due to a toe injury.
Tennessee mustered just two wins all year long. It was the Titans’ worst showing since they were still known as the Houston Oilers in the 1994 NFL season.
Tennessee released Oher due to a failed physical on February 5, 2015.
Oher’s release from the Titans did not sit well with his adopted mother, Leigh Anne Tuohy,
“We had people, talking heads, that didn’t have any clue,” she told ESPN’s Elizabeth Merrill in February 2016. “And they’re so quick to judge and categorize and pigeonhole.”
Coming up at 6p. Mr. "Blind Side" Michael Oher talks about the text from Cam Newton that brought him to Carolina pic.twitter.com/sQ8Cp6O04f
— KTVU Sports Dept. (@ktvusports) February 3, 2016
With Oher’s career in Limbo, eventual 2015 NFL MVP and Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton came to his rescue.
Newton’s brother Cecil Jr. told him that Oher could aptly pick up the slack for former Panthers left tackle Byron Bell, who Carolina decided not to re-sign in the offseason.
Thanks to his brother’s urging, Cam Newton sent Oher a text message saying he needed him on the Panthers’ offensive line. Oher told ESPN that Newton’s text message put him at ease.
Going to Carolina
The Carolina Panthers eventually signed Michael Oher to a two-year, $7 million deal one month later. He told ESPN’s David Newton his toe issue had nagged him since he first played in the NFL in 2009.
Oher sometimes felt discomfort in his toe whenever he lined up in his stance on the offensive line. He had season-ending toe surgery in December 2014 to deal with it once and for all.
Although Charlotte, NC was a more challenging drive than Nashville, TN, the Tuohys managed to watch some of Michael’s games when he joined the Panthers.
A reinvigorated Michael Oher received a second lease on life in Carolina. He allowed just 4.0 sacks and drew penalties from the officials just three times in the 2015 NFL season.
Behind Oher’s strong play on the offensive line, Carolina had a gaudy 15-1 win-loss record in 2015. Regrettably, they lost to Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50, 24-10.
Oher’s impressive showing in 2015 earned him a three-year, $21.6 million contract extension from the Panthers in the summer of 2016.
Alas, a concussion limited Oher to just three games in the 2016 NFL campaign. The Panthers regressed considerably in Oher’s absence and won just six games that year.
Carolina released Michael Oher after he did not pass his physical exam on July 20, 2017.
Legal Troubles and Retirement from the NFL
Oher made headlines several days after the Panthers released him. A frantic Uber driver told a 911 operator Oher bit his back in the summer of 2017.
Michael Oher was later arrested in Nashville, TN when he was allegedly intoxicated and got into a physical altercation with Uber driver Girma Birkess over a payment issue.
Oher asked Birkess to follow his wife’s car, but he could not keep up in heavy Nashville traffic. This triggered Oher’s rage.
Police claimed Oher spoke to the driver using a derogatory gay slur and threatened to hurt him.
Michael Oher retired from pro football following the 2016 NFL season.
Michael Oher currently resides in the Memphis, TN area. He has given back to the community in his retirement years.
After Oher witnessed tornadoes ravaging his hometown of Memphis, TN in 2020, he created the app Good Deeds.
The software allows neighbors to connect and provide clothing, shoes, and other necessities to needy community members.
— Michael Oher (@MichaelOher) August 12, 2021
Oher’s foundation, Beat the Odds, Inc., assists children with hard upbringings to achieve their life goals.
According to GuideStar.org, its mission is to “provide individuals both in need and disadvantaged with empowering opportunities that enrich their lives and provide a mechanism for higher education and healthy living.”
Oher also helps run his family’s youth-oriented foundation, Making It Happen.
For his part, Michael Oher has come a long way since his difficult early years in Memphis, TN.
“I’m thankful for what I’ve created now,” Oher told PEOPLE‘s Alyssa Johnson in the spring of 2021. “The things that were against me, I can look back and say, ‘I proved them all wrong.'”
Oher also admitted to Johnson he currently relies on therapy to cope with his past trauma and mental health.