When author and New Orleans native Michael Lewis (Liar’s Poker, The New New Thing) heard about the story of a highly scouted black high school football player from the wrong side of the tracks on the roster of a small private all white Evangelical church-school in Memphis, it piqued his interest. Little did he know the teen, Michael Oher, was the adopted son of Sean Touhy, one of Lewis’ classmates from his own high school, Isidore Newman School.

The connections run deep. Touhy, son of legendary basketball coach “Skeets” Touhy, had been an All-SEC player all four years of his college career at Ole Miss, leading the Rebels to their first and only SEC basketball championship in 1981. Lewis, meanwhile, was going on to a stellar career as an author, penning smart bestsellers that covered the gamut from the tottering financial world to Silicon Valley to sports. Newman is a small school; graduating classes in the 1970s encompassed about 70 students, and the pair had known each other intimately.

The ensuing book, The Blind Side, is about football, specifically the evolution of the role of the left tackle in protecting the quarterback, and the story of a well-to-do white Southern family who reached out to a black kid from the ghetto.

Enter another New Orleans connection, actress Sandra Bullock, who, after Hurricane Katrina, adopted Warren Easton Charter School, raising funds to rebuild the campus and programs and get the students back on their feet. The movie rights to the book were bought by Warner Bros., and when director John Lee Hancock was looking for an actress, Bullock was a natural for the part of Leigh Anne Touhy, former Ole Miss cheerleader, Memphis socialite and the wife of Sean Touhy. Leigh Anne was the driving force in the family, fiercely protecting and encouraging Oher to excel in academics as well as football.

Oher, scouted as one of the best offensive tackles in the nation, was recruited by college football teams all over the country, including LSU. He wound up, of course, at Ole Miss. An SEC and All American first team lineman, he was drafted in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens for the 2009 season.

The Blind Side
premiered fittingly enough, at the small, uptown Prytania Theatre in New Orleans last night. Bullock, Lewis, the Touhys, Saints quarterback Drew Brees and tight end Jeremy Shockey walked the red carpet. The movie opens nationwide today, with screenings in Lafayette starting at noon.

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