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Shaun Powell

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L-R: Sean Tuohy, Matt Saunders (Michael Tuohy's high school line coach), Michael Oher (Sean's son and Ravens OT), Leigh Ann Tuohy, Hugh Freeze (Michael's high school head coach), Collins Tuohy (Sean's daughter).
Photo courtesy: Eric Hasseltine

Blind Side hype doesn't catch Grizzlies' Tuohy off guard


Posted Dec 17 2009 12:17AM

The Blind Side is the feel-good movie of the year and the title can also be applied to one of the principals involved in the film, because he never saw this hit coming.

Oh, for sure, Sean Tuohy knew the movie was well-made and that Sandra Bullock had a great performance in the lead and people would be interested. But ... this? Overtaking the latest Twilight installment in the box office? And constantly being interviewed by the media and asked by strangers what was it like to adopt Michael Oher, the hulkish, budding NFL star who joined the Tuohy family as a kid out of desperation?

Tuohy, the father in the film played by country star Tim McGraw, is perhaps the lone NBA team analyst more popular now than the players he describes on the air. People are initially shy but eventually approach him at Memphis Grizzlies games just to hear his voice, get an autograph or shake his hand and thank him for what he and his wife Leigh Anne did for a lonely, overgrown kid with a troubled home life.

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"You're certainly not prepared for something like this," Tuohy said.

The film has grossed more than $140 million at the box office so far and shows little signs of losing steam. Which leads to the obvious question: Why has this movie, among the countless other very good inspirational films that come and go without breaking the bank, struck such a nerve with the general public?

Well, it's that time of year, which helps.

"It's the perfect holiday movie and sends the right holiday message," Tuohy said. "It's proof that it's a lot more fun to give than to receive. And I say that from a personal experience, because although so many people have thanked us for what we gave Michael, we got more out of it tenfold."

Leigh Anne Tuohy reached out to Oher, who was raised by a crack-addicted mother, during the Thanksgiving holiday and with Sean's help made Oher part of the family. The movie deals with Oher's fish-out-of-water existence as a black kid surrounded by white wealth in Memphis, Tenn., and how the separate cultures manage to comfortably click because of love. Oher, who starred at the University of MIssissippi, is now a standout left tackle for the Ravens, hence the title "blind side" because the left tackle has the important job of protecting the quarterback's blind side.

"He did a good job of putting up with our foolishness," said Tuohy, with a laugh. Then, turning serious, Tuohy said: "He's made such great strides due to his determination. Here's a kid that society didn't give a chance or put much value into. He got a break or two and took advantage of it."

As for Tuohy, his life has been rather charmed, by any and every measure. The son of a high school coach, he was a point guard and star at Ole Miss and set the Southeastern Conference career record in assists. He was drafted by the Reds and later the Nets. He became a fast-food baron, owning a string of restaurants and striking it rich. He married his high school sweetheart. And he's doing a job he loves, broadcasting for the Grizzlies, his ninth year behind the mike.

A former collegiate basketball star, successful businessman, popular NBA broadcaster, husband and father to two kids is seen as something bigger by the general public. Fame does have its burden, however.

"I tell people I would've been happy if the movie was about my neighbor's family," Tuohy said. "It's an adjustment, dealing with all of the requests. Every time I think it's about to calm down, it increases again."

He's not complaining. He's just stating fact. The movie's word-of-mouth is the secret to its marathon-like time at the box office, where it should remain through Christmas Day and perhaps into the new year. And wait until it reaches DVD.

The lessons and message of the film are what pleases Tuohy.

"You know, this is really a great country," he said. "Ninety percent of the audience at this movie looks at a family helping out and says, 'I do a lot of that, too.' They connect to it. We're in one of the worst economic periods of our time and people are helping everybody. You see it all around. So there are people in the audience who can relate because they've helped somebody in their lives, and those who don't help others are saying 'maybe it's time to start.'"

The more he appears in public, the more Sean Tuohy is blind sided by the reaction to the film and the reality of being shown on the big screen and therefore being larger than life. If television analysts were announced along with players and coaches during the pre-game introductions, he'd get a standing ovation, not only for the movie but for everything else.

"I've been blessed," he said. "Sometimes I wake up and realize that it's not a dream."

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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