Notebook > Sports

Blind-side ball

Sports | New NFL exposé sees dollar signs where others see face paint and passion

Issue: "Autumn books," Oct. 7, 2006

How did former Giants star Lawrence Taylor revolutionize a position he didn't even play? By ending Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann's career. In the new book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, long-form journalist Michael Lewis describes how the gruesome moment when Taylor, a revolutionary kind of blitzing linebacker, broke Theismann's leg became the turning point for one previously forgettable position on the football field.

Prior to Lawrence Taylor, left tackles in the NFL were generally immobile hulks who just needed to get one good push on a defensive player to protect the quarterback's blind side. But in the mid-1980s, Taylor introduced the speed rush, a technique that not only ended Theismann's career but also instilled fear in quarterbacks throughout the league. "The game of football was evolving, and here was one cause of its evolution: a new kind of athlete doing a new kind of thing," Lewis writes in an excerpt printed in Sports Illustrated. "All by himself, Taylor altered the environment and forced opposing coaches and players to adapt."

But Blind Side isn't just a profile of Taylor or of San Francisco left tackle Steve Wallace, one of the first linemen to adapt to the new style. Lewis (Liar's Poker; The New, New Thing; Moneyball) looks at sports as few do. Whereas some see passion and face paint, Lewis sees the stone-cold forces of market economics. As in Moneyball, his influential look into the economics of baseball decision making, Blind Side describes how in 1987 Anthony Muñoz, perhaps the greatest left tackle ever, couldn't even get a half-million a year from the Cincinnati Bengals when top pass-rushers brought home close to $1 million a year.

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"All through the 1980s and '90s, offensive linemen had competed with tight ends and kickers for the title of lowest-paid players on the football field. The left tackle, Muñoz pointed out, made his living trying to prevent a guy making twice as much as he did from killing a guy who made three times as much." By 2005, though, linemen, especially left tackles, had closed the gap in pay. Last season, while the top five quarterbacks brought home an average of $11.9 million, the top left tackles earned $7.25 million-the going rate for blind-side insurance.

Around the Horn

FOOTBALL: Sometimes it's best not to try to play through it. Especially when "it" is a ruptured spleen. Doctors can't be certain when Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Simms' spleen ruptured during the Sept. 24 game against Carolina, but teammates say the 26-year-old looked sick after a rough hit in the second quarter. Carolina hit Simms a few more times-forcing him from the field for a few plays in the third quarter-but the quarterback finished the game, a narrow loss for the Buccaneers. Simms was rushed to the hospital afterwards, where doctors cut out the non-vital organ and gave him a blood transfusion.

GOLF: Some said the United States' chances in the Ryder Cup were over the moment Darren Clarke decided to play for the European team. Just weeks after the death of his wife, Clarke's decision to go ahead with the popular exhibition sparked the emotions of a European team already favored. The Americans were left to soul search following the Europeans' runaway win: "They have a younger crop of players that are playing well. When our youngest player is 30 years old, that's not a positive thing," said a 30-year-old Tiger Woods.

MLB: So much for defending the title. A Sept. 25 loss officially bounced the Chicago White Sox from the playoff hunt less than a year after the squad finished an unlikely romp through the playoffs, culminating with a World Series victory. The White Sox slide means Detroit and Minnesota are left to vie for the AL Central pennant and the wild card berth.

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