Posts tagged overcoming adversity

Michael Oher: Something to prove in Super Bowl 50



Michael Oher: Something to prove

Michael Oher got to prove his worth this year against the team that traded him to the NFC Champion Carolina Panthers. (Getty Images)

One of the backstories of Super Bowl 50 is the ongoing rags-to-riches story of Michael Oher. The outstanding left tackle for the Carolina Panthers will be working for his second championship ring in seven years.

Michael Oher has something to prove.

He always has something to prove.

Many have seen the 2009 movie The Blind Side, about a destitute Memphis black kid who was all but living on the street until he was taken in by a wealthy white family from across town. That kid, Michael Oher, went on to become a highly-recruited high school lineman and an All-American at Ole Miss, and was selected in the first round of the NFL draft.

Most people love the movie, but Michael Oher is not one of them. Based on the Michael Lewis book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, it focuses primarily on the Tuohy family, who adopted Michael and who continue to have a powerful presence in his life. In fact, they will be together in San Francisco for the Super Bowl.

But, as Michael puts it, the movie is what you’d expect from Hollywood, with a lot of overtly fictional elements. Then there is Michael’s book, I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness to The Blind Side and Beyond, which I just finished reading. While the movie characterized Michael as an unintelligent and unambitious young man who had to be taught the game of football, the truth is that he was already focused on sports and rising above his surroundings when he was walking the streets of Memphis. The Tuohy family just gave him opportunities he would have otherwise never had.

In his book, he gives a little perspective on the balance between opportunity and success.

Michael Oher has something to prove“When I was drafted in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens, I knew I had done the impossible. I hadn’t just beat the odds; I had blown them out of the water. But the story isn’t just about arriving at the pros. My goal had never been just to get the offer, or to sign the contract, or to get the paycheck. I wanted to do something, to know that I was working each day to do something with my potential, pushing myself to make sure that I was always giving my all. Making it to the pros wasn’t the finish line for me. The world is full of people who got their big shot and then never did anything with it. It had come too far to just let being drafted be the end of my story.”

From the start of his book, two things stand out that show that Michael was serious about his future: First, he was determined to rise above the options he was given as a child. Second, he knew the importance of surrounding yourself with people who watch out for you, and he realized the need to commit to them as well.

He knew that he could have become a bodyguard for one of the two local gangs and made a name and lots of money for himself.  But that wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted out, and at an early age he realized that sports would be his ticket. His big goal was to get a scholarship for a junior college and get an education so he could get a job that would take him out of the neighborhoods where everyone was stuck and life was just a matter of survival. READ MORE »

An All-American hero



SteinmarkBenchIt was called “The Game of the Century” back in 1969. #1 Texas visiting #2 Arkansas in a contest that wouldn’t just determine the winner of the old Southwest Conference, but the National Champion. It was such a big game that the President of the United States was in attendance.

But even bigger than that, it was the last game for Longhorn safety Freddie Steinmark. The undersized player with a never-quit attitude toughed it through the final game of the season, but finally admitted that the knee pain he’d been dealing with all season wasn’t getting any better. In fact, it was getting a lot worse.

When he finally went to see the university’s bone and joint specialist, the doctor was surprised Freddie was even able to walk, much less play football. But that was the indomitable spirit of Freddie Steinmark.

Very few football fans even recognize the name Freddie Steinmark. He never played in the NFL. He’s not in the College Football Hall of Fame. He was never even an All-American. In fact, the 5-9, 155-pound Colorado prep product only received one college offer. Every other school passed him by as too small. But Texas head coach Darrell Royal couldn’t ignore what he saw on Freddie’s high school game film—heart, determination, and a team spirit.

He sounds a lot like the main character from the movie, Rudy,  doesn’t he? He did to Angelo Pizzo, who wrote the script for that movie as well as another inspiring sports classic, Hoosiers. And now, Pizzo is making his directorial debut with his new movie and script, My All-American, the Freddie Steinmark story.

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Whatever Freddie Steinmark did, he did it with a good attitude, with all his effort. As a student, he kept a 4.0 average. As a player, he was the first sophomore to start at safety for Texas. He not only won the position, but inspired those around him to work harder, not for personal gain, but for the good of the team. Freddie Steinmark was a big-picture, big-future kind of guy.

Unfortunately, his future was cut short in his prime. He had always dreamed of playing for the University of Notre Dame. And the final game of his junior year could finally be his opportunity to show Notre Dame what they passed. The Longhorns were preparing to play the Fighting Irish on New Year’s Day in the Cotton Bowl. But because of aggressive cancer, Freddie was only allowed to be a spectator.

But he was still the game’s hero. Texas rallied after halftime to defeat Notre Dame 21-17, and in the locker room after the game, Coach Royal and the team presented Steinmark the game ball. The Fighting Irish may have had “The Gipper,” but Texas won this one for Freddie.

Much of Freddie Steinmark’s life had been football, but the revelation now that he would never play the game again didn’t mean that Freddie was ready to give up. The off-the-field story was that he became an aggressive crusader for cancer research, even gaining the ear of President Nixon, who eventually signed a bill that declared national war on the disease. It became law just a few months after Freddie lost his battle with the disease.

Days after the Game of the Century, Freddie had been given just a few months to live. Maybe it was by his determination, but he managed to push it back another 17 months. He died in June of 1971, almost exactly a year after Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo also succumbed to cancer.

My All-American has some of the same elements as Brian’s Song, the movie based on Piccolo’s story, which grabbed the heart of the country when it was released as a made-for-TV movie in late 1971. It extols the virtues of being a team player, maintaining a can-do spirit, and of the importance of playing for a greater cause. Plus, the end of the movie is a real tear-jerker.

The Freddie Steinmark story lacks the high-profile actors, outstanding musical score, and the depth of Brian’s Song, but it has a good heart. And the film’s financial backers insisted that it be true to life, so the viewer really gets to relive football history, and is treated to some great game action sequences as well.

One of the factually-accurate aspects of the film is the language. Despite it’s PG rating, a fair peppering of salty words probably make it inappropriate for younger audiences. For families of teens, it’s a better bet. In fact, the bond between Freddie and his parents, and the wholesome portrayal of the relationship with his girlfriend, Linda, lend to the overall positive message of the film.

The film may not become one of your favorites, but learning the story of Freddie Steinmark should leave you with a lesson in character. Hard work, good attitude, big dreams, and selflessness can make you big enough for any task.

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