The Commercial Appeal: Fans throng Memphian Michael Oher at Davis-Kidd book signing

February 17th, 2011

Memphis Commercial Appeal
callahan@commercialappeal.com
February 17, 2011 at midnight

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Hundreds of people crowded into Davis-Kidd Booksellers Wednesday night to celebrate the amazing story of Memphian Michael Oher.

Oher, as surely everyone knows by now, went from being a child who rarely slept in the same place two nights in a row to become a first-round NFL draft pick and starting offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens.

Oher’s story was chronicled in Michael Lewis’ book “The Blind Side,” which was turned into an Oscar-winning movie. Oher was at the bookstore to sign his autobiography, “I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness to the Blind Side and Beyond.”

So many people filled the East Memphis store that organizers — who assign letters to blocks of people waiting in line — had already gone through the alphabet once and were on “HH” by 7:30 p.m.

“I had to park next to Sears,” said Sean Tuohy, the Grizzlies announcer and local businessman who, with his wife Leigh Anne, adopted Oher.

Tuohy stood behind Oher, watching the hoopla, as did other friends and family. One of those was Sue Mitchell, Oher’s tutor, played in the movie by Kathy Bates.

“Miss Sue” was instrumental in helping Oher improve his grades enough at Briarcrest Christian School to qualify for college. Then, during his four years at Ole Miss, she continued to tutor him, helping him earn a degree in criminal justice. Oher wrote about her in Chapter 14 of his book.

“Most of (the movie) was right. She did a wonderful job on me. We’re very much alike,” said Mitchell, holding a sign that read, “I am Chapter 14.” “There were some things in the movie that were the same (as the book). Some that were different. But (the movie) had such a great message.”

Those who came were fascinated with the big man, who politely signed the hundreds of books — the bookstore sold more than 1,200 at $26 a pop — placed in front of him.

And even though organizers discouraged it to keep the line moving, Oher posed for anyone who wanted a photo. He shook hands and had a polite “Thank you” for everyone in line.

“I watched the movie three times,” Joann Cox said. “It’s just so rewarding to see a child that takes the effort when someone is trying to help them.”

Oher’s story seemed to particularly resonate with children, many of whom begged their parents to bring them to the store.

“I saw ‘The Blind Side,’ and I really liked it,” 10-year-old Johnny Ruffin said. “When I heard he was coming to Memphis, I wanted to meet him.”

Eleven-year-old Josh Crawford was wearing a Ravens jersey from his youth football team, topped off with a Baltimore cap. He was there, book in hand, to meet Oher, one of his heroes.

“He just overcame. He beat the odds,” Josh said.

But he also had an ulterior motive for standing in line so long. “I usually play offensive line,” he said, “so I’m going to try to squeeze a couple of tips out of him.”

— Jody Callahan: 529-6531

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