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The Blind Side
MICHAEL LEWIS
September 25, 2006
The left tackle evolved, through natural selection and intelligent design, into a prized specimen who lived to ensure the survival of his quarterback against a predator he couldn't see
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September 25, 2006

The Blind Side

The left tackle evolved, through natural selection and intelligent design, into a prized specimen who lived to ensure the survival of his quarterback against a predator he couldn't see

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It's during the Niners' second series that the heavyweight bout between Doleman and Wallace really begins. On the first play Montana takes a five-step drop, and Doleman comes with the same speed rush that he used to beat Wallace the first time they met. Wallace now understands that he was beaten that time because he was too jumpy, too eager to make contact. He prides himself on playing offense with the aggression of a defensive player, but that aggression is now counterproductive. The left tackle position is all about control-of self and of the man coming at you. Control that inside number, Wallace tells himself. As long as I can control that inside number, I can push through him. He fixates on the 6 on Doleman's jersey the way a basketball defender stares at the midsection of the dribbler.

Doleman lines up far outside and, at the snap of the ball, sprints straight upfield. He's quicker than Wallace and has the distinct advantage of running straight ahead while Wallace backpedals. Wallace can't get a purchase on him; his only hope is to give Doleman a single hard push at exactly the right moment. If he hits Doleman the moment after the snap, he will achieve nothing. He'll throw himself off-balance, just as he did before, and speed Doleman on his journey upfield, en route to Montana's back. What happens on this first serious encounter between these two huge men happens so fast, it's nearly impossible to comprehend in real time. Doleman sprints upfield, probably expecting to collide with Wallace on his first or second step-but he doesn't. Wallace has taken a new angle. "I had to make sure that his body was completely by me.... Wait.... Wait.... Wait.... Then I hit him."

He meets Doleman as deep in the backfield as possible without missing him altogether. They collide briefly at the spot where Doleman wanted to be making a sharp left to get at Montana. The hit keeps Doleman from turning and drives him farther upfield. Wallace has traded the pleasure of violence for the comfort of real estate.

Nobody notices, of course. His contribution is the opposite of dramatic. He has removed the antagonist from the play entirely. What the fans and the TV cameras see is 49ers wide receiver John Taylor come wide open in the middle of the field. Montana hits him with a pass, and Taylor races for a gain of 20 yards.

Doleman must think the play was a fluke, because on the next one he tries exactly the same move. Upfield he comes, at speed, and once again Wallace takes him right on past the action. What the fans see is Rice catching a touchdown pass. What Doleman sees, from a distance, is Montana throwing a touchdown pass. What the fans at home hear is the announcer, John Madden, saying, "The 49ers need production out of three key people. Two of them just produced." The three key people to whom Madden refers are Montana, Rice and running back Roger Craig. They are stars; they accumulate the important statistics: yards, touchdowns, receptions, completions. Wallace is not considered a producer. He has no statistics.

The next time the 49ers get the ball, Wallace suspects that Doleman might adjust. Doleman now knows that Wallace is quick enough and agile enough and intelligent enough to deal with his speed rush. He'll come with his bull rush.

In the playoff game the year before, Doleman opened the game with a bull rush and knocked Bubba Paris flat on his back. ("When you knock a 330-pound guy on his ass," Wallace observed, "that's a very serious thing.") Wallace expects the bull rush early. If Doleman establishes his ability to run right over him, he'll force Wallace to plant his feet early, to brace himself. Planted feet doom a left tackle. Planted feet are slow feet. If he plants his feet, Wallace knows, Doleman will see it-and then he'll go right back to his speed rush. When a left tackle plants his feet, he gives the pass rusher a half-step head start in his race to the quarterback. That half step might be the difference between a productive Montana and a Montana being carried off the field on a stretcher.

As in sumo wrestling, the awesome crudeness on the surface of the battle between left tackle and pass rusher disguises the finesse underneath. Keeping Doleman off Montana's back is less a matter of brute force than of leverage, angles and anticipation. The outcome of the struggle turns on half steps and milliseconds. "I know early there are maybe three plays where he is going to try to bull-rush me," said Wallace. "And you know that if you're not ready, he's going to beat you like a dog for the rest of the day, because then you are setting with slow, controlled feet rather than happy feet. The trick is to see that bull rush coming early and go out and pop him. You deliver a quick karate blow-pow!-to stun him. But your feet never stop. If your feet ever stop, you're beat."

Here comes the payoff for all those hours he spent studying game tape. He's watched many hours of Doleman rushing passers. He's learned that Doleman tips his bull rush by the set of his stance, the tilt of his body, his attitude. Now Doleman comes with the bull rush. And Wallace is ready for it.

What the fan sees is ... nothing. Doleman is 270 pounds of raw, explosive muscle. There is probably not a human being among the 61,848 present who could withstand the force of his furious charge. To the naked eye, however, it looks as if he's not even trying. He's just stuck on the line of scrimmage, leaning against Wallace. Why watch that? Watch, instead, the real action: Rice catches another touchdown pass!

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