San Francisco 49er Patrick Willis squaring off against Baltimore Raven Michael Oher will draw much attention in Super Bowl XLVII from Ole Miss and SEC fans, as both stars used to suit up in the SEC for the Ole Miss Rebels. However, the ties that bind these two men go well beyond football.
One of these two men will win a Super Bowl ring this year, following in the footsteps of former Ole Miss Rebel and current New York Giant QB Eli Manning. Super Bowl XLVII will mark the second consecutive Super Bowl a former Rebel will leave the game a champion, as QB Eli Manning led the Giants to a victory in Super Bowl XLVI in 2012 against the New England Patriots.
While there were strong ties on the field (Ole Miss & SEC) between these two young men prior to entering the NFL, with Super Bowl XLVII approaching it's fitting to look at the ironic ties that now bind these young stars as human beings in the game of life.
Patrick Willis' Path to Super Bowl XLVII
It's truly amazing just how similar the stories of life struggles are between the two former Ole Miss Rebels, Baltimore Raven Michael Oher and San Francisco 49er Patrick Willis.
Growing up in rural Tennessee as a child, Patrick WIllis was subject to a type of life that many weaker human beings would have easily succumbed to. With a drug-dependent,alcoholic, abusive father throughout his youth, nothing was ever easy for Willis. In fact, it was downright hard.
Yahoo Sports blogger Doug Farrar suggests the following in his piece entitled "Patrick Willis Has a Special Understanding of What It Takes to Succeed:"
Born into extreme poverty in rural Tennessee, the five-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All-Pro -- he's never missed a Pro Bowl in his career since the 49ers selected him 11th overall in the 2007 NFL draft -- has overcome challenges that would bring most people to their knees. At various instances through his childhood, Willis and his three siblings went without running water and electricity, and Willis' father Ernest was a longtime drug addict who was so abusive, the state of Tennessee had to become involved.
In one of the most appealing human interest pieces to be produced in a while, ESPN E60's Jeffrey Chadiha went back to Willis' rural Tennessee town with him to discuss his upbringing. Regardless of whether or not you're a Patrick Willis or 49ers fan, after watching this brief story you won't be able to keep from liking the polite, humble 49ers linebacker. Well done, Jeffrey Chadiha.
After making a name for himself on the football field in high school, Willis decided to attend Ole Miss and play in the SEC. While at Ole Miss, Willis excelled at linebacker and quickly caught the attention of NFL scouts across the country, winning the Dick Butkus Award in 2006 (nation's top linebacker).
In 2007, the San Francisco 49ers selected Patrick Willis with the 11th overall pick of the NFL Draft. It turned out to be one of the best front office decisions the 49ers have ever made, as Willis has now earned trips to the Pro Bowl in each of his first five seasons in the NFL. In 2013, he's highly regarded as one of the game's finest linebackers and has helped his team make a Super Bowl run.
In five short years since being drafted, Willis will now get a chance to help the San Francisco 49ers take home their first Lombardi Trophy since knocking off the San Diego Chargers in 1994. For a person coming from such a poverty-stricken, hard life as a child, Willis has exceeded every expectation.
Michael Oher's Path to Super Bowl XLVII
The man for which 2010 Oscar Best Picture nominee The Blind Side was based, Oher has had nothing less than a meteoric rise to fame when you consider his humble beginnings as one of twelve children. In and out of foster homes as a young boy in his hometown of Memphis, TN, Michael grew up with a father in and out of prison and a mother that suffered from substance abuse.
It was not until Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, parents of other children at Michael's high school, took a 16-year-old Michael under their wings that he began to flourish both on and off the football field as a person. As a result of his dominant play on the field at Briarcrest Christian School during his senior season at tackle, Oher fielded multiple scholarship offers from Division 1 colleges and universities.
Ultimately, Michael decided to take his talents to Oxford, MS and play for the Ole Miss Rebels. Already garnering national attention as a Rebel lineman during his sophomore season for his stellar play, Oher also soon became the protagonist of author Michael Lewis' smash hit, The Blind Side. In 2009, writer and director John Lee Hancock created an Oscar Best Picture nominee film by the same name, starring Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw as Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy. For the once shy and reserved Oher, his life quickly became quite public.
Leigh Anne Tuohy described to Rob Wallace and Steve Schnee of ABC's 20/20 how the gentle giant that is Oher slowly began to feel more comfortable with his surroundings over time,
"I hugged him a lot," she said. "I'm really touchy feely. I go to each child's room every night and kiss them good night and hug. I did that just to Michael like I did the other two, and it was just kind of not much of a response for a long time. And then finally, one night, it was just this random, you know, I said 'Night, honey. Love you, see you in the morning.' And I got a 'Love you too.' And I went outside the door and I was like, wow. I said, 'We have moved mountains.'"
Yes, Leigh Anne Tuohy, you should be applauded for your altruistic efforts to help Oher in life alone.
Later, with the 23rd pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, the Baltimore Ravens selected the Ole Miss tackle to protect their young QB, Joe Flacco, at left tackle (also known as "the blind side"). Four short years later, Oher has helped his team earn a berth in Super Bowl XLVII against the San Francisco 49ers.
Similar to Rebel brother, Patrick Willis, Oher could have given up on life as a child due to all of his extreme hardships. However, he too proved stronger than a trial or tribulation in the game of life.
Two Deserving Rebel Men Seek Super Bowl Win, Already Winners in Life
Regardless of the final score on February 3, former Ole Miss and SEC stars Patrick Willis and Michael Oher have already won in a far more important game—the game of life. Both men will compete valiantly for their respective teams in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in hopes of a Super Bowl victory, but in the grand scheme of things these two stars are already winners in life.
In a sports world filled with far too many troubling stories, these are two young role models that should be commended for sticking to their core values on and off the field, even after achieving great success.