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To Protect … And To Destroy.

Falcons-1

Atlanta, Georgia – While shooting an NFL game last year between the Atlanta Falcons and the Baltimore Ravens, there were two players I wanted to focus on.  Based on what we know of them, they could not have been any more different.

One’s job is to destroy. The Other’s job is to protect.

One is known as the most fearsome, ruthless, head-hunting linebacker since Dick Butkus. Maybe the best ever.  I know he’s the only linebacker I can recall who has been actually charged — mid-career — with murder in the post-Super Bowl stabbings of two men in Atlanta in 2000. (In fairness, his murder charges were reduced to obstruction of justice in return for his testimony.) Ray Lewis has been All-Pro many times, a Super Bowl MVP, NFL defensive player of the year twice and will be a Hall of Famer.  Lewis is listed as 6-1, 250 pounds, but he looks a lot bigger up close.   (Not that I’d recommend meeting him up close). He’s not only a hell of a football player; he is a force of nature.  His persona is one of intimidation.  His job is to destroy.

The Other has a very different story, one you may have enjoyed already in the inspirational, heart-warming movie, “The Blind Side.”   He is Michael Oher, Number 74, who is the left-side offensive tackle. His job is to protect the quarterback’s blind side from those determined to destroy. In other words, people like Ray Lewis.

You may know Michael Oher’s unique story. He was abandoned and homeless before being taken in and then adopted by the white and polar opposite Tuohy family of Memphis.  It’s a wonderful story about how God wants us to overlook differences and embrace and protect each other.

Rescued literally from the street, Oher went to Ole Miss, became an all-American and was the Ravens’ first-round draft choice a couple of years ago.  He’s a giant boulder of a man, a chiseled 6-4, 320 pounds.  If I was about to run into a guy like Ray Lewis in an alley, I’d want Michael Oher there.

I watched Oher carefully during pre-game warm-ups and through a 400mm Nikon lens for much of the game. He appeared determined, yet tranquil and calm, during the entire time. I never saw his expression change, even though he was locked all night in hand-to-hand combat with equally massive Atlanta defenders seeking to destroy.

I took note of another small thing. Unlike most of the other players – and unlike Ray Lewis – Oher had no visible tattoos. It’s not important, but just something I noticed.

With Oher, I wanted to show the unseen battle in the trenches. And I wanted to show him serenely ignoring 75,000 loud and crazed Falcons fans waving red flags.  Taken on the same night in the same game , my photos of Michael Oher feel very different to me than the ones of Ray Lewis.

Maybe just like the apparent differences between One and the Other.