Posted in English 1103, Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 1103: A Close Study of Words

Yesterday in class we turned to a piece of writing about football–not simply to read about a sport that’s on the minds of many of us but instead as an opportunity to explore how skillfully the writer Michael Lewis dramatizes a few seconds on the football field. 

In the passage that follows, Lewis recounts the moments in the November 1985 Redskins-Giants football game leading up to the injury that ended quarterback Joe Theismann’s career. These are the words that begin Chapter 1 of The Blind Side, now widely regarded as a nonfiction masterpiece:

“From the snap of the ball to the snap of the first bone is closer to four seconds than to five. One Mississippi: The quarterback of the Washington Redskins, Joe Theismann, turns and hands the ball to running back John Riggins. He watches Riggins run two steps forward, turn, and flip the ball back to him. It’s what most people know as a “flea-flicker,” but the Redskins call it a “throw-back special.” Two Mississippi: Theismann searches for a receiver but instead sees Harry Carson coming straight at him. It’s a running down—the start of the second quarter, first and 10 at midfield, with the score tied 7–7—and the New York Giants’ linebacker has been so completely suckered by the fake that he’s deep in the Redskins’ backfield. Carson thinks he’s come to tackle Riggins but Riggins is long gone, so Carson just keeps running, toward Theismann. Three Mississippi: Carson now sees that Theismann has the ball. Theismann notices Carson coming straight at him, and so he has time to avoid him. He steps up and to the side and Carson flies right on by and out of the play. The play is now 3.5 seconds old. Until this moment it has been defined by what the quarterback can see. Now it–and he–is at the mercy of what he can’t see” (15).

What Theismann cannot see is Lawrence Taylor. A second later, as Taylor sacks Theismann, Taylor’s knee drives straight into Theismann’s lower right leg, leading to the “snap of the first bone” that Lewis mentions in the first sentence. He hooks the reader by linking the beginning of the play, “the snap of the ball” to the gruesome “snap of the first bone” that will follow. Lewis develops the paragraph using the common one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi method of marking seconds to present the events leading up to the compound fracture that ends Theisman’s career.

Lewis doesn’t dramatize the injury itself because his interest lies instead in the blind side that led to it and subsequently elevated the status and salary of the left tackle, the player who protects the quarterback’s blind side.

When you’re struggling to develop a piece of writing, reread the opening paragraph of The Blind Side. Study how Lewis dramatizes 3.5 seconds–yes, only 3.5 seconds–with 224 words.

Junod, Tom. “The Falling Man.” Esquire, vol. 140, no. 3, Sept. 2003, pp. 176+. Gale Academic OneFile Select

Along with the first paragraphs of The Blind Side, yesterday in class we examined the first paragraphs of Tom Junod’s essay “The Falling Man.”

Esquire writer Tom Junod begins “The Falling Man” with an uncharacteristically long paragraph to recreate on the page the lengthy vertical passage of the 9/11 victim immortalized in Richard Drew’s photograph.

If I were to write an analysis of the opening of “The Falling Man,” I would develop my essay with textual evidence–words and phrases throughout the first paragraph–to illustrate the linear movement of the unidentified man from the beginning of the first paragraph to its conclusion.

Unless you subscribe to Esquire, the magazine’s paywall will deny you  access to the full text of the feature, but you can access it through the HPU Library site by following these steps:

  1. Go to the HPU Library site.
  2. Under the heading “Search HPU Libraries . . . ,” click on the “Articles” tab.
  3. Under the “Articles” tab, type Tom Junod “Falling Man” Esquire in the search box and click “search.”
  4. On the next screen, you will see a brief summary of the article. Click “Access Online” to view the full article.

Next Up

In class on Wednesday you will begin planning and drafting your own close study, or analysis, of one of the pieces of writing we’ve examined in class: the opening paragraphs of Lewis’s “The Blind Side,” the opening paragraphs of Junod’s “The Falling Man,” David Sedaris’s “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” Helen Keller’s “The Day Language Came into My Life,” and Martin Luther King, Jr’s.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”