Michael Oher's adoptive family, featured in the hit movie The Blind Side, can't wait to cheer him on at the Super Bowl

By Michelle Boudin
Updated February 07, 2016 06:25 PM
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Credit: Scott Cunningham/Getty

Carolina Panthers left tackle Michael Oher said he’d been “left for dead” after the Tennessee Titans placed him on injured reserve last year due to a toe injury.

The 29-year-old, whose life and family were the focus of the 2009 box office smash The Blind Side, had struggled professionally in recent years – but all that changed when he got a personal text from Carolina Panthers star quarterback Cam Newton.

Netwon told Oher he needed the gentle giant looking out for him on the field. Before long, Oher found himself filling the position of offensive lineman for the Super Bowl-bound team from Charlotte, North Carolina.

“He and Cam bonded immediately,” Oher’s mother, Leigh Anne Tuohy, tells PEOPLE. “Michael is a tough nut to crack, you really have to chisel away at him. I told him 300 times I loved him before he said it back.”

“So for him and Cam to have bonded as quickly as they did, it’s pretty cool,” adds Tuohy, who was portrayed by Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side in an Oscar-winning role. “I recognized pretty quickly that they connected on a different level.”

Newton and Oher spoke just last week about his comeback.

Oher tells the Charlotte Observer, “[Cam] said, ‘To think, nobody wanted you last year’ I was like, ‘You’re right, man. They left me for dead. But I knew I was going to be all right once I got a call from you.’ ”

“It’s been magical,” Tuohy tells PEOPLE of the Carolina Panthers’ 17-1 season. “Everybody had written Michael off but the Panthers immediately embraced him and brought out his potential.”

Although Oher typically shuns the spotlight, he will have a key role in the big game on Sunday – protecting the blind side of the team’s star quarterback.

His entire family will be there cheering him on in full force.

“We are super, super excited. As a mother nothing makes you happier,” says Tuohy, who promises to be clad in Panthers gear. “When your kids are happy, you’re happy.”