Bring up the great home-run race of 1998 between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and the overwhelming reaction these days (other than anger) is “how did we fall for it?” and “why did we ignore the signs of steroid use?” But that was far from the first time that the media bought into the hype of an athlete who was too good to be true.
Nine years earlier, Tony Mandarich appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated (pictured above), billed as the best offensive line prospect in the history of the NFL. He was an unbelievable athletic specimen — but one that was completely fabricated as a result of a mind-boggling regimen of steroids. When he stopped the steroids, he fizzled as a player (the Packers chose him over Barry Sanders) and then turned to painkillers…and then to alcohol.
Mandarich claims that he “never had a sober day” during his four years in Green Bay. But, unlike fellow draft bust Todd Marinovich, Mandarich has turned his life around and wants to use his own experience to educate young players on the dangers of drugs.
Mandarich was reflective about his years of substance abuse in an interview with ESPN.COM’s Kory Kozak:
“I spent four years in Green Bay and never [had] a sober day,” Mandarich said. “Every day I was ever in Green Bay I was not sober.”
Mandarich went to his home in Traverse City, Mich., and became a full-time junkie — and hid. His full-time job was to find ways to get more drugs by conning another doctor or faking another illness.
He says he was taking more than 50 painkillers a day, and mixing them with alcohol.
Mandarich got clean after checking into a rehab facility in 1995, three years after his initial four-year contract with the Packers expired (though he only played during the first three years of the deal). He returned to the NFL in 1996 and spent three years with the Colts, only this time he was clean and sober…and just an average player. A far cry from a guy who did this stuff during his college days:
He cheated on the tests for the Rose and Gator bowls.
“I basically strapped something to my back a little — it was actually a little doggie toy,” Mandarich said in an interview that stretched longer than 2½ hours. “Hooked up a little hose to it … ran a tube underneath and put a piece of gum to cap the tube.”
As a player, his legend was growing. So was his ego.
“You’re not supposed to be as strong as I am. You’re not supposed to be as fast as I am. You’re not supposed to be as good as I am,” Mandarich said in the midst of his steroid haze in 1989.
Mandarich also said in the interview that when he denied steroid use to Marty Schottenheimer before the draft, Schottenheimer said “I think you’re lying.” Mandarich’s response?
“If you think I am lying,” Mandarich said coolly, “then don’t draft me.”
Marty never got the chance since Mandarich was off the board by the time his pick rolled around, but do you think Chiefs fans are unhappy that the team ended up with Derrick Thomas instead?
There’s tons more good stuff in this interview, but the thing that stands out for me beyond everything else is this quote from Mandarich:
“I don’t regret any of the pills I took, or I don’t regret the steroids I took,” he said. “I don’t regret the whiskey I drank, and I don’t regret the mistakes I made, because all of those things coupled together tore me down and made me forced me to look at myself and forced me to make corrections — it was either make corrections or die for me.”
Let’s hope he can get through to some kids so they don’t make the same mistakes he did. Although, spending a lot of time hanging out with Guns N’ Roses isn’t nearly as hazardous now as it was 20 years ago.