Packer fans and the local media, who had been expecting the second coming of Hall of Fame tackle Forrest Gregg, were all over Mandarich. His teammates scrutinized him just as closely, and a few became fascinated with him. "The offensive linemen followed him around," says one former Packer of the players' curiosity. "They had read so much about him, they were like groupies."
Teammates still tell stories about Mandarich and his pals, center James Campen and guard Keith Uecker (who's no longer with the team), spitting on one another every chance they got, in the locker room, on the practice field and on the way to dinner at training camp. "They used to throw up in their hands and throw it at each other," says a Packer. "It was the most grotesque thing I'd ever seen."
But nothing about Mandarich was more mystifying than his body. Mandarich is a walking mural. He has five tattoos on his arms—two elaborate designs celebrating Guns N' Roses, the Harley-Davidson logo, an Alaskan brown bear and a strand of barbed wire that wraps around his right biceps—plus the one on his ankle. However, the man who used to parade around the Michigan State weight room bare-chested now seems reluctant to remove his shirt. Packer teammates say Mandarich doesn't even like to shower at the team's facility, because they believe he has gynecomastia (enlarged breast tissue), a condition often associated with steroid abuse.
While Mandarich sticks to his career-long claim that he has not used steroids—he and the Packers both say he has never failed an NFL drug test—several teammates suggest otherwise. "He outright admitted it," says one former Packer of steroid use. "He talked about what he had done in the past. I don't think he did it in the NFL. He would talk about what he took, the amount and kinds of steroids." Another former Packer says that players asked Mandarich about his diminished physique when he first joined the team. "We all took one look at his body and said, 'What the hell happened to you?' And he said he'd gone off steroids because of the random testing in the NFL."
In fact after it was announced that Mandarich had hypothyroidism, one of the first things many in the league wondered was whether there was a connection between that condition and steroids. A doctor who is a leading expert on the relationships between disease, steroids and other drugs, and who requested his name not be used, says there is no direct link. He adds, however, that the abuse of any drug can cause a gland to malfunction. He also says that if a patient isn't forthright about past drug usage, it would be possible to make a diagnosis of hypothyroidism, based on test results, when the patient was actually suffering from something else.
"I've had six tests," Mandarich says. "I know [hypothyroidism] is what I have."
Those who know him best say the underlying reason for Mandarich's failure is his fragile psyche. Because his self-esteem was wrapped up in his massive muscles and his football success, his confidence was shattered when he could no longer manhandle defenders. The more Mandarich was slammed in the press, the less he worked out. And the worse Mandarich felt about himself, the more he withdrew from the team. Finally, he lost his sense of purpose. "Tony remembers what he was, and he's afraid that he can never get there again," Leidelmeyer says.
The Packer front office and coaching staff will be watching in the coming weeks to see if Mandarich has any fight left. Indeed, Mandarich says he needs to find that out himself. "It would be tough to walk away from football at this point, regardless of the season I have," he says. "There are too many unanswered criticisms. I really want to prove a lot of people wrong. And I need to prove to myself I can be a success."