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John Underwood
August 28, 1978
Where coaching stops, chemistry steps in with encapsulated fury. It's madness
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August 28, 1978

Speed Is All The Rage

Where coaching stops, chemistry steps in with encapsulated fury. It's madness

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"People ask [ NFL Commissioner] Pete Rozelle why so many quarterbacks went down last season from late and nasty hits. The answer can be found in the nearest pillbox. I'd be interested to see what would happen to the incidence of orthopedic surgery in the NFL if amphetamines were banned and everybody had to take a urine test before games."

The normal "diet" pill or capsule—Benzedrine, Dexedrine, Eskatrol—contains five to 15 milligrams of amphetamine. The prolonged, excited "high" from one pill is familiar not only to fat people but also to long-haul truckers and students cramming for examinations. Imagine what it is like, says Dr. Mandell, to gulp down 30 pills at one time. "The result is a prepsychotic paranoid rage state," he says. "A five-hour temper tantrum that produces the late hits, the fights, the unconscionable assaults on quarterbacks that are ruining pro football. They're at war out there, and the coaches, even if they're not aware [of the drugs' effects], are the generals. Coaches know the game is ideally played in controlled anger. They hang up clippings, and talk vendettas. Players get half crazy anyway, and if 60% of them have their heads filled with amphetamines, the injury projection is enormous.

"For the player in this state the negotiation of rules becomes highly complicated, and easily broken if the referee isn't looking. That's when you get the elbows, the hands being stepped on, the knees in the face, the kicking."

Mandell's expertise is in biomedical and pharmacological psychiatry, with 22 years in research, 18,000 hours treating patients. He has written six books and 230 articles in his field. He serves on the editorial board of 11 scientific journals, is past president of the Society of Biological Psychiatry and has received several federal grants, including $500,000 during the last six years for a study of the effects of amphetamines on the brain.

In short, Mandell may be naive but he is no quack, nor is it likely that he is the irresponsible drug dispenser the NFL sought to have him appear. A wiry 5'6", 14-mile-a-day jogger with a Phi Beta Kappa key and a sunburst of curly hair, he has an easy manner that ingratiated him to the Chargers. They called him Arnie and entrusted to him their deepest secrets. He became a close friend of Svare.

Mandell says it took him almost a year to "realize what was going on." He now calls it "The Sunday Syndrome."

"Ordinarily, most football players are warm, loving, decent human beings," Mandell says. "They aren't drug addicts. They have to convert themselves to attain a state of hair-trigger readiness. For a while, I thought it was pure physiology, a group of men who somehow had this capacity.

"They'd come in on Sunday morning, lighthearted and well dressed. No signs. Gradually they'd begin to change. About 11 o'clock the tension would start to rise. Some would get loud and boisterous, and become more obscene. Others would withdraw, staring. Some would pace in repetitive turns. Those are all signs, together with a wider-based gait, an added clumsiness.

"The second time I went through the tunnel to the field, I accidentally hit the elbow of an offensive tackle I knew pretty well—a bright guy, a nice guy. He banged me into the wall. Really unloaded on me. Later he apologized. That year we played at Houston, and one of the sweetest guys on the defensive teams—I'll never forget—was literally drooling. It was [Quarterback Dan] Pastorini's first year with the Oilers. The guy said, 'A rookie quarterback! It's like letting me into a candy store!'

"Amphetamines in large doses produce a paranoid psychosis. That means the guy doing the damage actually thinks the other guy is out to get him. It's Good Guys vs. Bad Guys. The quarterback, as the figurehead of the opposition, is the No. 1 Bad Guy. It's open season on him. I laugh when NFL players talk about the dangers of synthetic turf and helmets, and all the while they're permitting amphetamine-crazed athletes to go on the field and assault their quarterbacks. You expect to see the kind of thing that happened to Bradshaw last year. When he got speared in the back, it almost gave him whiplash."

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