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Tony Mandarich Is Very, Very Sorry
RICK TELANDER
March 09, 2009
Two decades after insisting to SI that his massive physique came from eating and weightlifting, the former NFL tackle comes clean about the drugs he used as the sports world turned a blind eye
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March 09, 2009

Tony Mandarich Is Very, Very Sorry

Two decades after insisting to SI that his massive physique came from eating and weightlifting, the former NFL tackle comes clean about the drugs he used as the sports world turned a blind eye

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"I got the steroids just by word of mouth," Mandarich says. "Put the word out in a gym, and it's like talking to a concierge, somebody will say, 'Here you go.' It was that easy."

AS MANDARICH prepared for the draft, his lifting partner was fellow Michigan State student Rob (Buck) Smith, a fired-up, 5'4" ball of muscles. Now it's Wendy Keimer, a bodybuilder with long blonde hair, a dark tan and triceps to die for. Today they are working on arms, and as Keimer yells at Mandarich to keep pumping, he sighs, "I'm too old for this."

But he isn't. As he'll admit after doing close-grip rack benches with 315 pounds, "I feel comfortable in the gym environment." And why not? Even now, when Mandarich can't come close to his career-best 585-pound bench press, the comfort of lifting remains.

Mandarich didn't start on his junior varsity team in Oakville, Ont., even though he was 6'3" and 220 pounds. Once when he was 13, his mother, Donna, a tall, stout woman, body-slammed him for insubordination. "I don't know if she or Reggie White manhandled me worse," Mandarich says with a chuckle. It was his beloved brother who got him on steroids after Tony moved in with him for a year while John was a senior at Kent (Ohio) State and Tony was a high school senior.

By 22 Tony ran like a deer, blocked like a truck and preened like a rooster. "I had tunnel vision," he says. "I wanted to be a new kind of offensive lineman, go first in the draft, make millions. Your SI story did it. I saw 50 copies displayed across the top shelf at the airport—me and my steroid-fueled muscles. That fed my arrogance. I thought, You're doing things right!"

Right before the '89 draft, Mandarich moved to Southern California to train. When he complained one day about how sore he was, a trainer, whom Mandarich refused to identify, said he had something to help. "Roll up your sleeve," Mandarich recalls him saying. "I thought, No big deal. A shot on your upper arm. But he grabbed my wrist. I said, 'What are you doing?' He was going to shoot this stuff into my vein, like a drug addict. He said, 'Trust me.'"

That first shot was the prescription narcotic Stadol. In 15 seconds Mandarich was flooded with pleasure and peace. "That first one is the best one," he says. "That's the one you chase."

And chase it he did, downing pain pills like candy during his years in Green Bay, conning at least 10 doctors in four states into writing him prescriptions for painkillers, even hiding syringes in his jockstrap and taking bathroom breaks during practice to shoot up. There is a lump in the crook of his left arm, a bulge in the large blue vein between biceps and forearm. "That's where I shot," he says.

His lowest point may have come when his brother was near death from cancer in the winter of 1993. Tony drove off on a 16-hour round-trip to pick up pills for himself that he'd persuaded a doctor to prescribe. When he got back, John was dead. "Painkillers were more important to me than holding my brother's hand as he died," Tony says.

The addictions ruined his first marriage and left him depressed. He was emotionally arrested, he tries to explain, and needed to grow up. Rehab and Alcoholics Anonymous finally got him straight. Fourteen years later he hopes his book will help others, even as it helps him wipe his own slate clean and show that there is hope even for "a bust, a loudmouth, a no-good liar at the very bottom, like me."

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