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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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Mandarich's second wife, Charlavan, who dated him for two years at Michigan State, and with whom he shares four children (two from his first marriage, two from hers), says she has seen great change in Mandarich during their five-year marriage; he has become humble and calm and spiritual. They work extremely hard and close together at their web-design and Internet marketing business. Char almost mists up describing her husband—"a brilliant, gentle, white light, a beautiful light," she says.

BUT CHARACTER reversal doesn't undo collateral damage. I wrote so many steroid stories in the 1980s that his fraud is like salt in a wound. Through the SI cover story Mandarich indirectly abetted the growth of the steroid culture among young athletes, and his chemically induced strength and rage helped him humiliate many clean players he competed against.

"There's damage done," agrees Jim Irsay, the Colts' owner and a big fan of the Mandarich who played fairly well for Indianapolis. "But his story is one of the great stories of redemption. There was a massive price he paid. But it shows that everyone is salvageable. For you, well, everyone should remember that when you forgive, you become free."

Fine. But I'm still angry. I'm angry at George Perles too. Were there 15 steroid users on his bowl teams at Michigan State, as Mandarich alleges in his book? "Tony was a great player, a great kid, a great leader," Perles, a member of the school's board of trustees, says when I reach him. "I wouldn't know about steroids."

In 1989 Perles claimed Mandarich was strong because he ate so much and worked so hard. The former coach likewise is clueless about the drug tests Mandarich and his mates passed with ease. "The NCAA did all the testing," Perles says. "They're the ones you should talk to."

Better to hear Mandarich describe it: "[For] the Rose Bowl in 1988, we were tested two weeks before on campus, and then we heard there was going to be a second test [in Pasadena]. I'd already gotten back on Anadrol-50, a steroid which makes you significantly stronger within a day or two, and now I'm freaking. I'm in this large 24-hour store, about midnight, brainstorming, thinking how am I going to beat this test?

"In the pet area I see this rubber doggy squeaker toy. I get that, then I go to another area and get a small hose, and in the medical area I get some flesh-colored tape. I'm like the Unabomber getting supplies. Back home I rip the squeakers out of the toy, tape the hose into one end and experiment by filling the thing with water. At the Rose Bowl I taped the toy to my back, ran the hose between my butt cheeks, taped the end to my penis, and covered the hose tip with bubble gum. I had gotten some clean urine from somebody else. The tester stood behind me, couldn't see anything, and when I removed the gum everything worked fine."

At the Gator Bowl the following year Mandarich customized a squeezable glue bottle to replace the doggy toy. "A quarter twist of the cap, no leak, no moving parts—it was almost too easy," he says.

But that's all over now. At least for Mandarich. The steroid world keeps expanding, with testers lagging behind the cheats. I show him the SI article I wrote in 1988 with South Carolina football player Tommy Chaikin, in which Chaikin detailed his own steroid abuse. "I can relate to the mind racing," he says. "I can relate to the anxiety attacks. I can't relate to the near-suicidal part. I was much more homicidal than suicidal." He stops. "Really, Rick, I am sorry."

I have finished with my gentleman's 175 at Mountainside Fitness, same as two decades ago, and Mandarich has finished his iron work. When we join Char and her 14--year-old daughter, Ani, at a budget Chinese restaurant, I see that this modern family works well, that Tony is a sweet, self-deprecating guy. I ask Ani what she thinks of the big galoot in the sweat-stained Michigan State T-shirt and backwards cap. She says that she'll never abuse substances after hearing her stepfather's stories. That's good. It's a start for those of us who remember.

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