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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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TONY MANDARICH and I are in a crowded weight room in Scottsdale, Ariz., barbells clanging, people grunting, mirrors reflecting. You'll excuse me if I feel severe déjà vu. Two decades ago, in the spring of 1989, we were in a gym like this one—same sounds, same vibes—doing essentially the same thing: He was lifting, I was watching and writing and occasionally doing a little lifting of my own. ¶ That first time was at the Powerhouse Gym in East Lansing, near the Michigan State campus. Mandarich was a ripped 6'6", 315-pound senior All-America offensive tackle, the only college player ever to be named to John Madden's All-Madden team.

I was benching a gentleman's 175; he was benching 540. He would soon be the second pick of the 1989 NFL draft, taken by the Green Bay Packers just after the Dallas Cowboys chose Troy Aikman, but before Barry Sanders went to the Detroit Lions, Derrick Thomas to the Kansas City Chiefs and Deion Sanders to the Atlanta Falcons. Those four are, or will be, in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Mandarich is attempting to emerge from the hall of shame.

"Why can't I do what Arnold did?" he asked me back in the day, do-rag on his head, Appetite for Destruction by Guns n' Roses blasting from his car speakers. "Bodybuilding. Movies. All of it. I want to be Cyborg III."

Now, having agreed to meet me again, two decades later, he says quietly, "Unbelievable the way time has gone by." He pauses. "I'm sorry, Rick. The phrase I was wrong was not in my vocabulary back then. But I was wrong. I conned you. I lied to you about not using steroids. I was a jackass. I don't want to be like that anymore."

What had come out of our session in 1989 was my April 24 cover story for Sports Illustrated entitled The Incredible Bulk, with SI's editors declaring Mandarich the best offensive line prospect ever. In Gregory Heisler's cover shot, Mandarich posed bare-chested against the setting sun, a sun that was, in retrospect, going down symbolically on an age of innocence.

Mandarich, a chemical monster with 22-inch biceps, was not only taking steroids but also injecting other workout freaks around the gym, who called him the Doctor. He lifted weights almost nonstop, recovering swiftly from workouts because of the juice, and he developed ingenious if not comical ways to beat the amateurish college drug tests he was obliged to take.

Mandarich's NFL career would be a dud; he played three seasons for the Packers and, after a four-year layoff, three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, starting a total of 63 games. Along the way he did two things: He quit using steroids because he feared getting caught by the NFL's testing, and he flowered into an alcoholic and a painkiller junkie. The renunciation of steroids cost him his beef. The addictions cost him his dignity.

Now clean, sober and juiceless, he tells the whole story in a new book, My Dirty Little Secrets—Steroids, Alcohol & God: The Tony Mandarich Story, to be released this month by Modern History Press. "At the age of 42 I have developed a conscience," he writes.

That's nice. But he lied to me. Lied to everybody. He gamed the system to his advantage. I knew he was using steroids (he now admits he also used human growth hormone), but all I could do was hint at my suspicions. I used the word drugs in the first sentence of that story, even if only referring to the large quantities of caffeine Mandarich downed before lifting. I called him "the man from tomorrow" and an "offensive-tackle creature."

He had never flunked a drug test, I heard over and over. He was defended by his parents; his older brother, John, now deceased but then a nosetackle for the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League; the Michigan State head coach, George Perles; the Spartans' strength coach, Dave Henry; several teammates; and by his agent, Vern Sharbaugh.

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