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Stampede Blue interviews Tony Mandarich

Tony Mandarich, former #2 overall pick in 1989 draft

Many of you read MasterRWayne's article on Tony Mandarich last week. His article was prompted by all the news and buzz circulating around Tony Mandarich's two part interview on Showtime's Inside the NFL. Part one aired last week, and on the show Tony admitted to taking steroids at Michigan State. He maintained he did not take steroids in the pros, but he did continue the self-destructive cycle he'd gotten caught up in when in high school and college. This cycle was one of drugs, alcohol, and pain killers. Part two of the Showtime interview, which airs this evening, will cover his sobriety and his second chance at football with the Indianapolis Colts. Tony retired from football in 1998, and has a photography and media business. Tony also has a blog for his business (a smart move, but then again I'm a bit biased).

Last week, Tony was kind enough to sit down with me and discuss his new book (My Dirty Little Secrets - Steroids, Alcohol & God - The Tony Mandarich Story), his Showtime interview, his dark years struggling with drug and alcohol dependency, and his playing career with the Packers and Colts. 

You can read the interview with Tony on the flip. Special thanks to him for granting his time, and to Sharon Shaw Elrod for her efforts to set up the interview. As a teaser, here is one quick answer from Tony that we both laughed over:

BBS: What was it like to play with a then-rookie Peyton Manning in 1998?

Tony Mandarich: [Laughs] Well, with Peyton it was chasing down a lot of interceptions [laughs again].

Full interview on the flip. Enjoy.

BBS: Let's talk about the book real quick. Why did you write the book, and what message are you trying to send in writing the book?

Tony Mandarich: Well I… you know, when I retired from Indy in 98-99, I started writing the book just on my own and-

BBS: So you've been writing it for a while now?

Tony Mandarich: Well, I started it, and then in the process of starting to write the book I was getting feelers from publishers and stuff like that, and a lot of the feedback I was getting back was: Don’t bother writing it because there is not much interest. It is an old story, yadda, yadda. So, then I stopped. And then 5 years later, which would have been 5 years ago, I started it again and put feelers out to see if there was any interest. And, again, there wasn’t. I thought there might be because of all the baseball stuff going on, and there wasn’t. So I figured, ok well maybe this book is never supposed to come out. And I just won’t write it. And then my co-author, Sharon Shaw Elrod, she heard my story and she said, You have to get this out because it is going to help so many people. She basically became the driving force behind it. I spent hours and hours, days, and weeks with her talking about all the stories, from the good to the bad. She started breaking it down into segments and chapters. We tried again to get a publisher, like Penguin, or Simon and Schuster, or a tier one publisher to take it, and none were interested. So, we decided we can either do self publishing or we can take it to a tier two publisher. And that’s what we ended up doing. We took it to a tier two, and it was sold within 24 hours. I hope the book is successful because I want it to help a lot of people. That is the main motivation. It is a cautionary tale for athletes, whether they are Pop Warner, high school, college, or pro. It is a warning about steroids. It is a warning about drug and alcohol abuse, painkillers. On the other hand, as far as people that are alcoholics or drug addicts that have nothing to do with sports, if they compare the comparisons and not look at the fact that I was a football player, they should be able to relate and hopefully it will help those people at least see the light and kind of say, Hey, you know what, that makes sense. I can relate to that to that. And, then get the help for themselves.

BBS: Ok, if you will permit me for a moment, I am going to put on my cynical hat. My cynical hat is this: A lot of fans might think your book, on face value (not reading it) is you trying to profit from your years of substance abuse in college and with the Green Bay Packers. You spoke about this somewhat in your Showtime interview, and specifically referenced Jose Canseco's book on the baseball steroids scandal. You did not have kind words for Canseco or his book. Could you address this notion that some might think that you are "pulling a Canseco" with this book, trying to potentially profit off your dark years.

Tony Mandarich: You know, I would say if that was my motivation, if that was my sole motivation like it was with Jose, and had dollar signs in my eyes, I would have named names. Because that kind of controversy sells big time. Now, this book will sell because I think it is an interesting story and so do a lot of people. But, if my real motivation was just the dollars and to see what I get at the end of the day, I could have named a lot of people at different levels of sport and created lots of controversy. But that is not my motivation. My motivation is to help people. And to kind of say: Listen, these are the mistakes I made. You don’t have to make them. If you read this, it is a warning. This is the path I took. I thought I was bullet proof. But, the stuff brought me to my knees and almost killed me.

BBS: Let me do a follow-up question on this. If you would have named names in this book, would a tier one publisher have published the book?

Tony Mandarich: Absolutely. Because when we were selling the proposal, or when we had put the proposal together for the book, we said that it was a "tell all." Well once they read the proposal, they were like, Well you say it is a tell all but all you do is tell everything about yourself. You don’t talk about other players. And I said, very candidly, I will not name other players. I’m not going to do a Jose Canseco style book. And they were pretty much, Thank you very much. We aren’t interested. So, I could have gotten a few hundred thousand dollars up front from a tier one publisher for that, but that is not my motivation. My motivation is long term with this thing to help people.


Tony Mandarich, post-football
Photo: Mandarich Media

BBS: Your three year career with the Colts was your second chance, and like many Colts fans I have fond memories of your career with them. And at the time, you were drug, alcohol, and steroid free. Why the Colts? Did they approach you? Did you approach them? What was the process to play for them?

Tony Mandarich: Well , at 11 months sober I decided... well, I mean, I decided much earlier than that, but at 11 months sober I was ready to try to break back into the NFL by trying to get some workouts. And the Philadelphia Eagles said, listen, we have a scout flying through Cleveland on his way back to Philly. And if you want to drive to Cleveland and work out for him, we will take a look. I was just grateful for that after all the nonsense I had created in Green Bay. I was happy that someone would even at least take a look at me. I drove down seven hours to Cleveland and worked out for this scout in a community college gymnasium and had a very good workout. Then, he went back to Philly and the next day Philadelphia called and said, we want to fly you out so you can talk to the coach and work you out again. So, I said sure! Well once that news spread internally in the NFL, Indianapolis called and said we would like to fly you out – now, I think Philly said we want to fly you out next week- and Indy said we want to fly you out as soon as possible. So, I think two days later, I was on a flight to Indy. I worked out for them and had a very good workout. And they offered me a two year deal, right then and there.

BBS: So, when you were clean and sober, did you love playing football? Is there anything you miss about football now?

Tony Mandarich: I absolutely loved it. And I love Indy. It is a great town. It’s a great organization. [In Indianapolis] I always felt football took second and third fiddle to basketball and racing. But, you know, after playing there, I’m not so sure. And then, obviously, after I left now they’ve really become-

BBS: Football is now first tier, I have to say.

Tony Mandarich: Right. They’re huge! They won the Super Bowl. I absolutely loved playing there. And it was a great experience. It was really my first experience playing football without steroids, or any kind of drugs or alcohol, or painkillers since I was in high school. So I think when I got to Indy, I was 29 years old. So, when I was 29, the last time I’d played 100% drug free was when I was 16 or 17 years old. And, it was fantastic. You miss game day because it is awesome. And then you miss the camaraderie with the guys, whether it is weight room stuff or just locker room stuff, hanging around. It is something you can’t duplicate in the real world, or at least I haven’t found anything that has duplicated that.

BBS: Your first season with the Colts was 1996, and your last with them was 1998. In 96, the Colts had a then-rookie WR named Marvin Harrison. And, in '98, they had a then-rookie QB named Peyton Manning. What was it like playing with those guys when they were rookies?

Tony Mandarich: [Laughs] Well, with Peyton it was chasing down a lot of interceptions [laughs again]. But, you know, I say that tongue-in-cheek because everybody knew he was going to be awesome. And he was a very good player his rookie year. It is just it is a different system. Quarterback is one of the hardest positions to learn in the NFL. And he obviously made the adjustment because he is going to be a legend and already a Hall of Famer. Marvin: When I first saw Marvin, I could not believe how skinny he was, and he was a receiver. And I thought to myself, my God, this guy is going to get killed on the field! And, you know, he’s elusive. You never really see him take a huge shot. He always can duck and kind of miss that huge shot. And that is one of the things that have helped him with longevity. To think that those two guys when they came in and that would end up being part of the big three ones, which Edgerrin [James] was there for a big part of that. Dallas had the Big 3. And then Indianapolis had the Big 3. But when they won the Super Bowl, Edge was already gone. But Joseph Addai obviously, really in my opinion, they didn’t miss a beat with him. But it was really neat, once I retired, to watch these guys mature and become these guys that are going to be Hall of Famers.

BBS: If a young NFL player with problems similar to yours when you were a young player approached you today, asking you advice on what he should do, what advice would you give him?

Tony Mandarich: I would say to start cleaning up right away. If I had a player that said, Listen, I’m addicted to painkillers and we are in Week 5 of NFL season. So, I’m going to wait till the end of the season to clean up and tell my coaches. I would say, you know what, football is a game. Even though you get paid millions of dollars this is your life we are talking about. It’s not about money. What good is your money to you if you are dead. I would say get honest with your doctors. Get honest with your trainers. Get honest with your coaches. And it doesn’t have to be a public affair. And get help right away. Because the sooner you cut this off and the sooner you get healthier, the better it is going to be for everybody.