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This story appears in the Jan. 14, 2019, issue of Sports Illustrated. For more great storytelling and in-depth analysis, subscribe to the magazine—and get up to 94% off the cover price. Click here for more.

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His name is a parenting epithet. Overcoach your kid, get too excited about a touchdown or a home run or a goal, and you might hear it, even in jest: You're just like Marv Marinovich! Look at Marv Marinovich over here! The story is part of American lore, the ultimate in Sports Dad Goes Overboard. BRED TO BE A SUPERSTAR, read the Feb. 22, 1988, Sports Illustrated headline. And the subhead: Todd Marinovich was groomed from infancy to be a top-notch quarterback.

Infancy was not hyperbole. America's first test-tube athlete, they called Todd. The Robo QB. Marv stretched his son's hamstrings at one month old, and had him teething on frozen kidney and trying to lift medicine balls before he could walk. Marv used Eastern Bloc training methods and consulted as many as 13 experts, including biochemists and psychologists, to build his quarterback. Most famously, as SI wrote, Todd was the least 1980s child of the '80s: "He has never eaten a Big Mac or an Oreo or a Ding Dong."


From the SI Vault, Feb. 22, 1988: Bred to be a Superstar

Marv said he tried to create "the perfect environment" for "the healthiest possible child." Todd, then 18, gushed about how well it worked, telling SI, "There is no way somebody could be made to do all this stuff. I choose to do it." He did it, he said, because his goal was "actually to be the best quarterback who ever threw the ball." He told The New York Times, "I can remember asking my dad: 'What can I do to improve my performance? What would be the plan?'"

Todd became a USC starter and, in 1991, a Los Angeles Raiders first-round pick, rising just high enough for the country to notice his fall into drug addiction. Todd was arrested so often that once, when he returned to the James A. Musick minimum-security facility in Irvine, Calif., guards played the Welcome Back, Kotter theme song over the loudspeakers. Then they played the Raiders' march. Todd became a joke, and Marv a cautionary tale.

Well, now: Look at Marv Marinovich over here, sitting on a backyard patio in Mission Viejo, Calif. It is September 2018. He is 79. A woman hands him a Jamba Juice mixed-fruit smoothie and says, "You look good. Clean and fresh. Awesome!"

Then she asks, "What's my name? Do you know me?"

Eight seconds pass. Finally, Marv says, "Traci ... Catherine ... Marinovich."

He is correct. Traci is his oldest child. On her last visit, he thought she was his sister.

Marv, who spent most of his life avoiding fatty meats and refined sugars and processed anything, has Alzheimer's.

"You are on it today!" Traci says. "Woo! That's nice!"

She does not want to be here. It's not just because he is a shadow of a man now. She remembers the man he was. All he seemed to care about was Todd. He neglected his daughter on a good day and insulted her on a bad one.

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Each time she visits her father, Marv, Traci Marinovich shows him old family photos.

Each time she visits her father, Marv, Traci Marinovich shows him old family photos.

When Traci got married, in 1988, Marv refused to give her away, and he almost skipped the wedding. His objection: Her fiancé, Rick Grove, was not athletic enough. Marv wouldn't even shake his hand. "He is going to be a sad old man," Traci said then, but that is easy to say about a healthy young man. It's not so easy when he actually becomes a sad old man.

Traci has brought her father a watermelon, his favorite fruit. Marv taps it to make sure that it is ripe.

"I know how to choose 'em!" she says.

Marv takes a sip of the smoothie. Traci thinks her father loves her. But she says she "can count on one hand things that he's actually done for me." So why does she visit him every couple of weeks? It's not guilt. Duty, perhaps. This is the last obligation of an unspoken contract: He helped create her at the beginning, so she helps take care of him at the end.

She pulls out her phone and scrolls through old family photos. She does this on every visit. It gives them something to discuss.

She shows her father a photo.

"Who are those two people?" she asks.

Seven seconds pass. Nothing.

"Do you know who they are?"

"No," Marv says.

It is a picture of Marv and Todd.

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The end shrinks us all. When Marv wants to stand, he needs assistance. When he opens his mouth, only a few words tumble out. He cannot bathe himself. He has no control over when or where he defecates. Sometimes he sits on a couch for hours listening to jazz or 1940s music from his childhood. His primary caregiver at the assisted-living facility, Leo Cambio, says, "If you leave him in one place, he'll stay there forever."

His decline started in earnest a decade ago. Todd knew something was wrong when Marv started calling him Todd. For years they had called each other by the nickname Buzzy. And for years Todd had carried heavy guilt—his father had done everything imaginable to help him succeed, and Todd had blown it all. Marv's disease affected Todd in a most unexpected way: As Marv's memories disappeared, some of Todd's came back. Marv had been such an overwhelming presence in Todd's life that he needed to be diminished before his son could truly face him. Todd says it "wasn't a conscious decision. But it sure makes f------ sense."

Since 2015, Todd has gone to trauma therapy, group therapy and individual therapy. He needed all of it because his entire life was built on a lie.

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Todd remembers the sound of teeth falling on the floor. He was in sixth grade, playing one-on-one basketball against an 11th-grader at a community center in Huntington Beach, Calif. The older kid was banging pretty hard.

"You're not going to let him get away with it!" Marv barked.

"Get away with what?" the other kid said.

Marv ordered them to stop playing and start fighting. Todd was not shocked. He had been boxing, against his wishes, since elementary school; Marv enjoyed putting kids in the ring with his son.

This time Todd got in a few jabs. A crowd started watching. A bystander stepped in with a racquetball racket to break it up, but Marv did not believe in breaking up fights. He believed in winning them.

"You better back the f--- up!" Marv yelled.

The guy said, "What are you going to do, old man?"

So Marv knocked his teeth out.

Todd remembers, out of the corner of his eye, seeing those teeth flying, "like a cartoon," and he remembers the sound of them falling, and he remembers Marv grabbing him and running to their Volkswagen together and speeding away, and ... God, car rides were excruciating. If somebody cut them off, Marv would scream, and Todd would pray the other driver did not pull over, because Marv might beat the crap out of the guy. Give Marv the finger and Marv would break it.

Marv could get into a fistfight anywhere. Marv beat up people at Todd's football, basketball and baseball games. Marv threw a female neighbor over a fence. Marv once picked up his wife, Trudi, Todd's mom, and threw her across a room onto a dining room table.

Todd Marinovich was a star in high school but he was secretly dealing with the fury of his father.

Todd Marinovich was a star in high school but he was secretly dealing with the fury of his father.

Perfect environment? Heading back from games and practices, with Marv driving and Todd riding shotgun, Marv would hit his son's face repeatedly—with an open hand, so he did not injure his own knuckles. The next morning, when Trudi climbed in the driver's seat, she could barely see through the windshield because it was covered with Marv's dried spit.

"A raging beast," Todd now says of his father, but he didn't dare say it then. He never told his mother or his sister that Marv hit him. Instead, he surveyed his childhood home, the fury of his father and the worries of his mother and the emotional abandonment of his sister, and Todd convinced himself, before he even turned 10: The only one who can fix this is me. I just have to play better.

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Todd remembers when he started lying. He was in elementary school. His maternal grandparents would feed him Big Macs and Oreos and Ding Dogs and other junk food. At lunchtime he traded fruit for Cheetos whenever he could. On Halloween, Marv stayed home while his kids went trick-or-treating. Todd lied about eating the candy. He was terrified of what Marv would do if he found out.

Todd was too young to understand that a lie is not an object at rest. A lie is a liquid that oozes everywhere: first around the neighborhood, and then onto the pages of the local newspaper and into every mailbox that receives Sports Illustrated. He says now, "I had no idea what a freak show they would make the whole diet thing." But he felt he had no choice.

"I was in fear," he says. "Am I going to tell the truth to a writer and go home and deal with Marv? That's a f------ no-brainer."

Todd's lie about sticking to his dad's diet led to a bigger lie: that Marv and Todd were a team ... partners ... doing what they both wanted—that Todd wanted the "perfect environment" to become a world-class quarterback.

That lie was an ocean. It was such a constant in Todd's life that Todd was drowning and never realized he was wet. There were truths inside the lie. He wanted to play football but hated the relentless training. He wanted time with his dad but dreaded the abuse. He clung to those truths and tried to ride the lie to safety.

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"O.K.," Traci tells Marv, "this is one of my all-time favorite pictures."

She hands him the phone.

"That is your first wife, my mother," she says. "Your senior year at USC, right after the senior year awards banquet ... see this trophy?"

Marv looks at the photo. The trophy meant so much to him that it survived 10 moves over more than 50 years; he kept it in four houses, three apartments, a condo and a townhome, as far east as St. Louis and as far west as Hawaii. It finally broke a year or two ago, at an assisted-living facility.

If Marv recognizes it now, he doesn't say.

Traci says, "That is the one that says USC MOST INSPIRATIONAL PLAYER, voted by your teammates."

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Todd remembers being a kid and looking at Marv and thinking, My father is a good person.

He had reasons to believe that. When Marv was a St. Louis Cardinals assistant, he set up a special light system so the league's only deaf player, Bonnie Sloan, could read his lips in film sessions. As a performance trainer in the 1970s and '80s he treated black athletes like family, even inviting some of the players on his own family's vacations. In an era when Title IX was anathema to many men in athletics, Marv preferred working with girls. He said they had smaller egos and tried harder.

Yes: If you were a progressive parent of a feisty young girl in the '80s, you wanted to take her to Marv.

He might not even charge you. Todd saw it all the time. Marv would train kids for free as long as they worked. This is what people got so wrong about Marv: They thought he was the most extreme stage parent, determined to create an NFL star. And Todd would think: No, they have it wrong. It is one point upon which everybody in the family agrees.

The truth: Marv wasn't obsessed with Todd's being a first-round pick, or even a pro. He didn't even really care if Todd played quarterback. Marv knew one way to live, through sports, and his son would commit to that way completely. Nothing else was acceptable. His interest was not financial. It was scientific. Art runs through the family DNA—Marv's grandmother Nell Brink was a painter, and Todd still believes Marv "could have been a world-renowned sculptor, without a doubt, if that's what he wanted to do." But all Marv wanted to mold was athletes, and Todd was his favorite piece of clay.

So if Marv was a good person, selflessly devoted to his pupils and far more devoted to Todd than to anybody else, then when Marv erupted, Todd could only logically blame one person: Todd.

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Traci shows Marv more pictures.

"Look at that one," she says. "You're handsome there!"

For a long time, she rarely saw him. They only talked two or three times a year. Well, why would they? He had always treated her as an afterthought. Marv married Trudi, a swimmer whose brother was a USC quarterback, partly to create an athletic family. ("It's very sick," Traci says. "I'm trying to tell you the facts.") Traci played golf, and basketball and ran track in high school, but she wasn't his kind of athlete, totally devoted.

Marv could be warm toward Traci, and he had a loving nickname for her (Tootsie Wootsie), but he never tried to get close. Everybody in her immediate family went to USC, but only Traci graduated. She was the flag-bearer for the School of Education. Marv skipped the ceremony.

Even as he faded, and the sharp edges of his personality dulled, there were still signs of the old Marv. He'd sit on her couch and say, "You're gaining a lot of weight there, Tootsie Wootsie."

Four years ago she went to visit her father for the first time in years; he was living in Santa Cruz, and she happened to be in Northern California for work. Marv's brother, Gary, told her, "Traci, he can't remember anything." Traci thought, I really don't want to take care of him. But she knew she would.


"My brother can't do this," she says. "He can't wait in the Social Security office. He's been coddled his whole life. He doesn't know how to do these things."

Coddled. Now there is a word you don't hear often about Todd Marinovich. But try to see what Traci saw: Todd never had to do chores. Traci did. When Todd switched high schools, the family moved closer to his new one, leaving Traci with a two-hour bus commute to her old one. Todd never had a job. Traci worked at a crafts shop and later at Ruby's Diner. Todd got a football scholarship. Traci still pays $400 a month in student debt.

It's actually not hard to see Todd as coddled. You just have to dip your toes in the lie. You have to believe, as Traci did, that Todd and Marv were a team ... partners ... doing what they both wanted....

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The deeper the lie got, and the wider it spread, the harder Todd swam. I am the only one who can fix this. At Marv's behest, Todd transferred from Mater Dei to Capistrano Valley High and became a top recruit. His big plan to please Marv by playing better was not working—he kept playing better and Marv was never pleased. So Todd adjusted his plans. He decided he just had to make it through high school.

Marv and Trudi split up in 1985. During Todd's senior year at Capo Valley, Marv and his new partner, Jan, had a son. They named him Mikhail. Marv would do with him as he had with Todd. Todd told The Seattle Times, "I think it's great. Mikhail is very lucky. I know I couldn't have done what I've done without all the help my father gave me."

The truth was that Todd worried for Mikhail. Todd, a natural introvert, had started smoking pot to ease his anxiety in social settings. When he left for USC, he thought: Finally. I escaped.


Escaped what, though? Marv went to every Trojans practice. Todd earned the starting job as a redshirt freshman, but the more successful he was, the more people paid attention, and people scared him. Fear had become so ingrained in him that he needed it to feel alive. Without the fear, what was he? All the way through college, he found himself coasting at the start of games, emotionally detached, until a defender crunched him. The pain reminded him he was in a fight.

After that first hit, he played his ass off.

Then, that night, he partied his ass off.

Then, the next morning, he woke up with the fear again.

He was overwhelmed by the challenge of being Todd Marinovich. "I didn't have the tools," he says. "I did not know how." He had been trained for one thing: football. He hated classes. He had no concept of personal responsibility. He had been coached more than anybody else on the team, since birth, yet he was the definition of uncoachable.


Todd remembers sitting in USC coach Larry Smith's office. For a time, theirs was the most discussed coach-player squabble in America: Todd, the uncontrollable child prodigy, whose drug use was an open secret on campus, against Smith, the stern Bo Schembechler protégé.

Smith was no expert on drugs, but they were invading his professional and personal lives. When he took the USC job his daughter, Ali, was a sophomore in high school, and she began drinking and smoking pot. Smith's daughter and his quarterback were both sinking into addiction, and he couldn't stop either.

But when Todd looked at Larry, he didn't see Ali Smith's father. He didn't even see the Trojans' coach. He saw Marv. Every authority figure was Marv. Later, he would get drafted by the Raiders, his dad's old team and Todd would look at owner Al Davis and see Marv, look at coach Art Shell and see Marv, and eventually he would look at police officers and prison guards and parole officers and see Marv, Marv, Marv....

"Todd," Smith said in his office, "what do you want to do?"

They were discussing academics.

"I want to do art," Todd said.

"Then why don't you do art?" Smith asked.

Todd became a fine arts major and loved it. For the first time, he enjoyed school. He found photo-realism banal; the whole point of painting was to create, not replicate. Todd was drawn to paintings that burst with color, that did not seem precise or carefully planned, that looked like they just flowed spontaneously out of the artist.


This is who he was. But it was not who he was raised to be. Todd kept acting like he and his father were a team ... partners ... doing what they both wanted. He repeated the lie so often that it came more easily than telling the truth. It made sense to him until he joined the Raiders, with a $2.25 million contract, the culmination of his precise and carefully planned athletic career, and he felt empty.

"They say in our society, If you reach this, you'll be happy," Todd says. "I was miserable, but couldn't tell you why. Everything around me is falling apart. I have a bank account, millions of dollars, and that's not making it better. What the f--- is wrong with me?"

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Traci turns to Cambio.

"Have you been able to try any of the art?" she asks. She wants Marv to draw or paint, to keep his brain's embers burning a little longer.

"We've even put little items in front of him," Cambio says. "Perhaps a pen. He won't do anything. We've tried morning, nights, depending on the day. He just won't do it."

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Todd remembers when he decided to get clean. He had repeatedly failed in his attempts at adulthood. His first fiancée left when she saw him pull out a crack pipe on his birthday. Then Todd met Alix Bambas in drug court, married her, and in 2009, she gave birth to their son, Baron.

In the past Todd only went to rehab because he had been sent—first by the Raiders, then by the legal system. He never tried on his own. Now was the time—for Baron.

He was startled to find he couldn't get sober, or when he did, he couldn't stay sober. Staying sober meant living a normal, responsible life, and Todd says, "I missed Human Being 101. I was anesthetizing, covering up the very vitals of me being human."

In 2010, Todd's best childhood friend, Marco (Coski) Forster, died of a heroin overdose. Forster had been clean for nine years—so much longer than Todd ever was—and drugs still got him. Todd was a wreck. Forget about getting sober himself. He lost his faith in the entire concept of sobriety.


The next year, on the one-year anniversary of Forster's death, Alix gave birth to a girl. They named her Coski, but call her Coco. Now Todd had two reasons to get clean, and still he couldn't do it.

Todd had tried talking to his father about his childhood once, a few years earlier. Marv sobbed and said he did not recall what Todd recalled. Then he said, "I'll check with your sister." Traci backed up Todd. It was the last time Todd brought it up with Marv, because what was the point?

He and Marv were a team ... partners ... doing what they both wanted. Todd screwed it all up by taking drugs.

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It is the summer of 2017. Todd has toted his father around for years, figuratively, and now he is doing it physically, moving him from one facility to another to give him care that the family cannot really afford.

Even Marv's best quality, his apathy about money, is now hurting his children. Marv gets $1,260.20 in Social Security and $44.05 per month in pension from the NFL. (He played one game, for the Raiders, in 1965.) The Marinoviches get some help from a few athletes who have trained with Marv, including former Steelers All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu. But paying bills is a monthly struggle.

Todd has turned to his real passion, creating art, as a way to make a living.

Todd has turned to his real passion, creating art, as a way to make a living.

Todd is trying to make a living as an artist, to be true to himself. But how? Don't responsible adults take care of their ailing parents? Todd does some commissioned work for clients, but it stirs old feelings of needing to please somebody else: "I can't say no to this person because I need to pay this bill."

This is real life. But Todd Marinovich is not good at real life. He is in his late 40s, divorced with two kids. He and Alix (who did not respond to an interview request) are both struggling with addiction; Baron and Coco mostly live with Alix's parents. Todd is continually vexed by everyday responsibilities that most people master in their 20s. Marv needs somebody to manage prescriptions, deal with insurance companies and pay bills on time. Todd is a lousy candidate, Mikhail is in the Bay Area and hasn't seen Marv in years, and Traci is tired of doing it.

Todd starts working as a volunteer coach for the SoCal Coyotes, a semipro football team, but the starting quarterback gets hurt. Soon Todd is wearing a helmet. The Robo QB is back! Traci has no patience for it. She will say later: "I ignored that whole thing. Who cares? What is he doing? Get a real job."


This is what he is doing: Testing himself. Todd thinks, I've never played sober before. Of course, he has played games sober. But he has not been sober for a season since he turned 15. Now he wants to answer a question he was not even equipped to ask before: Do I like football?

Marv is in the stands, but he is not the hovering Marv of Todd's youth; he is diminished, addled by his disease. This Marv does not scare Todd. When Todd looks to the sideline, he is no longer fooled. He sees his coaches' faces, not Marv's.

In the first game he ever played for himself, 48-year-old Todd Marinovich throws seven touchdown passes. His team wins 73--0. It is semipro ball. He knows that. But it reminds him of what he has always known: He could have had a hell of a career if he had lived a different life.

And now he doesn't care anymore. He had fun. There is his answer: He likes football. He quits after one game and takes Baron and Coco on vacation to southern Oregon. Todd finds himself out of nicotine juice to vape, so he stops in a shop, and look what sneaks up on him: Weed for sale.

He did not expect this. But it's Oregon in 2017. Recreational marijuana is legal. He thinks: Well, it's right here.

But he knows: Don't do it.

Do ... not ... do ... it.

He knows the drugs will not lead to happiness. He stopped kidding himself long ago. Even when he is his palest, weakest, most desperate and impulsive version of himself, he knows: Drugs will not work. Thirty years ago, he thought getting high was fun, but now he knows better. If he buys the pot, his body will demand something stronger, and it will be agony, and maybe he will get arrested and make headlines and sneak into our consciousness again, and we will laugh at him and judge his father again. If he buys the pot, more humiliation awaits, more pain, more separation from his family and his true self....

He buys the pot.

Addiction is such a snake.

Todd smokes the pot, and immediately, he feels disconnected from the world.