The man from tomorrow is taking his drugs. Six-six, 315-pound Tony Mandarich, dense as a black hole, sits at a counter at the Powerhouse Gym, in East Lansing, Mich., on a March afternoon and wires up on caffeine. First he drinks a 16-ounce bottle of Super Tea, a potion which, according to its label, contains 340 calories and "maximum caffeine." Then he downs 32 ounces of coffee. His knees bounce. His fingers drum. His hands slap time to the heavy metal mayhem of the band Guns n' Roses, blasting out of the ceiling speakers. This is his favorite tape, and it goes wherever he goes—home, car, weight rooms, anywhere—and it gets played whenever he wants it played. Believe that.
He puts on his bandanna do-rag. He rubs Icy Hot liniment on his shoulders. He tapes his wrists. He peels off his All-Madden Team sweatshirt (he's the only player ever to make the announcer's NFL all-star squad while still in college) to reveal a cutoff T-shirt that reads,——THE NCAA. He took a Vivarin tablet a while ago—200 milligrams of caffeine—and with the tea and coffee kicking in, he's getting the edge now.
He puts his baseball cap on backward, the way Guns n' Roses lead singer W. Axl Rose does, on top of the do-rag. A gold crucifix dangles between the pectorals of his 54-inch chest like a coin between two pigs.
"You're——ing crazy!" screeches W. Axl while the lead guitar melts down. The feeling in this gym, a converted disco that has the front end of a school bus sticking out of one wall, is intensity.
April 23, 1989
"If you're not going to be intense," says the 22-year-old Mandarich as he rises to move some heavy metal, "why come in?"
Or why show up on an opposing defensive line if you have to play against this offensive-tackle creature who lifts weights each morning and again each night, eats seven meals totaling between 12,000 and 15,000 calories every day and plans to be Mr. Universe when he retires from pro football?
Mandarich is about to establish a couple of firsts. If, as expected, the Dallas Cowboys—who pick first in this year's NFL draft—take UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman, the Green Bay Packers will snatch Mandarich next. That will almost certainly make him the highest paid offensive lineman ever, as well as the highest-drafted Canadian-born player in NFL history.
Mandarich is so unusual that the Spartan coaching staff didn't keep the normal statistics on him last season, those pedestrian categories for offensive linemen such as "got man" or "missed assignment." They kept "pancakes" (opponents flattened) and "off the film" (players driven out of the camera's view) and "no mas" (defenders who quit against him). Last season in the Purdue game, Mandarich had 7 PAN's, 5 OTF's, and 2 NM's. Against Wisconsin he had 10 PAN's, 3 OTF's and 1 NM. Against Ohio State he had 10 PAN's, 4 OTF's, 3 NM's. The Michigan State coaching staff also kept a record of quarterback sacks and quarterback harassments allowed. Mandarich went 0 for 88 in those categories. In 1987 after driving a would-be Northwestern tackier 20 yards into the end zone and then grinding him into the turf, Mandarich stood over the player and ordered, "Now stay there!" Sound advice.
With his size, speed and attack-and-obliterate style of play, Mandarich has broken new ground for offensive linemen, as well as for the game of football as we know it. Either that or he has set civilization back a thousand years.
"As a junior he could have started on any of our Super Bowl teams," says Michigan State head coach George Perles, who was a defensive coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers when they won four Super Bowl championships in the 1970s. "He may be the best offensive tackle ever. He's certainly the best since the game changed the blocking rules. Before that, you had to play without your arms, and it didn't matter how strong your bench press was. [Mandarich has pressed 545 pounds.] He's faster than any offensive lineman in pro football. There's probably nobody faster in the world at his weight. This is a different player. We'll never have another."
Some people hope that is the case. They claim Mandarich is a walking shrine to steroid abuse. "I played against a guy who was an average offensive tackle [in 1986] who then went from 270 pounds to 300 pounds in one year and became an awesome offensive tackle," says a veteran Big Ten defensive player who competed against Mandarich and wants to remain anonymous. "He had pimples down his arms and was next to bald." Acne and baldness are potential side effects of steroid use.
One Big Ten assistant coach, who does not want to be identified, says in exasperation, "We've been hearing about him so long, we're sick of it. We all know what's going on. Pro scouts come in and ask me about Mandarich. I tell them, but they don't care. It's really sad he's getting so much publicity."
Well, in this country you're innocent until proven guilty, and Mandarich has passed the three drug tests he has taken in his career—one before the 1988 Rose Bowl, one before the 1989 Gator Bowl, one at the NFL-sponsored scouting combine he briefly attended in Indianapolis last February. He will be tested again, as will all NFL players, at training camp this summer.
Mandarich vigorously denies ever having used muscle-enhancing drugs, a position defended by his parents, his older brother, John—a nosetackle for the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League—Michigan State strength coach Dave Henry, Perles and several of his teammates.
"Everybody now has become an authority on steroid 'looks,' " says Perles. "This guy's so big, everybody says, Uh-oh. And they accuse him because of that. But nobody works the way he does. Nobody eats the way he does."
"No one's ever seen a guy who's six-six, 320, who can move, who can abuse people," says Mandarich. "People everywhere would love for me to be on steroids. They'd love for me to get arrested going 120 miles an hour, drunk, with steroids in my glove compartment."
Mandarich's lifting partner at the Powerhouse is nearly as intense as Mandarich. His name is Rob (Buck) Smith, and he's a junior at Michigan State and decidedly not a football player. Smith stands 5'4", weighs 185 pounds, and shaves and tans his body for competitive bodybuilding. His muscles are big, but next to Mandarich he looks like a flea. Mandarich has been through two dozen lifting partners in college, none of whom could keep up with him, and he says of Smith, who has been training with him since last November, "I'd rather lift with a little guy who's intense and crazy than with a dork who's my size and a puss."
The two scream obscenities at each other as they pump rack after rack of iron. During a break Smith says, "Everybody's looking for the easy way out. But how many guys squat till they puke? We do. I mean it. We go to the breaking point and beyond. People don't understand." Once, Smith says, after a workout the two of them had to lie on the floor for 10 minutes because they couldn't walk.
It is spring break at MSU and the gym is uncrowded. "All the fat——ers are in Florida now," snarls Mandarich during leg curls.
He doesn't like fat, and that's why he's revolutionizing the offensive line position. Offensive linemen have taken beatings for years, he points out; they have let the defensive players run over them and let the advertisers run away from them. They are soft and smooth and shaped like pears. "But I don't want to be a fat——like 90 percent of the NFL," says Mandarich. "I want to be a football player who looks like a bodybuilder. I want to look like a defensive end. For self-esteem. If I look like a slob, I'll play like one."
He also wants to be multifaceted and famous. "Why can't I do what Arnold did?" he asks. "Bodybuilding. Movies. All of it. I want to be Cyborg III."
Doesn't all that suggest Steroids I?
"No, I've never used them, and let's eave it at that," he says. But it's not a subject that can be dismissed so quickly.
"There's nothing I can do," Mandarich says in frustration, "except to ask how many people work like I do? How many people have the frame I have? How many people have parents like mine? How many people weighed 13 pounds when they were born?"
"You gotta see his parents before you make any decisions about him," says Mandarich's agent, Vern Sharbaugh, of Cleveland.
Here are Vic and Donna Mandarich now, standing in the foyer of their house in Oakville, Ont., just southwest of Toronto. Vic, 59, a laborer at a Mack Truck assembly plant, is good-sized, 6'1", 210 pounds. But Donna, a gentle and smiling housewife, is a woman on a grand scale. According to Tony, his mother goes 5'11", 240 pounds. But more impressive than Mrs. Mandarich's height and weight is her regal bone structure, the impressive shoulders and limbs clearly passed along to her younger son.
"Tony's built just like Mom," says 27-year-old John, who is 6'4", 270 pounds. "Tony would wrestle her at 13, and she would pick him up and just slam him. It amazed him."
Donna Mandarich brings out photos of relatives on both sides of the family, proving that size comes with the tribe. Here are two nieces, each 6'2". There is barechested Uncle Dinko, 6'4", 300-plus pounds, watching a sheep being barbecued at a family picnic.
The Mandariches are tough as well as big. Vic and Donna escaped the Communist regime of Yugoslavia in 1957, stealing barefoot through the woods at midnight in pouring rain before fording a stream and entering Austria. They made their way to Canada, where they were eventually granted citizenship.
On the wall of the Mandarich living room is a map of independent Croatia, a state that existed for just four years, from 1941 to 1945, before it was swallowed up by postwar Yugoslavia. The ruined promise of that short-lived country is a constant reminder to the senior Mandariches of life's harshness. "Communism!" Vic fairly spits. "It is very bad. Over there, 10 families would live in a house like this."
There are pictures or icons of the Virgin Mary in almost every room of the Mandarich house. When Vic visited the MSU campus with Tony on a recruiting trip, his only concern, recalls Perles, was to be sure there was a Catholic church close by.
The senior Mandariches would be shattered if they learned that their baby Tony was a steroid user. "I told him, 'You know I give my life to you,' " says Donna, solemnly. " 'But if you ever try drugs, I wish you never come home.' "
In mid-March, Mandarich dropped out of Michigan State and moved to the Los Angeles area, where he hoped to concentrate on working out with his weight-lifting mentor, the reigning Mr. America, Rory Leidelmeyer. Mandarich likes Los Angeles, he says, because "that's where all the things I want are—Hollywood, the weather, the beaches, the bodybuilding scene, the music." He left school after 4½ years, still 17 credits shy of earning his degree in communications. "I never signed a contract saying I'd graduate," he says. "But I'll get my degree. People forget there are colleges in California."
At any rate, a diploma doesn't have much to do with his career at the moment. He says he'll play even in rustic Green Bay "if the price is right." And what's right? Bet on about $8 million for five years. Would he live year-round in Green Bay? "Hah! I'm back here the day the season's over."
One thing Mandarich hopes to find in L.A. is the elusive W. Axl Rose himself. The scrawny, foul-mouthed wasted lead singer—who stands 5'9" and weighs 140 pounds, according to his publicist at Geffen Records—is unwittingly the giant football player's spiritual guide. Mandarich says he would like to hang out with Axl and tour with the band.
What's the attraction of Axl? "His uniqueness, his tattoos, the stories behind his songs," says Mandarich. "And he's bad, but he doesn't try to be." Mandarich has named his Siberian husky puppy Axl and has papered his garage in California with Guns n' Roses posters. His favorite displays the singer's tattoo that reads VICTORY OR DEATH.
Mandarich moved abruptly once before. As a senior in high school, he moved to Kent, Ohio, to live with his brother, who was then a senior at Kent State. His goal was to learn football, American style, and to pump iron with John. "I had to become his legal guardian so that he could come live with me," says John.
Last spring John suggested that Tony inquire about becoming eligible for the NFL's supplemental draft. Tony's simple letter of inquiry was enough to get him suspended by the NCAA for the first three games of last season. "The only person I can blame is myself," says Tony. "But all I was doing was checking on my future. Why can't you do that? The NCAA really ticks me off. I didn't take money, didn't sign early with an agent, didn't get busted with drugs, but now I'm the bad guy."
He spent his three-game suspension toiling in the weight room in a blue heat. He came out for the Iowa game like a rabid animal.
"We were oh for 3, we'd lost to Rutgers, I was sick of people saying what a dumb——I was," says Mandarich. "I weighed 327, my guns [biceps] were 22 inches. I was——ing wired. I came out for the coin toss, and even before the ref could flip the coin, I told Dave Haight, their noseguard, 'You're going to freaking die today!' I didn't shake hands or anything. The ref just turned his head and walked away."
In that game Mandarich made the highlight films for sticking his hand inside the face mask of linebacker Jim Reilly and then nearly breaking him in half. "I was going for blood," Mandarich says. "I drove him back four yards, then bent him over backwards and buried him." Mandarich overwhelmed his opponents the rest of the season.
In the Gator Bowl he beat up on Georgia defensive end Wycliffe Lovelace because Lovelace had been quoted in the papers as saying Mandarich was overrated. "I called him 'Linda,' " says Mandarich. "I ripped his helmet off twice in the game. I abused him. I punished him." Mandarich finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting, but he became a victim of his own outlaw image and lost the Outland Trophy to Auburn's Tracy Rocker.
In a workout for NFL scouts at Michigan State in February—he had participated in only the physical exam and the drug test at the combine in Indy—Mandarich was dynamite. He weighed 304, ran the 40 in 4.65 seconds, did a standing long jump of 10'3", leaped vertically 30" and bench-pressed 225 pounds an unheard-of 39 times. "It may have been the finest workout the scouts have ever seen," says Perles. "Marty Schottenheimer [the Kansas City Chiefs' coach] asked me why Tony didn't play defense here. It's a good question. Mostly, we just needed him more on offense."
It is a couple of weeks before the draft and Mandarich and Rory Leidelmeyer hoist iron at the Uptown Gym in suburban Whittier, where Mandarich has lived in a rented condominium since moving to California. The Uptown is a bare-bones pit for serious metal junkies. There is nothing here but bars, plates and primitive machines. Fly strips hang like stalactites from the dirty ceiling. Over the PA. system Axl Rose sings: "I used to love her/But I had to kill her," and Mandarich grunts as he does stiff-legged deadlifts with 465 pounds.
Mandarich's girlfriend, Amber Ligon, who came west with him, does tricep curls across the room. A former violinist and Michigan State student, she is now an aspiring bodybuilder, who says, "I'm never leaving California."
"She used to go out with Todd Krumm, our free safety from a year ago," says Mandarich with bemusement. "He's with the Bears now—not real big, slow, a normal guy, kind of an all-American type. And she trades that for me, a sicko."
Leidelmeyer and Mandarich talk about how they are going to get matching 1,200-cc Harley-Davidsons and cruise through the streets of L.A., with their long hair flying, in ripped Guns n' Roses T-shirts, faded jeans and black leather chaps.
"Biceps exploding." says Leidelmeyer. "Two crossed guns on the gas tanks," says Mandarich. They smile at the vision.
That afternoon as Mandarich relaxes with Amber at the condominium, a telegram arrives from the Green Bay Packers. It reads: "Tony, please call Charlie Davis or Tom Braatz concerning travel to Green Bay for predraft physical before end of week."
"Yeah, right!" hoots Mandarich.
Later, Leidelmeyer drops by. The subject of steroids comes up. If Mandarich hasn't used steroids yet, well, why hasn't he?
The big man is silent for a time. "I might," he says finally.
"If he feels limited, he'll have to open that next door," says Leidelmeyer.
Who is Tony Mandarich? There is a Bible on his bedside table, a huge picture of Jesus over his bed, a pair of handcuffs on the stick shift of his car.
Mandarich calls Green Bay and asks for Davis, the offensive line coach. He pauses. The person on the other end is asking something.
"Tell him Axl Rose is calling."
EATS FOR A WEEK
How much food does it take to support a daily diet of up to 15,000 calories? Here's the shopping list for Mandarich's weekly trip to the supermarket.
2 DOZ. EGGS
4 8-OZ. LOAVES RYE BREAD
2 DOZ. BANANAS
4 8-OZ. LOAVES ITAL. BREAD
3 LBS. DINNER ROLLS
2 LBS. ITALIAN SAUSAGE
2 LBS. MOZZARELLA
1 DOZ. GRANOLA BARS
8 OZ. CREAM CHEESE
3 LBS. CANNED PINEAPPLE
3 LBS. HOT DOGS
2 CANS NACHO CHEESE DIP
2 LBS. CHILI SAUCE
4 GALS. ORANGE JUICE
1 GAL. CRANBERRY JUICE
2 QTS. GATORADE
1 QT. COTTAGE CHEESE
6 LBS. SPAGHETTI SAUCE
1 LB. CARROTS
4 LBS. GROUND TURKEY
6 LBS. GROUND BEEF
3 HEADS LETTUCE
1 LB. BAGELS
32 SLICES AMERICAN CHEESE
4 LBS. RICE-A-RONI
2 LBS. RIGATONI
2 LBS. PEAS
1 LB. DRIED FRUIT
2 GALS. ORANGE SLICE
4 LBS. FROZEN CORN
3 WHOLE PINEAPPLES
2½ LBS. STRAWBERRIES
7 GREEN APPLES
4½ LBS. APPLESAUCE
2 LBS. FRENCH FRIES
2 LBS. CHEDDAR CHEESE
2 LBS. POTATO PATTIES
4 LBS. SPAGHETTI
15½ LBS. STEAK
2 LBS. OATMEAL
1 LB. RAISINS
½ GAL. APPLE JUICE
2 LBS. PORK
4 LBS. CHICKEN
1 LB. MARGARINE
2 GALS. LOW-FAT MILK
2 LBS. GRAPE NUTS
10 LBS. POTATOES
1 GAL. OREO ICE CREAM
2½ GALS. BOTTLED WATER