SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (BVM) – The first five picks of the 1989 NFL Draft are historic. The Dallas Cowboys took Troy Aikman with the first overall pick, the Detroit Lions took Barry Sanders with the third, the Kansas City Chiefs took Derrick Thomas with the fourth and the Atlanta Falcons took Deion Sanders with the fifth. Each of those four players would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and have left their legacies on the game of football.
However, the second overall pick in that draft left his legacy in the NFL in a much different way. The Green Bay Packers used the second choice in that year’s draft to select Michigan State offensive lineman Tony Mandarich. Listed at 6-foot-6 and 315 pounds, Mandarich was seen as a cornerstone for an offense as his recorded 4.65 40-yard dash and 39 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press during a private Pro Day on campus blew scouts away. However, despite his physical abilities, Mandarich struggled, playing four seasons with the Packers and not living anything close to the hype he had coming in or to those players who were drafted around him.
Mandarich had demons. Not only did Mandarich use steroids throughout his time at Michigan State, during a time when the NCAA was not as diligent during its testing, but he was also addicted to painkillers, the wear and tear of moving massive amounts of weight finally catching up on the athlete.
How did he get here? It all started when he moved to the United States. Born and raised in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, Mandarich aspired to be like his older brother John. John, an outstanding athlete in his own right, would play at Kent State and later the Canadian Football League. While at Kent State, it was John who encouraged Tony to move in with him and attend Kent Roosevelt High School to increase his chances of earning a Division I scholarship from a college in the U.S.
While attending Kent Roosevelt, Tony would gain more suitors and would eventually be recruited by Nick Saban, a Michigan State assistant coach at the time. The offensive lineman would later sign his National Letter of Intent to join the team.
The move had paid off for Tony and he would once again be following in his brother’s footsteps into the college football landscape. However, it was his brother who also acted as the biggest influence on Tony’s future steroid use that would mark his eventual downfall as John admitted to his younger sibling that he was doing steroids during his time at Kent State.
Tony took up steroids at Michigan State. He would dominate during his time with the Spartans to become one of the most hyped offensive linemen to ever enter an NFL Draft. But with that came the pain and the painkillers. Before his first four-year contract with the Packers was even completed, Tony was in deep with his addiction.
However, following the death of his brother to cancer in 1993, a moment he would miss due to instead picking up a prescription of painkillers to feed his addiction, Tony would check himself into rehab in 1995. Since then, Tony has acknowledged he’s been clean and sober, recently celebrating 27 years of sobriety in March.
Tony would make a recovery and an NFL comeback in 1996, playing three more seasons with the Indianapolis Colts to bring his years of service in the league to seven and participating in 65 career games. After years of suffering both on the field and off, Tony was getting his life back to normal.
Following his time in the NFL, Tony would retire and move to Scottsdale where he has lived a relatively quiet life ever since. Considered as one of the NFL’s biggest draft busts of all time, Tony has had a number of articles and pieces done on him and his downfall including an E:60 episode on ESPN. He has even released his own autobiography, “My Dirty Little Secrets – Steroids, Alcohol & God: The Tony Mandarich Story.”
— E60 (@E60) April 23, 2019
Today, Tony is a professional photographer living in Scottsdale. He has also continued to warn others about the dangers of both steroids and painkillers while inspiring people with his own recovery story through speeches and public appearances, recently being the keynote speaker for a Unite to Face Addiction Michigan Chapter event in May.
While his old nickname of the “Incredible Bulk” may no longer fit into the man he is today, Tony Mandarich has still been able to use his platform to inspire those behind him. Though that inspiration may not be for what the 22-year-old, 6-foot-6, 315-pound offensive lineman thought it would be for, the fact is Tony’s journey may be even more helpful than his younger self could have ever imagined.