This book sets the record straight. On the 20th anniversary of his draft in 1989, Tony reveals the reasons why he never achieved what the nation expected of him, and what he expected of himself. His story is an inspiration for alcoholics and drug abusers, and offers hope for those trying to help themselves out of the nightmare of addiction.
|Publisher:||Loving Healing Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.43(d)|
Read an Excerpt
An electric current ran through me when I arrived at Michigan State in the fall of 1984. Not only did I love the energy in East Lansing, I made a vow to myself: This would be my launching pad into the NFL, a dream I'd cherished since childhood. I promised myself I would do whatever was necessary to become the best football player I could be.
The game was my entire life since childhood. I'd played pickup football with my friends in my neighborhood as a child and then, at White Oaks Secondary School in Oakville, Ontario, I played organized football with equipment for the first time. Pickup football was really more my style, because we made our own rules! I was always bigger than my friends, so I was usually in charge. I loved running, competing, and most of all, I loved winning. The thrill of knowing I was the best in my group of friends was where the electric current in me got its start.
My parents provided another impetus for the highly charged sense of competition I developed for the game. They were role models for my belief that I had to do something extraordinary to achieve what may feel or appear like insurmountable goals. The lesson they provided me came with a high price tag for them; in 1957, they escaped Yugoslavia (now Croatia) in the dark of the night because they refused to live under Communist rule any longer. Six months after their baby girl died because they couldn't afford the medical care she needed, they left their home, taking only a small 12 by 18 inch suitcase and the clothes they wore. After walking through Croatia and Slovenia, they forged the Mura River that separated Slovenia and Austria on a cloudy night, desperately hoping the border guards with their rifles would not see them. It was their willpower and grit that finally got them to Canada as immigrants, determined to make a new life for themselves. Somewhere deep within me, I believed that if they could put their lives on the line to be free, I certainly could risk all I had to become a member of the National Football League.
Driven by my insane desire to be the best, I always sought the edge. My brother John, whom I revered, taught me that lesson. He said you had to have the edge over everyone else in order to reach your life goals. So, for me, the edge was always front and center in my plans. I sought a training regime and psychological stance that set me apart from other football players. I became unique and different because I trained differently, thought individually and prepared uncommonly. I put myself in the riskiest position possible because I fully intended to play in the NFL. Really good athletes, in any sport, are unique and different. I wanted to be the best. I wanted to become extraordinary.
Young and impressionable, I received a wake-up call during my first college game against Notre Dame in East Lansing. John and I had watched the Irish as kids, so I couldn't help feeling a sense of exhilaration as I thought: "Oh My God, this is THE Notre Dame! THE Notre Dame with Touchdown Jesus!" Now, I proudly wore Michigan State colors and would play against them.
Mark Bavaro added intimidation to my thoughts. Huge arms hung from the shoulders of the Notre Dame tight end; he resembled a gladiator. I weighed in at a measly 270 pounds, a stick of an offensive tackle. The mere sight of Bavaro delivered a wake-up call, the first of many that were going to happen over the next few years. I knew I had to get in the weight room to hang with the big boys. Big Time college football demanded I get serious.
Football became my twelve-month, round-the-clock pursuit. Friends went south for spring break, but I remained in East Lansing to work in the weight room. I believed championships and great players were made in the off-season. I was going to be the best player in football, whatever it took. So I spent January through April in continuous workouts and additional training programs to get the edge I craved.
Buck Nystrom, MSU's offensive line coach, ran the off-season conditioning program that began every morning at 6 a.m., which meant a 5 a.m. wake up call for me. Nystrom had more passion for what he believed in than any coach I'd ever known. Ignoring the frigid conditions in East Lansing during the winter, I walked through the dark in the biting cold weather to Jenison Field House for the morning workouts.
I wanted to play football, so I followed the rules. At least, I followed the obvious rules. I didn't want to flunk out of MSU, nor did I want to get kicked out for not following rules for football players. I had no concept about addictions at that point in my life, so I had no idea that in spite of my efforts to conform, I was spiraling down into a deep, dark hole. I neither realized nor admitted to myself that becoming psychologically dependent on steroids and physically dependent on alcohol was breaking all the rules and would result in a fate worse than flunking out of college. After all, everyone went out for Thursday night beer, right? Doing steroids was permissible because it would get me into the NFL. All I had to do was keep it hidden, and that made it okay. I had all the answers.
So, on the surface I did what I thought was expected of me: I studied and trained faithfully. Late afternoons found the Spartan team back in the football building, lifting weights and working out again. Sometimes we would review training material and practice our position drills, even during the off-season. My first two years included dinner in the dorm and studying in the evenings. Tutors were hired for the team, and in the evening freshmen were required to attend study hall, where the tutors were available. Upperclassmen could use the services of tutors if they chose, but if your grade point fell below 2.0, the study hall was again required. I was bound and determined I wouldn't fall below this mark, and willing to do whatever it took. I majored in communications and relished the opportunity to explore the field of journalism. That knowledge later enhanced my work as a Canadian television sports commentator and helped me to deal better with public life and the media.
During football season the routine changed. Freshmen still had study hall and all the players still had classes, twice daily practice and workouts, but the Friday nights before Saturday home games were a time filled with the tradition of decades of football at Michigan State. That night found the entire team in the Kellogg Center, an on-campus hotel where we stayed the night. Those evenings included a team dinner, team meetings and position meetings — all final preparations for the Saturday game. The curfew always came at 11:00 p.m. We each went to our room then — working, sometimes frantically, to contain the eagerness and anticipation we felt about the upcoming game. For me, Friday nights were always a preview of what I would finally have when I arrived at the door of the NFL. The anticipation of the game for me was anticipation of the NFL, and almost as exhilarating as playing on the field.
Then came Saturday mornings. As I woke up in my room in Kellogg, excitement began to grow. I went to breakfast — always scheduled at a time directly related to kickoff — feeling the thrill of the game building. Following breakfast, we showered and dressed in suit and tie. Then, several hours before kickoff, the time-honored ritual of walking from the Kellogg Center to the football field began. The contrast between game gear and suit and tie is striking, and the dissimilarity between the two was chosen on purpose: game gear is required to play the game; a suit and tie command respect, dignity and adulation. Those feelings were lost on none of us.
When we made that walk in formal attire, we always felt special, honored and respected. We'd be filthy and smelly and grimy in a few hours, but this was our time, our spotlight, during which we felt more important than anyone could possibly imagine.
Michigan State fans are passionate about football, and they let us know that every time we made that walk. Head coach George Perles led the walking parade through a tunnel of cheering fans that were hungry to see the Spartans win. The half-mile walk wove through the beautiful trees on campus, which in the fall were heavy with their riot of yellow, red and orange leaves. Making the walk was a heady experience; I always felt a rush of pride, being part of a tradition that spanned so many years.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, I changed. I can say that now. I did not know it at the time. In retrospect, I think it probably began when I left home to spend my senior year of high school at Roosevelt High in Kent, Ohio. John and I had been talking about how to get to the NFL for years. When we were kids, we'd hurry to get our chores done on Saturdays, so we could watch college football at noon. Then on Sundays, we were glued to the television to watch the NFL game. Our shared dream was to play football in the NFL, hopefully together. We talked about what positions we would play, how we would work together on the field and how we would be the best brother-brother team ever seen in the NFL. We would have the whole world talking about us!
We knew we had better chances if we attended college in the United States. Kent State awarded John a scholarship to attend college there, and play football. During my junior year of high school in Oakville, we also talked about how to get me into a big time college football program. We decided my chances would improve if I attended my senior year of high school in the United States. We just had to convince our parents, and that wasn't easy. Our parents were 'hands on' parents. They had already lost a six-month old daughter, and they were determined to do everything in their power to help and protect us. They wanted us growing up 'right' and that meant going to church, serving as altar boys, no drinking, no drugs, and being watched over carefully so their strict (but loving) parental controls would ensure our safe journey into adulthood.
John was home for Christmas and New Year's of 198283. During Christmas dinner, John opened the discussion proposing my move to Ohio to live with him.
"Tony's really got talent and he'll have a lot better chance for a good U.S. university if he plays high school football in the States. Colleges and universities don't recruit here, in Canada, like they do in the States." John laid out the rationale unemotionally.
Mom cried, "I can't let my boy go away. He's too young!" Dad agreed, but he also saw John's point. However, he wasn't going to argue with Mom, the matriarch of the family, at least not at first.
"But, Mom, the only thing I want to do with my life is play football," I protested, desperately needing her to give permission and equally desperately wanting to move to Ohio with John. I didn't want to leave Mom and Dad, but I really wanted to play football and get a jumpstart to the pros. I wanted a life of my own. I wanted to fulfill my dream of being in the NFL. My parents wanted me to be what I wanted to be, but they were reluctant to let me go at the tender age of 16. They had already lost a daughter, and their oldest son had moved away. I was the only one left at home.
That discussion went on for several months. The final persuasive argument was their realization of what offered me the best opportunity; Dad finally convinced Mom to let me go, however reluctantly. She finally gave up trying to hold out against the three men in her family. My parents agreed my chances would improve immeasurably if I went to the United States for my senior year of high school.
John, only four years older than I, had to go to court in Kent to be appointed my legal guardian. And in August 1983, he and I drove from Oakville to Kent, Ohio, beginning our journey toward the goal of my NFL career. John told me we needed to seize the opportunity before it was too late. He guided and protected me and was as heavily invested in my becoming a NFL player as I was. I knew I was going to be the best NFL player ever. I would make sure everyone on the planet knew who Tony Mandarich was.
John Nemec, the head coach at Kent Roosevelt High School, and his family welcomed me with open arms. They and the other coaches and their families became my instant extended family. Here I was, a Canadian, taking the place another kid from the United States would have had on that team, yet I was accepted just like the rest of the team members. I'm still amazed that they were so giving and gracious to me. It helped make up for being away from Mom and Dad; I didn't get lonely like I otherwise might have. Even if I did, it's something I wouldn't admit. I've always felt the Nemecs didn't have to be so nice, but they were anyway, and I'll never forget that.
Again I put myself in a position most people don't normally choose. I left home and moved to Ohio with John; that was not a common thing in my culture or community. Families moved together because Mom or Dad got transferred; sixteen year-olds did not leave home for the sole purpose of getting a scholarship, improving exposure and aggressively seeking the opportunity to play big time college football. I could have gotten an education at home, but I craved more. That craving was so deep I could taste it.
My parents made a very tough decision, not only in allowing me to go live with John, but by permitting me to leave home and go live in another country, just like they'd done, but for very different reasons. It was tough saying goodbye to them, but I was so excited about the new path I was on. I had a gamut of mixed emotions. Part of me was glad to be gone because of all the strict rules my parents imposed on me — I hated rules. They often prevented expression of my rebellious nature. John had rules too, but he wasn't as strict. I was excited about the many opportunities ahead of me, but my primary thought was to play in the NFL, and I was on my way there. I didn't give any thought to the stability offered to most teens through parental control channels, but what teen does? I was singularly excited about being out from under those controls; I felt those rules impeded my creativity and movement into adulthood.
John made sacrifices for me, too. He was a college senior at Kent State, with an active social life, and suddenly he had a high school senior living with him in his apartment. That was a big sacrifice; he'd been on his own and finally away from parental rule for three years, and now ... there was me. The silent question was all around him, "Your little brother lives with you?" John wanted me there for my benefit. That's the kind of guy he was; he was living out his role as the older brother, taking care of me. At that time I didn't fully realize the sacrifices he was making. As I think back, it touches my heart when I realize how adamantly he wanted to help me get a football scholarship and get on the road to the NFL.
On the first drive from Canada to Kent, John casually revealed to me that he used steroids, and thought it was the edge to get to the NFL. He said everybody in the NFL was using them. His comments were casual; I could use them if I wanted to, and if I didn't, that would be okay too. He didn't coax, didn't encourage; he just told me what he'd chosen to do to try to attain the athletic edge he thought was so important – strength beyond what you can obtain with weights.
I clearly inherited my size from my parents, but John was my older brother, and I listened to everything he told me. He was my hero and I would do everything he suggested. If he thought I should consider steroids to increase my already-large body, then I'd do it. There was no second-guessing. He said you had to be the best in your position on the team, or you wouldn't make the NFL. We both sought the best, so I started doing steroids my last semester in high school. I wanted to be the best football player in the NFL, and I would do whatever it took to get there.
I played the entire season of my senior year at Kent Roosevelt High School. I played well, and there was a lot of talk about my future in a college or university in the States. I knew I'd made the right decision about living there my senior year. One day after practice, Coach Nemec announced to the team that the coaches were going to be filming several games. We all felt important and proud, but also curious. He explained they would be sending clips of some of us to colleges and universities for possible recruiting efforts. I wanted to go to Ohio State at the time, and secretly hoped they would get some of the clips to review. If there'd been a way to ensure OSU got my clips, I'd have done it in a minute. But I didn't have any way to be sure they got them, so I resorted to praying.
Toward the end of the season, I got a call from Nick Saban, who was the Ohio-area recruiter for Michigan State University. He'd seen a game film my coaches had sent out, and he said he wanted to see me play. I was almost giddy, but I held back because a guy like me would never admit to the inner excitement — guys just didn't express feelings like that. I felt honored someone would travel from East Lansing just to watch me play football. My dreams were starting to become reality. Maybe I'd even get to visit the MSU campus. I began doing some computing... It was only a five-hour drive from there to my home in Ontario, and if I went there I would be able to see my parents more often. Maybe East Lansing would be a better place to go to college than Ohio? I could hardly contain my excitement. When he arrived, Nick told me all about MSU and said they wanted me to come to MSU for a visit. When I went to visit, they said they were interested in me playing there and offered me a scholarship. I was ecstatic! A full scholarship and only five hours from home! I could live with this deal! It was exactly what I dreamed of; I was on my way to becoming the best football player in the NCAA, and I was willing to do whatever it took.
Excerpted from "My Dirty Little Secrets"
Copyright © 2017 Tony Mandarich.
Excerpted by permission of Loving Healing Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 – The Rise,
Chapter 2 – Spiraling Down,
Chapter 3 – Steroids, Cons, and Enabling,
Chapter 4 – The Body Building Cult,
Chapter 5 – Blurry in Green Bay,
Chapter 6 – Four Years of Hell,
Chapter 7 – The Jumping Off Place,
Chapter 8 – The Slow Road Back,
Chapter 9 – Making Amends,
Chapter 10 – Indianapolis Takes a Chance,
Chapter 11 – A New Experience: Playing Sober,
Chapter 12 – The Foxhole Prayer,
Chapter 13 – Life's Lessons,
The Grasp of Your Hand,
About Tony Mandarich,
About Sharon Shaw Elrod,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As a sports fan I recall the days of Tony Mandarich's entry into the NFL & all the hoopla about his entry into the draft. While I am and shall always remain a Steelers fan, I didn't pay a lot of attention to names outside of my own little world of Pittsburgh per say, but I do recall the draft and excitement with Mandarich. I also recall the Sports Illustrated issue that professed Mandarich as "The Incredible Bulk". This man had a brief moment in my world where even I, myself, was in awe. He fell off my radar quickly though and I never really thought about what had happened to him in between. I'm not even sure if he HAD been on my radar I would have truly known his true story until now, and Mandarich not only opened up heart and soul but told it with grit, truth and a lot of harsh reality. We've all seen and read the tell all books of former stars & players that quickly scream out big names of all those who even touched their lives during their days of "usage". Most are pretty much the same, "I made it big.. I did drugs.. I fell... I'm doing a tell all book and tossing out big names of those I did the drugs with, in hopes to sell tons of books!". Mandarich does none of that. He's open, honest, takes full blame and doesn't point fingers. Not once do you read another stars name in a way that Mandarich points fingers and "narcs" out anyone to gain fame and sell his book. I have a lot of respect for anyone that approaches such a book in this way and can only say Kudos to Tony Mandarich. You are, in every aspect of the word, a gentleman. The story itself isn't pretty. It's blunt, it's ugly and it's truthful. It's addiction. It's also enlightening, both for those of us whom have never experienced such horrid events in our life and I'm certain, to many who are currently in the same boat as Tony had been. It's the story of one man who, somehow, found another soul and another chance at life. Probably one of my favorite parts of the book has nothing to do with the sports aspect itself, it has to do with when Tony was first beginning his road to recovery and finds his "Soul Guide". The depth, the absolute bizarreness of the entire event leaves one speechless and knowing that something like this simply cannot be made up but only told from an actual heartfelt experience. My second favorite part is the little "dig" he gets in on former 2007 Chargers defensive back, Rodney Harrison. It's one of the few times that a name is even mentioned per say but the small appreciation you know he got with the sarcastic words "Way to go Rodney" simply made me smile. The book is written with an easy flow that provids for quick and easy reading. It's profound in so many ways, yet not so deep you get lost in the words. It's enlightening and most of all it's soul searching style leaves you cheering for this man who began his journey in the world of sports completely wrong, only to find the right path by a miracle of miracles and realize what life is truly all about. A man who literally lost his soul, only to find it again and learn to nurture and appreciate it fully.
This book is an easy read. I ordered this for my high school age son, who doesn't particularly like to read. He read the book almost non-stop until it was done. This will be used for a book report and speech. I remember the playing days of Mr. Mandarich and the thoughts, rumors of that time are put to rest with this book. I would recommend this for church youth groups and high school/college athletes. I wish Mr. Mandarich continued strength.
A hero comes in all shapes and sizes. This particular hero is big; has a big heart, a big body, accomplished big dreams, and overcome some very big obstacles. Tony Mandarich is a hero. Not because of his world-class career at a college then professional football player but because of how he overcame his "little secrets" which were huge. Many who have traveled down the path as he never had the opportunity to reach the other side of the tunnel. Tony not only came to the other side but came thru a much stronger person and player. As a child in Canada Tony know what he wanted to be. He wanted to be a professional football player and set out with mature-beyond-his-years determination to do just that. Convinced to allow their child to move to the United States in high school to better secure his path to stardom was a difficult decision for Tony's parents. This single decision set in motion one of the greatest stories in NFL history. Tony walks us thru his drug and alcohol filled years with the Green Bay Packers where it was truly all about him. Tony lived up to all of the hype of being the second round draft pick. Giving us behind-the-scenes detail of just how it happens I sat crying for Tony when he lost it all. Seeing this same scenario many times before; I do admit that I didn't foresee the wonderful life that would follow. Imagining the courage it would take someone to recover from such devastation is almost hard to imagine. Tony shows that it can be done. What encouragement for those suffering from addiction. Tony turns his life around and starts anew. After several years away from playing football Tony returns the Indianapolis Colts and is better than ever! He follows his heart and reunites with his college sweetheart and lives happily-ever-after. Tony is a lucky individual who knows all to well that those suffering from addiction need someone to lean on. Tony is the shoulder for those who read this great gift! Way too many times we see incidents where a professional athlete makes headlines for all the wrong reasons. The athlete appeals to the public as if they were the victim. Tony admits what happened and tells the tale from start to finish. Two thumbs up for the amazing man!
Whether you are a football fan, someone concerned about addictions, or you just like a good success story, Tony Mandarich's newly published memoir "My Dirty Little Secrets-Steroids, Alcohol & God" is a rewarding and eye-opening reading experience. In 1989, after an incredible football career playing for Michigan State, Tony Mandarich was the number two draft pick for the NFL and chosen by the Green Bay Packers. Who could forget the picture of him on Sports Illustrated that spring, showing his incredible muscular build at 6'6" and 315 pounds, and the declaration that he was "The Best Offensive Line Prospect Ever"? It looked like Tony might become the greatest NFL player ever. Tony was on top of the world! But Tony had some dirty little secrets. For years he had been using steroids to increase his performance. He also had an addiction to alcohol and painkillers. He hid those secrets well, but in his memoir he now tells his complete story honestly, with all his mistakes and regrets laid bare for readers, not merely for sensation to sell books, but to show how he turned his life around and to give hope to others suffering from addictions.Tony details how he cheated on drug tests. Tony admits he was not sober a single day he played for the Green Bay Packers. After watching his brother die, possibly from steroid use, and realizing how his addictions were destroying his family, Tony made a decision to turn his life around. He checked himself into a treatment center and never looked back, refusing to be in the majority of alcoholics who return to drinking. For years, Tony and his brother's relationship had been strained. Even though he was with his brother when he died, Tony continued to feel guilt and shame about their relationship. One of the most tremendous moments in his memoir is the spiritual journey a friend led him upon, using a Native American tradition of meditation, where he was able to talk to his brother again; he realized his brother was his spiritual guide and would be there to help him everyday going forward. This heart-wrenching cathartic experience was a major turning point in Tony's life and speaks to the importance of the addict healing emotional wounds along with becoming drug free. The final section of the book reads like a celebration. Tony's story would have been triumphant enough by simply describing how he overcame his addiction. But Tony went a step farther by returning to the NFL to play for the Indianapolis Colts. Without steroids, drugs, or alcohol, his performance was better than ever. He was the strongest player on the team, but he was also humble this time, looking to be a team player rather than a superstar. He stated at the time: "Benching"Benching 545 coming out of college didn't help me pass-block.That's the way I look at it. I just want to help this team." At the end of the book Tony states, "If this story has helped one of you to recognize that you need help, it was worth all the media controversy." Tony Mandarich succeeded in his dreams of being an NFL player, but more importantly, "My Dirty Little Secrets" reveals that he has succeeded in being an incredible human being! - Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. author of The Marquette Trilogy