Tony Mandarich is included on any list of the biggest draft busts in NFL history, and he says his story is a cautionary tale not for NFL scouts who struggle to identify the top prospects coming out of college, but for NFL players who struggle with substance abuse.
Mandarich said in a long interview with Jeremy Schaap on ESPN that the major challenges for him in the NFL were getting off steroids (which he says he used in college but never as a pro) and getting on painkillers (which he says he struggled with for years).
“I was taking 40, 50, 60 painkillers a day, and drinking,” Mandarich said of his career in the NFL, where he arrived in Green Bay as the second overall pick in the 1989 draft but played only three seasons.
Mandarich also says that much of his success at Michigan State was a result of steroid use, and he says he decided when he got to the NFL to stop using steroids because the NFL’s testing program was more stringent than the testing in college football.
“The testing, I felt, was too hard,” Mandarich said. “I didn’t want it even talked about, so I just didn’t do them.”
Mandarich said he thought he’d only lose 10 percent of his strength when he got off steroids but lost much more than that and couldn’t be the same player. However, after quitting painkillers and getting healthy, Mandarich returned to the NFL, signing with the Colts in 1996 and spending three years in Indianapolis as a solid if not great player. Mandarich said that when he played with the Colts, off steroids and off painkillers, “It was the first time I played a game without a drug in my body since high school.”
Today Mandarich says he’s happy and healthy and working as a photographer. He gets invited back to Green Bay when the Packers have events for former players, but he declines, saying that part of his life is behind him, and he thinks he’d get booed.