SI Vault
Rick Telander
April 24, 1989
Tony Mandarich, a top NFL prospect, is a chowhound who chews up opponents
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April 24, 1989

The Big Enchilada

Tony Mandarich, a top NFL prospect, is a chowhound who chews up opponents

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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.

"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."

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