Most parents will do anything possible to help their kids succeed in sports.
Whether it’s hiring a specialist, buying the best possible equipment, driving to a practice (or a tournament, or another game), parents do what they hope is best for their kids.
Then there’s Marv Marinovich.
Marinovich didn’t hope he knew best.
He firmly believed that his plans for his son, Todd, would someday lead his progeny to become a franchise quarterback in the National Football League.
He was almost right.
Todd Marinovich would eventually become a first-round NFL Draft pick.
Todd Marinovich story is a cautionary tale for parents, by @ricktelander – https://t.co/oz84z8V6ce pic.twitter.com/qDbFD6Z8KF
— Sun-Times Sports (@suntimes_sports) January 16, 2019
However, his time in the league was short-lived.
By the time his career was over, Todd Marinovich’s name was synonymous with substance abuse and erratic behavior.
Eventually, the Marinovich name became a cautionary tale for parents on how not to raise their children.
This is the story of Todd Marinovich.
Growing Up with Marv
Todd Marvin Marinovich was born on July 4, 1969 in San Leandro, California.
His parents were both former college athletes who enjoyed sports.
Marv Marinovich was once a two-way player for the USC Trojans.
He was also a team captain during the team’s 1962 national championship season.
Foreshadowing a life to come, during the 1963 Rose Bowl, Marv was tossed out of the game for fighting.
After briefly playing in the NFL, Marv Marinovich turned his attention to athletic training.
He studied the workout methods of coaches and athletes in former Eastern Bloc countries and began to adopt some of their methods as his own.
Marv was then hired by Raiders owner Al Davis to become what would be the NFL’s first official strength and conditioning coach.
RIP Marv Marinovich (1939-2020). Marv starred at USC in the early 60s and was a defensive assistant for the Cardinals under Don Coryell in 1973. He was the father of ex-USC/NFL QB Todd Marinovich. pic.twitter.com/UqxENzt2uR
— St. Louis Football Cardinals (@BigRed_STL) December 4, 2020
Not long after, he would leave the Raiders to start his own athletic company and work with area athletes and teams.
It was into this environment that Todd Marinovich was born and raised.
When Todd was still an infant, Marv would stretch his son’s arms and legs in the crib.
He then had Todd work on a balance beam before he could walk.
As Todd got older, Marv would strictly prohibit his son from eating anything with salt or sugar and abstain from alcohol or drugs of any kind.
Instead, Marv had Todd consume fresh vegetables, fruit and raw milk.
Marv later explained his reasoning for the strict training regimen he imparted on Todd.
“Some guys think the most important thing in life is their jobs, the stock market, whatever. To me, it was my kids,” he said. “The question I asked myself was, How well could a kid develop if you provided him with the perfect environment?”
By the time Todd was in elementary and middle school, Marv had him lifting weights and running.
He also had Todd practice throwing a football with both hands and kicking with both feet.
When Todd was nine years old, he began playing on a Pop Warner football team as a fullback.
After a particularly hard hit during a game, Marv convinced the coach to let Todd play quarterback.
Miraculously, on one of his first passes, Todd threw for a touchdown.
Marv’s quarterback experiment was about to get underway.
As he entered 7th grade, Todd Marinovich decided he wanted to be a starting quarterback in high school.
That goal wasn’t unique.
What was unique was that Marinovich wanted to start as a high school freshman.
Given that this was going to be a tall order, especially in hyper competitive Southern California, Marv and Todd set a series of goals to accomplish in the following two years.
They would work every day on a list of tasks, even if those tasks weren’t necessarily enjoyable.
“It was brutal,” Todd recalled in a 2010 interview with Esquire. “Sometimes I didn’t want anything to do with it. He’d give me the look, like, ‘Well, fine, but you’re gonna get your ass kicked when you start to play.’ “
Their work eventually paid off.
Just before beginning his ninth-grade year at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California, Marinovich was named the Monarch’s starter.
Mater Dei was (and still is) a football factory filled with names of past and present heroes.
The fact that Marinovich was going to start as a freshman was a program first.
However, it wasn’t enough that Marinovich’s goal was met.
The hard work was just beginning.
Marv had Todd work out and prepare every day of the week.
My senior year at Crespi High School, Marv Marinovich and his brother Gary were our coaches. Introduced a lot of stuff that high school kids thought was crazy, but ahead of his time in some ways. #RIPCoach pic.twitter.com/UYZDt0FBFa
— Babe Laufenberg (@BabeLaufenberg) December 5, 2020
Marv also sought out specialists that could help Todd overcome any slight deficiencies to his mechanics, health or athleticism.
Marinovich’s freshman year got off to a rough start.
As he got used to the competition and the expectations, Marinovich became a star.
Soon, even the older players on Mater Dei’s roster wanted to hang with the young stud.
This would prove to be one of the turning points in Marinovich’s eventual trouble with chemical dependency.
“It was really amazing to have these guys, these upperclassmen, come over. And they’re like, ‘Hey, Todd, let’s go! Come out with us after the game. It’s party time!’ “
Casting a nervous glance toward his father’s direction, Marv gave his assent.
“He just gave me the nod, you know, like, ‘Go ahead, you earned it,’ Todd recalled in 2010. “We went directly to a kegger and started pounding down beers.”
By the end of his sophomore season, Marinovich had passed for almost 4,400 yards and 34 touchdowns.
His next two seasons promised to be electric as he would play specifically to draw the attention of college coaches.
The summer before his junior year, however, Marv engineered a transfer to Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo.
Marv and his wife, Trudi, had just gotten a divorce and he wanted Todd to attend a school with a better record and a better offensive line.
As Marinovich got used to a new crowd at Capistrano, he would also find life more pleasurable.
He was living with Marv in a small apartment and, while Marv was dating, Todd was exploring the wilder side of life.
Along with a group of friends, Marinovich would frequently imbibe in alcohol and marijuana.
“Pot just really relaxed me. I could just function better in public,” Marinovich said. “I never played high or practiced high. It wasn’t as hard on my body as drinking. I thought, Man, I have found the secret. I was in love.”
Somehow, Marinovich was able to function as the starting quarterback for Capistrano High.
He passed for an all-time county (and national high school) record 9,914 yards in all four years combined.
As a senior, Marinovich threw for 2,477 yards.
Accolades and awards came pouring in and he was one of the hottest prep quarterback prospects in America.
Nearly every top college program wanted Marinovich to be their guy behind center.
Even though he could have gone anywhere, Marinovich decided to stay close to home. He would attend his parents’ alma mater at USC.
A Hyped Trojan
Marinovich began his Trojan career on the sideline as he redshirted behind starter Rodney Peete.
During that same year, a number of stories were published that discussed the Marinovich household, especially Marv’s training regimen for his son.
This Date in Pac-12 Football: Notre Dame stays perfect, edges USC and Todd Marinovich; Cal beats Oregon in double… https://t.co/pZMd9hITmN pic.twitter.com/4auwczD94r
— Bay Area Sports HQ (@BayAreaSportsHQ) October 21, 2017
A February 1988 story in Sports Illustrated mentioned Todd Marinovich, “…never ate a Big Mac, Oreo, or Ding Dong.”
Defending his father’s vision of the perfect quarterback (and subsequent work toward achieving that vision) Marinovich explained to Sports Illustrated that it was all his idea.
“There is no way somebody could be made to do all this stuff. I choose to do it,” Marinovich said. “I can remember asking my dad: ‘What can I do to improve my performance? What would be the plan?'”
However, the cracks in his public persona began to show during the 1988 season.
At one point, Marinovich left the program to see his mother.
He let Trudi in on what he was really feeling at the time.
“I wish I could go somewhere else and be someone else. I don’t want to be Todd Marinovich,” he would admit years later.
Marinovich eventually returned to the school and became a starter the following year.
He began the 1989 season behind Pat O’Hara, but was inserted after O’Hara sustained a leg injury in the preseason.
As he was learning the college game through trial by fire, Marinovich slowly gained confidence.
After a one point loss to Illinois to begin the ‘89 season, the Trojans won the next two games by a combined score of 108-13.
On September 30, USC was losing to Washington State before Marinovich led the team on a 91-yard drive to win the game at the end.
Known in USC lore as "The Drive," Todd Marinovich and the Trojans stunned the Cougs in 1989. #MilestoneMoment #TBT pic.twitter.com/w9Zy51x4LD
— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) September 29, 2017
Impressed by the heroics, then president Ronald Reagan called Marinovich after the game and invited the signal-caller to his California home.
That year, Marinovich would pass for a total of 2,578 yards, 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
USC would finish the ‘89 season 9-2-1 and defeat number three Michigan in the Rose Bowl 17-10.
During the game, Marinovich scored the first points of the day on a one-yard touchdown run.
Once the season concluded, he was named College Freshman of the Year and was the only freshman on the All-PAC-10 team.
Inner Turmoil Leads Marinovich to Bolt for the NFL
Marinovich’s success on the gridiron matched his zest for life away from the glamour.
As his second season at USC got underway, Marinovich continued to succumb to his relationship with booze and drugs.
He was a Heisman Trophy candidate, yet he skipped classes and partied with the best of them.
Trojans head coach Larry Smith and Marinovich butted heads often.
During one game, Smith asked his quarterback what he wanted to do at a crucial moment in the contest.
Marinovich, in turn, snapped back at his coach.
“This is what we’re gonna do,” he told Smith, yelling over the crowd. “You’re gonna stay the f*** over here while we go win this game.”
Marinovich’s confidence didn’t always work in the Trojans favor.
In the third game of the year against the Washington Huskies, he was blasted early and often.
The result was a crushing 31-0 Husky blowout.
3⃣0⃣ years ago today.
"I saw purple. That's all I saw. No numbers, no faces, just purple." – Todd Marinovich, USC QB #GoHuskies x #PurpleReign https://t.co/hTDNi9ddcZ pic.twitter.com/8ddE6uH3ak
— Washington Athletics (@UWAthletics) September 22, 2020
After the game, Marinovich gave his take on what he experienced during the contest.
“All I saw was purple,” he said.
USC would rebound to win six of their next nine games.
Marinovich was not present during a game against Arizona State as he served a one-game suspension for skipping class.
The 8-3-1 Trojans would eventually face the Michigan State Spartans in the Sun Bowl after the season.
By then, the relationship between coach and quarterback was beyond strained.
At one point during the game, television cameras caught Smith and Marinovich in a heated exchange.
USC would lose 17-16.
Marinovich completed his second season as a starter with 2,423 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and 12 picks.
A month after the Sun Bowl, he was arrested for cocaine possession.
The arrest once again showed the public a very different side of Marinovich.
Surprisingly, instead of awaiting punishment from Smith and USC, Marinovich declared that he would enter the 1991 NFL Draft.
The Raiders Take a Chance on Marinovich
In the lead up to the ‘91 draft, Marinovich worked out religiously with Marv and got into the best shape of his life.
He cut his long locks and generally showed potential employers that he was not a screw-up.
At a pre-draft workout, Marinovich wowed scouts with his arm and his accuracy.
Only one NFL owner attended the workout, Al Davis.
Davis sat with his former employee, Marv, and took in the show.
Todd noticed this seating arrangement and believed the Raiders would snag him in the draft.
He was correct.
Despite the warnings of Raiders scouts about Marinovich’s off-field issues and erratic play, Davis chose him with the 24th overall pick of the first round.
The Scouts Were Right
For the majority of his rookie season, Marinovich held a clipboard on the sidelines.
He did see action during the preseason and played well against the Cowboys.
However, coach Art Shell relegated Marinovich to third-string (where he seemed more comfortable) for the remainder of the year.
Cleared from any responsibilities, Marinovich would pop speed or Vicodin before a game, warm up with his teammates, then sit around and take in the sights.
During the rest of the week, he could be found in clubs and spending time with numerous women.
In Week 16 of the ‘91 season, starting quarterback Jay Schroeder was injured and Shell put Marinovich in against the Chiefs the following week.
Staying sober long enough to play, Marinovich fared well.
He completed 23 of his passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns, but the Raiders lost the game 27-21.
Despite the loss, fans and media were ecstatic about Marinovich’s performance.
“Sunday was Marinovich’s football bar mitzvah. The boy became a man,” said Los Angeles Times writer Mike Downey.
Shell and the coaching staff were impressed as well and decided to stick with the signal caller the following week in the Wild Card playoff game.
Happy birthday to former #Raiders QB Todd Marinovich, July 4, 1969. pic.twitter.com/bq4QCJdQhc
— AFL Godfather🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) July 4, 2020
The opponent was the very same team Marinovich had just lost to, Kansas City.
This time around, the Chiefs put the wood to Marinovich.
After fumbling once and throwing four picks, Marinovich and the Raiders were sent packing with a 10-6 loss.
Marinovich’s stats for his rookie year were one start, 243 passing yards and three touchdown passes.
Substance Abuse Ends Marinovich’s Career
Once the 1991 season was in the rearview mirror, the Raiders intervened and sent their quarterback to rehab.
Marinovich did his best to stop smoking marijuana during his second NFL season.
However, he did dabble with LSD for a few months.
While he continued to battle with drug use, Marinovich started seven games in the 1992 season.
He passed for 1,102 yards, five touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Former Raiders/USC QB now artist Todd Marinovich scheduled to join us at 2pm today @btsohio 1350AM. IHeart radio pic.twitter.com/dBq1SWFuUR
— Thomas Linder (@TDtommy77) December 22, 2014
The Raiders went 7-9 and missed the postseason.
Near the end of the year, Marinovich failed an NFL drug test and was ordered back to rehab.
He was in training camp with Los Angeles in 1993 when word came from the league that Marinovich had failed yet another drug test.
Exasperated and saddened, Davis summoned Marinovich to his office shortly after.
The Raiders were releasing him.
For his part, Marinovich wasn’t really surprised and he didn’t really care.
“I was like, F*** it. I’d been playing my whole life. I’d accomplished my goals. I never said I wanted to play forever. I just wanted to play at the highest level,” he told Esquire in 2010.
Highs and Lows After the Game
Once he was freed from the restrictions of pleasing other people, Marinovich lived life only for his gratification.
For the next few years after leaving the Raiders, he embraced drug use whole heartedly and with gusto.
Former USC and Raiders QB Todd Marinovich found naked with marijuana in someone's backyard https://t.co/BnfjpZhsNI pic.twitter.com/Vs5ox8ExpU
— Billy Corben (@BillyCorben) August 22, 2016
Marinovich would clean himself up long enough to get try-outs with various Canadian Football League and NFL teams.
Then, he would get injured or flunk a physical and be back to square one.
Also, it was only after he left the NFL that more in-depth revelations of his childhood came to light.
For example, the idea that Marinovich didn’t eat junk food while in Marv’s care was not true.
His grandparents and Trudi would let young Todd eat all the Oreos and Ding Dongs he wanted.
There were also the times where Marv would hit Todd repeatedly in the head after a rough athletic outing.
This flew in the face of their ‘harmonious’ relationship as training partners.
By 2000, Marinovich was in the Arena Football League and playing well for the Los Angeles Avengers.
During a game with LA, he threw 10 touchdown passes, tying the record for most touchdowns in a single game.
Marinovich was named to the AFL All-Rookie team and was the face of the Avengers franchise.
Then, the day he received a bonus check, Marinovich was arrested for purchasing heroin.
He was eventually suspended by the league in 2001.
For nearly the next two decades, Marinovich spent time in and out of rehab and experienced periods of homelessness.
He tried to get clean for his children, only to backslide.
Painting, something he had always been interested in, took Marinovich’s mind off his troubles.
That lasted for a while and he would be back in the news again after being arrested.
In 2017, Marinovich made national headlines after suiting up for the SoCal Coyotes of Development Football International.
Todd Marinovich plays his first professional football game in 17 years pic.twitter.com/8gJXeXmkiS
— The Desert Sun (@MyDesert) September 4, 2017
He had been in rehab and was spending part of his days tutoring local teams and players, including the Coyotes.
Although he was 48 at the time, Marinovich made his case to the SoCal coach to play for the Coyotes.
The coach agreed and, in the first game of the season, Marinovich completed 19 passes for 262 yards, seven touchdowns and two picks.
SoCal won the game 73-0.
That would be the last time Marinovich suited up for the Coyotes.
Citing a shoulder issue, he was done playing football.
Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop?
After a decade-long battle with Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, Marv Marinovich passed away on December 3, 2020.
He was 81 years old.
Rest In Peace to Marv Marinovich, the USC Alum and father of former NFL Quarterback Todd Marinovich was 81 years old. pic.twitter.com/mDDzEO00zz
— Four Verts 🏈 (@FourVerticals_) December 5, 2020
Fortunately, Todd Marinovich, now 52, has not been in the news lately for another relapse in his battle with drugs and addiction.
However, given his track record, it’s safe to say family and friends are cautiously optimistic.
One can only hope that Marinovich sticks with the plan he made to stay clean during his last stint in rehab.
“I have a playbook now that allows me to respond to life, because here’s the deal, life is always going to be throwing things at you,” he said. “If it is ever where things are going well, it’s not going to stay like this for long. And so it’s how I react or respond to it that is the magic in it. And I have a gameplan now that I’ve never had.”
Been an addict for more than 45 yrs with good days and bad days..an unfortunate lifelong battle…Wish him well..
Thanks for the article. It shows how he is both a naturally gifted player and an addict at the same time. Anytime they both are in play, the addiction always wins.
Hard work. Diet. Exercise. Staying sober. The keys to success. How many of us can do all four?