Todd and Marv Marinovich: The Sad Story of How Sports Dominated the Life of A Young Man

Adam Burke

Todd and Marv Marinovich:

The Sad Story of How Sports Dominated

the Life of A Young Man

In the 1970s, Marvin Marinovich attempted to sculpt the perfect NFL quarterback by making his son Todd train from the time he could walk.  By age 10, Todd had to run 10 miles a day, eat nothing other than the diet his father prescribed to him, and work out for more than two hours every day, pushing his body and mind to the limit.  Todd was on pace to be one of the most legendary quarterbacks that ever lived, being the first freshman ever to start at Mater Dei High School, a national football powerhouse. After high school, he attended the University of Southern California, where he was projected to be one of the best college quarterbacks of all time.  With the new freedom of college and a world he had rarely experienced before, Todd developed a serious cocaine problem.  He was arrested in college for possessing it, and became known as a “problem player.” This addiction would ultimately cause the end of his football career.  After playing just two seasons in the NFL, his career was ended because he failed his third random drug test. He went to the Canadian Football League, however. and blew out his knee in practice and in recovery, was introduced to heroin.  Todd never played football again and the main question one must ask is how did this happen to such a promising young athlete?

.   .   .

Society has always held collegiate and professional athletes to a high standard. Their character is judged largely by what they do on the field, however their personal lives and road they took to make it to the most elite levels of their sport go largely undocumented and under-appreciated.  On the contrary, when there is an athlete whose personal life is far from ordinary, their actions off the field are documented almost invasively by the media.  This is the case with Todd Marinovich’s road to the NFL, and also his fall from glory.

Not many ten year olds can say that they have never had fast food or eaten a cheeseburger, but even fewer can say that their father makes them run ten miles and train for two hours daily.  But for Todd Marinovich, life was different.  His father, Marvin, began training him to be the “perfect quarterback” at age five, and started rationing his diet from the time he was born.  Marvin, an NFL trainer, wanted his son to have every single advantage on the football field, and believed that the early development of his son was vital to his future.  The bizarre training techniques and intensity that Marv used in training Todd were both key instruments in Todd’s development not only as an athlete, but also as a human.  Todd barely ever had any friends, and when he tried to make plans with school friends his father would make him train instead, so Todd developed a social problem.  This greatly affected Todd’s image of how life really was, and he became a football drone.

By the time Todd was in high school, he was on the road to becoming an elite quarterback.  He attended a very well-renowned football high school in Santa Ana, California called Mater Dei.  He was the first freshman to ever start varsity at Mater Dei High, and in his first two seasons he threw for 4,400 yards and 34 touchdowns, both school records.  Halfway through his high school tenure, his mother decided that the harsh training techniques used by her husband were more than she could bear to watch, and his parents subsequently divorced.  After the divorce, his father could not afford to send him to Mater Dei any longer, so he transferred to Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo, California.  His success continued at Capistrano Valley, and he received many national football awards and accolades including being named a Parade All-American Player, and also the National High School Coaches Association’s offensive player of the year.  The training and rigorous drills that Marv put Todd through continued and intensified, and by the time Marvin was graduating high school, his play was the best it had ever been.

Todd was given a full athletic scholarship to the University of Southern California, his father’s alma mater and a collegiate football powerhouse.  He immediately accepted, and was greeted by the freedoms and temptations of college life.  After being under his father’s watch for the first eighteen years of his life, the freedom that college presented was too much for Todd to handle.  He red-shirted his freshman year at USC (he did not play but attended classes, giving him one more year of playing eligibility), but the quarterback who was ahead of him the next season got seriously injured, so Marinovich had to step in.  Despite being under intense pressure to perform, Marinovich played very well and was the first freshman to start at quarterback for USC in over 30 years.  He led them to a Rose Bowl victory over Michigan, a very impressive feat for a freshman.  The next season, Todd developed a cocaine habit, and his play suffered from it.  He was unable to control himself because his father had controlled him for his entire life before that.  After the 1990 season, he was arrested for possession of cocaine, and left school shortly after for the NFL.

Todd and his college coach Larry Smith never got along, and Todd also had troubles with his NFL coaches.  He was drafted by the Oakland Raiders and had a very volatile career, sometimes having outstanding games and other times having awful performances.  He dropped out of the NFL after failing drug tests three times and going in and out of rehab for the use of cocaine, pharmaceutical amphetamines and LSD.

One could speculate that the problems Todd suffered with self-control and social situations were a direct product of his father’s training techniques and sheltering of his son to attempt to breed the perfect NFL quarterback.  Had Todd never gotten into drugs and lost control of his life, he may have gone on to be one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, but at the same time one must question if the end product of a situation can ever justify the means used to get there.  Marv Marinovich is a Wayward American because he took training techniques used by professional athletes and imposed them onto his son from the time he was born.  This greatly affected Todd’s social skills and definition of reality, so when he experienced the freedoms of college, he was unable to handle himself with the pressure of being a good football player.  All Todd ever believed his life was meant to produce was football, and when his career ended, it left him with emotional scars and marred his relationship building skills. Was it his father’s fault? Or is it society’s fault that puts so much pressure on athletes to perform? These are questions that will never be answered, but one can reason that his father’s harsh training and dietary programs greatly impacted the social skills of a kid who knew nothing other than football his entire life.

Images of Marinovich

Marinovich in college in USC colors.

Marinovich in the NFL and a mugshot from one of his arrests

Marinovich in Mater Dei uniform, age 15.

Suggested Reading/Film

 Branch, Taylor. “The Shame of College Sports.” The Atlantic, Oct. 2011

ESPN 30 for 30: The Marinovich Project. Dir. John Dorsey and Andrew Stephan. Perf. Todd Marinovich, Marvin Marinovich. ESPN Films, 2011. Television Documentary.

Looney, Douglas. “Being Todd Marinovich.” Interview by John Kress. HLNTV.  24 Aug. 2012. Web. 12 Nov. 2012. <;.

Looney, Douglas S. “Bred to Be a Superstar.” Sports Illustrated 22 Feb. 1988.

Relter, Ben. “Paint By Number 13.” Sports Illustrated 06 Feb. 2012.

This entry was posted by aburke10.

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