The Man Who Never Was

Twenty years ago, Todd Marinovich was guaranteed to be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game of football. Engineered to be. He was drafted ahead of Brett Favre. Today he’s a recovering junkie. Scenes from the chaotic life of a boy never designed to be a man.

  • Award Winner
  • Editors' Pick
  1. The Fallbrook Midget Chiefs are fanned out across the field on a sunny autumn day in southern California, two dozen eighth graders in red helmets and bulbous pads. Whistles trill and coaches bark, mothers camp in folding chairs in the welcoming shade of the school building, younger siblings romp. Fathers hover on the periphery, wincing with every missed tackle and dropped pass.

    Into this tableau ambles a tall man with faded-orange hair cropped close around a crowning bald spot, giving him the aspect of a tonsured monk. His face is all angles, his fair skin is sunburned and heavily freckled, his lips are deeply lined, the back of his neck is weathered like an old farmer's. He is six foot five, 212 pounds, the same as when he reported for duty twenty-one years ago as a redshirt freshman quarterback at the University of Southern California, the Touchdown Club's 1987 national high school player of the year. The press dubbed him Robo Quarterback; he was the total package. His Orange County high school record for all-time passing yardage, 9,182, stood for more than two decades.

    Now he is thirty-nine, wearing surfer shorts and rubber flip-flops. He moves toward the field in the manner of an athlete, loose limbed and physically confident, seemingly unconcerned, revealing nothing of the long and tortured trail he's left behind.

    A coach hustles out to meet the party. He is wearing an Oakland Raiders cap. "Todd Marinovich!" he declares. "Would you mind signing these?" He produces a s...

Originally published in Esquire, May 2009