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Marinovich Is Still a Good Bet for NFL

January 23, 1991|MIKE DOWNEY

After the arrest, I still bet a lunch with a knowledgeable football reporter that Todd Marinovich would be taken in the first round of the NFL draft. The reporter shook his head as though I were the one who ought to be suspected of using drugs.

My arguments were these:

Quarterbacks are needed desperately. . . . John Fourcade and Cody Carlson were quarterbacks of playoff teams. . . . Jeff Hostetler is the quarterback of a Super Bowl team. . . . Vince Evans appeared in a playoff game . . . as did has-been Jim McMahon . . . and rusty Steve Young. . . . Chicago considered using Peter Tom Willis. . . . John Friesz started a San Diego game. . . . New England played Steve Grogan and Marc Wilson. . . .

His arguments were as follows:

Quarterbacks are big gambles. . . . Joe Montana wasn't picked until the third round. . . . Randall Cunningham went in the second round. . . . Rodney Peete went on the second day . . . . And don't forget Johnny Unitas. . . . And it's better to build with defense, anyway. . . . And besides, Marinovich isn't ready . . . and he's immature . . . and now this latest thing. . . . I interrupted:

Quarterbacks learn on the job. . . . It took Montana and John Elway and others years to become stars. . . . It took Doug Williams and Steve DeBerg forever. . . . Andre Ware doesn't even start. . . . Troy Aikman took a beating in his first season. . . . Warren Moon was in Canada. . . . Quarterbacks are investments. . . . Marinovich can be made "ready" by practicing against NFL teams as easily as he can get "ready" by playing against Oregon or Oregon State. . . .

He interrupted:

Quarterbacks must be dependable. . . . This drug thing scares people. . . . After campaigning so hard against drugs, how can anybody reward anyone who possibly uses them? . . . And Marinovich was overhyped anyway . . . only played a few good games. . . . David Klingler and a half-dozen others would get drafted ahead of him. . . . And then there's Marinovich's attitude. . . .

To which I replied:

Attitude? . . . You don't think Mike Ditka or Jerry Glanville or Sam Wyche would take a kid with an "attitude?" . . . You don't think Al Davis could accept a high-strung, headstrong kid? . . . Pro football is a business, pal, not a Boy Scout troop. . . . The Raiders drafted a first-rounder in 1988 who got arrested several times in college on assault charges, Scott Davis, who starts for them now. . . . Anthony Smith, their 1990 top pick, wasn't exactly Mother Teresa, either. . . .

And on and on we went.

Todd Marinovich is a hot topic these days, one with more on his mind than merely where he will play football next season. It is not inconceivable that he has cost himself hundreds of thousands of dollars since New Year's Eve, playing poorly for USC in a bowl game, getting into shouting matches with coaches and being arrested last Sunday, accused of possessing cocaine.

Last season took Todd from the cover of Sports Illustrated to issuing a moratorium on discussion of the Heisman Trophy to being photographed extending his middle finger to an opponent to being suspended for cutting classes to being ignored in the Heisman voting to being reinstated as a starter in good graces to being benched in the John Hancock Bowl to being suspended again to re-enrolling in school to screening professional agents to being busted by the cops.

Right about now, with third parties such as myself bandying about the family name, I strongly suspect that Todd Marinovich is sorry he didn't play football for some lesser-known college and that Marv Marinovich is sorry he ever let it be known that his son was systematically nurtured to become a prototype professional quarterback, from head to toe.

Amateur psychoanalysts now come armed with theories that the care and feeding of children with the intent of creating athletic perfection can result in dire consequences, including a natural rebellion in the child to act the very way he has been taught not to act, eat the very food he has been prohibited from eating, reject all programming like a runaway robot from "Westworld."

For every parent who more or less molds a child into a football or tennis or swimming prodigy with occasional negative fallout, we forget that there is another parent whose child was introduced to piano or ballet or acting or mathematics or gymnastics or some other endeavor that necessitated involving some boy or girl in a premeditated course of action before the child was old enough to consent to it. It isn't always harmful.

Todd Marinovich, now 21 and a man, is responsible for his own actions. Because of who he is and where he has been, a low profile will be difficult to keep. Yet, it can be done. He has behavior to answer for, certainly, but he is not the first person his age to muck things up. There is time for him to straighten up and fly right.

I do not know that USC would take him back as a player now, or should. But don't kid yourself that USC only plays angels. Kurt Barber, who was benched at the start of the season opener against Syracuse for violating a team rule, was replaced briefly in the starting lineup by Willie McGinest, who was then, and still is, up on charges in court.

And Marinovich himself was replaced in the bowl game not by senior Pat O'Hara, who could have been rewarded for his years of hardship and sportsmanship, but by Shane Foley, who days before had also been arrested.

You can see what I mean about football players being judged on their ability to play football, not on their status as model citizens. In the final analysis, however, when I consider Todd Marinovich and what has become of him, I honestly do believe that he will someday be a fine NFL quarterback, but I also believe that I might soon be paying for somebody's lunch.

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