With next week’s NFL Draft fast approaching, reporter Jeremy Schaap and producer Simon Baumgart tell the fascinating life story of 1989 Draft pick Tony Mandarich for Sunday’s E:60 (9 a.m. ET, ESPN).
Mandarich’s cautionary tale offers a stark backdrop to what will transpire in Nashville beginning Thursday on ESPN and ABC.
Schaap says the five-hour interview with Mandarich was the longest he’s done in his 25 years as an ESPN reporter. But the story will end up being told in about 40 minutes on Sunday.
“If you’re of a certain age you remember Tony Mandarich as this incredible phenomenon,” Schaap said. “But people who know the story forgot the details and forgot that he made this comeback. And if you’re not of that age, his story is astonishing. There’s never been an offensive lineman that has generated that type of buzz.”
What happened to Mandarich as far as his addiction to drugs and alcohol is a story many can relate to, but his interactions and involvement with some of the most influential people in sports brings the Mandarich tale to a different level.
Schaap and Baumgart sat down with many of those bold-faced names including Nick Saban (assistant coach at Michigan State during Mandarich’s college career), Jim Harbaugh (his teammate with the Colts), Deion Sanders (a fellow 1989 draft class member) and Mandarich’s former teammates at the Packers including Don Majkowski, James Campen and Tim Harris.
“I think a lot of people ended up liking Tony and they were happy for him when he turned his life around,” Schaap said. “By the time he played with Harbaugh he was a different man. And Saban. . . well, he discovered him.”
Schaap said he read everything about Mandarich, including his book but there were still stories he had never heard before and are revealed in the piece.
“When I was interviewing [former Packers quarterback] Majkowski in Atlanta he told me a story about how Tim Harris humiliated Mandarich on his first day in a Packers uniform,” Schaap said. “I knew we had to get Harris. The interview with him ended up being one of my favorites in the piece.”
All of these characters helped tell Mandarich’s unique and inspiring story but what makes it so compelling is that Mandarich himself was an open book.
“Tony’s ability to tell his story is unusual,” Schaap said. “He’s a good storyteller, he’s a great character. If there’s anything that surprised me it was his willingness to go anywhere and talk about everything.”