Thursday, January 12, 2012

ESPN Films: The Marinovich Project

Running on the treadmill, I watched The Marinovich Project. The documentary is airing as part of a series of seven documentaries that ESPN Films was running late last year.

The film looks at the life of Todd Marinovich. Starting in the womb, Todd was raised by his father to be the perfect athlete. His father, Marv Marinovich, was a former USC Trojan and Oakland Raider. Marv was the first strength and conditioning coach in NFL history. He was obsessed with training methods and seeked out as much information as possible from other countries in an attempt to become the most knowledgeable on the subject; his practices were revolutionary at the time.

Todd become a very successful high school athlete. Playing quarter for Mater Dei and Capistrano High Schools, he set the national high school record by passing for 9,914 yards. Todd received numerous honors, including being named a Parade All-American and the National High School Coaches Association's offensive player of the year. His struggles with drugs and alcohol started in high school.

Todd played two years at USC. Although neither his coaches nor teammates believed that he was ready, Marinovich became the first freshman quarterback to start the first game of the season for USC since World War II. The Trojans went 9–2–1, won the Pac-10 conference, and defeated Michigan in the 1990 Rose Bowl. UPI and The Sporting News named Marinovich the College Freshman of the Year for 1989; he was the only freshman on the All-Pac-10 team and the first freshman quarterback named. Marinovich entered the 1990 season as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Battling with coach Larry Smith much of the year, Todd was arrested for cocaine possession a month after the season ended, left college and entered the NFL draft.

Drafted by the Los Angeles Raiders [ahead of Brett Favre!], he spent two years with the team. In training camp before the 1993 season, Marinovich failed his third NFL drug test and his NFL career was over. He subsequently bounced around the Canadian and Arena football leagues.

Despite flashes of brilliance, Marinovich's professional career is widely considered to be a bust. In 2004, Marinovich was included in's list of The 25 Biggest Sports Flops, coming in at fourth on the editors' list, and seventh on the readers' list.

The unusual thing about the documentary is the final arc of the film. While it seems like the typical story of an athlete's struggles with drugs, it has a twist. With Todd and Marv participating in the making of the documentary and telling their story, the ending takes a somewhat unexpected turn. Overall, The Marinovich Project is a good, but not great documentary.

The Marinovich Project is available in iTunes.

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