Raiders taken at 24: QB Todd Marinovich

In earlier articles I explored the Raiders previous times that the Raiders used the 24th pick of the NFL Draft.  This article is the last of a four part series that seeks to look at all four players that the Raiders took with that pick.

“With the 24th pick of the 1991 NFL Draft, the Los Angeles Raiders select Todd Marinovich, quarterback, Southern Cailfornia.”

Historically speaking, the Raiders have not fared well when drafting quarterbacks in the first round.  Personally I have always stated that you can judge how old a Raider fan is by asking them which quarterback that they remember the team selecting in the first round.  In 1968 it was Eldridge Dickey, whose only claim to fame is that he is the first African-American quarterback ever taken in the first round.  Dickey fizzled out quickly and he was out of the league by 1972.  Marc Wilson was selected by the Raiders in the first round of the 1980 NFL Draft and the team gave him opportunity after opportunity to become the starter but he threw too many interceptions (86) and completed too few of his passes (52%) before the Raiders finally gave up on him in 1988.  As a kid, Wilson frustrated me to no end and his performance in 1985 playoffs still brings tears to my eyes.

Younger fans reading this will likely remember when the Raiders took a chance and draft JaMarcus Russell first overall in the 2007 NFL Draft but I don’t want to talk about that epic failure today.  Sadly, many fans forget that Russell wasn’t all that bad when you compare him statistically to one of his predecessors.  In 1991, the Raiders drafted quarterback Todd Marinovich with the 24th overall pick.   Of course if you will agree with that that comparison you would have to disregard the fact that Russell was selected first overall and his hefty rookie contract.  

From the time that he was born, Todd Marinovich, the son of former Raider Marv Marinovich was bred to be a professional football player.  Like most fathers, Marv dreamt that his son would fulfill the lofty expectations that he fallen short on as an NFL player in the 1960s.  Todd’s upbringing was so strict that he had never had a McDonald’s cheeseburger or a Twinkie.  His diet was completely managed by his father and from a young age he was given the proper vitamins and work out regime to become a sports phenomenon.  

Marv stretched Todd as an infant, helping to limber his body for future athletic success. As he grew up Todd was put through grueling conditioning and football workouts.  When Todd became a high school football superstar in Orange County, it was no accident.  Once he got to USC he acquired more freedom from his father and Todd began experimenting with drugs.  His favorites became marijuana and cocaine and by 1991 his welcome had begun to wear out with the USC coaching staff.  Marinovich applied and was declared eligible for the 1991 NFL Draft becoming the first ever sophomore to declare for the NFL Draft.

Marinovich was an average USC quarterback.  He threw for just over 5,000 yards in two years and his 29 career touchdown passes were humbly buttressed by 25 career interceptions.  Nothing seemed to make him a worthy first round pick unless you took him as a guy coming straight out of high school.  Still, the Los Angeles Raiders had struggled mightily at quarterback since Jim Plunkett retired in 1986.  This collection of failed former draft picks like Marc Wilson and poor trades like Jay Schroeder only further fueled the frustration of Raiders owner Al Davis.  In 1991, the team still had a solid defense, a decent offensive line and good receivers but the quarterback play was their Achilles heel.  In 1990, Jay Schroeder led the Raiders to a 12-4 record and a divisional playoff win versus Cincinnati before committing five turnovers in the 1990 AFC Championship Game. Los Angeles lost that game by a score of 51-3 and the rout further pushed Al Davis to seek a solution in the 1991 draft.

The 1991 Draft possessed no quarterback of note unless you had a crystal ball and could predict that a young Mississippian named Brett Favre would later rise to greatness.  Even at the time, quarterbacks like Favre, Craig Erickson, Scott Zolak (who was the last primary New England starter prior to Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady), Dan Mcguire and Todd Marinovich failed to inspire any of the experts, most notably Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN, to declare any of these men as a franchise game changer.  However, the experts never bothered Al Davis and he never sought their approval anyway so as the first round progressed it was clear to the people watching that the Raiders would likely take either a running back or a quarterback.

At the time, it seemed to his author that Davis might take Dan McGwire because he fit the Al Davis prototype for what a quarterback should be.  Thankfully, the Seattle Seahawks, led by Davis protégé Tom Flores selected McGwire with the 16th overall pick.   This author expected the Raiders to take running back Harvey Williams from LSU but the Chiefs snatched him up at 21st overall.  Kiper later admitted in 2008 that he expected the Chiefs to take Brett Favre but this author believes that the Chiefs took Williams to keep him from the Raiders.  After the Bears took tackle Stan Thomas and Miami took Randal Hill, the Raiders were on the board.  The news recently reported that Marinovich had been arrested recently for cocaine possession and as a young kid all I could do is hope that they wouldn’t be stupid enough to take the guy.

With Harvey Williams gone I wondered who the Raiders would likely take.  Traditionally the Raiders took the full time allotted to them and this pick was no exception.   In those days teams were given a full ten minutes to pick and as ten minutes became eight and then four and then two, I sat waiting in anticipation. There was no internet in those days, no draft predictions other than what you could find on television or in the newspaper.  Millennials today can never understand how difficult it was.

As time was about to run out the Raiders sent their card to then NFL Commissioner Paul Talagubue.  Within seconds the commissioner announced that they had drafted Todd Marinovich.   I watched ESPN’s highlights and I have to personally admit that I knew very little about Todd Marinovich.  To be fair, he was a left hander and since I am a left hander I felt a pseudo kindship with him.  Moreover, it looked like he could make all the throws necessary to be an NFL quarterback.  I remember Tom Jackson stating that Marinovich “throws a nice ball when he is on, its soft, it’s easy to catch.”  Regardless of how I felt, Todd Marinovich was the quarterback of the future for the Los Angeles Raiders.

In a recent 30 for 30 episode focused entirely on Todd Marinovich, former Raiders defensive lineman Howie Long stated that “If you don’t have a quarterback you don’t have a shot, your chasing that, it is the white whale and Todd for us was the white whale.”  After his drug arrest and his failure to win a Heisman, both Todd Marinovich and his father had something to prove.  Moreover, Al Davis had something to prove too.  As soon as Marinovich reported to sign his rookie deal he was awarded jersey number 12.  He had never worn that number in his entire career and being that he was a left handed quarterback who liked to party, the press immediately compared him to Ken Stabler.

When Todd arrived at training camp the Raiders were a veteran team.  On the roster were future hall of famers like Howie Long, Tim Brown and Ronnie Lott.  The team still had Pro Bowler Greg Townsend on the roster, a young cornerback named Terry McDaniel and in free agency they had just picked up former 49er Roger Craig.   To some it seemed like the perfect marriage, the bad boy Raiders had just added a kid that wanted to be a bad boy.  At quarterback the team still had Schroeder, who had previously come to the Raiders with a heavy price.  In 1988, Davis traded All-Pro tackle Jim Lachey to the Washington Redskins to acquire Schroeder’s services.   Despite Schreoder’s failure in the 1990 AFC Championship Game he was still penciled in as the 1991 starter.  His backup was veteran Vince Evans, who was drafted by the Chicago Bears when Todd Marinovich was just seven years old.  Todd was penciled in at third string with the hope that he could develop into a future star.

At the time I had no idea what was going on.  Again, many millennials will not understand the time when social media did not exist and for Todd Marinovich that was a good thing.  The 30 for 30 program devoted to his story later reported that he was hanging out with actor Charlie Sheen and musician Axel Rose.  This unique threesome spend most of their time playing arcade games in Todd’s basement, snorting cocaine and dating high maintenance models.  It doesn’t seem like it was a good thing in hindsight but at the time there weren’t too many Raider fans that knew this was happening.

Vicodin was another problem that Todd developed as the 1991 season finally began and for most of that season he sat on the bench and enjoyed the partying lifestyle that he had grown accustomed to but reality was soon coming for him.  The Raiders travelled to New Orleans to face the Saints in week 16.  The silver and black were 9-5 and they had just lost a close overtime game to the Buffalo Bills one week earlier.   The night before the game, Marinovich hooked up with four airline stewardesses and he partied on Bourbon Street.  The following day, Marinovich’s excessive partying would catch up to him.

With a playoff spot looming, the Raiders sank early in the glare of the Superdome’s lighting.  The Saints knocked Raider starter Jay Schroeder from the game during the first quarter when linebacker Pat Swilling collapsed on Schroeder’s right ankle.  Trailing only 3-0, the Raiders looked to Marinovich to step in and play but Todd waived off the offer and he remained on the sidelines.  Schroeder eventually returned but the Raiders were shut out for the first time ever on Monday Night Football.

The following week the Raiders faced off against the Kansas City Chiefs.  Kansas City has beaten the Raiders earlier that season but Los Angeles later pulled ahead in the standings until several losses by the Raiders allowed the Chiefs to catch up and both teams would enter this matchup with identical 9-6 record.  At stake was the right to host a playoff game the following week.  Could the Raiders win?  By midweek, ESPN reported that Todd Marinovich would start the Raiders final game of the 1991 against the Chiefs.  Ironically, the game would take place in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the stadium that Todd had previously called home as a USC Trojan.

Throughout my football life spanning back to 1984 I have always been amazed how the injection of a new quarterback into a lineup can completely reinvigorate a franchise.  As I stated earlier I didn’t know about the partying because social media didn’t exist and that likely would have ruined Todd Marinovich just as it later ruined Johnny Manziel.  Marinovich with his long blonde hair, his left handedness and his #12 jersey reminded me so much of the films that I grew up watching of Ken Stabler.  The Los Angeles crowd knew this and as Marinovich completed pass after pass the once struggling Los Angeles Raiders, a team that 9-4 but had suffered two rough defeats seemed like a new franchise.   Even one of the crowds signs read “Todd ‘the Snake’ Marinovich”.  Todd looked more like Brett Favre of later years as he dropped back and completed pass after pass.  Marinovich fired three touchdowns that day and after every single one he jumped up and down like a little boy, his hands raised high in the air.

Perhaps Al Davis was right.  Perhaps the second coming of Ken Stabler had finally arrived. The Raiders fell behind early 7-0 but Todd led the Raiders right downfield and he capped off an important first quarter drive with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Tim Brown.  The Chiefs then took command of the game by scoring 13 unanswered points to go up 20-7.  Just when all hope seemed lost, Marinovich launched at touchdown pass to Ethan Horton and a second touchdown pass to Tim Brown.  The 27-21 final ended in the Chiefs favor but Marinovich had performed admirably by completing 23 of 40 passes for 243 yards and no interceptions.  The rookie had received rave reviews, most notably from former 49er head coach Bill Walsh and then Raiders running back Marcus Allen.  One week later he would become the first Raider rookie to ever start a playoff game.  Twenty-five years later, future Connor Cook would achieve the same distinction but at the time that Marinovich took the field in January 1992, Connor Cook wasn’t even born yet.

Playing the comfortable surroundings of the Los Angeles Memorial Colisum was one thing but playing at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri is another.  The loss to Kansas City in week 16 forced the Raiders to travel on the road to play the Chiefs again. The Wild Card playoff game at Kansas City turned out to be a defensive struggle by both squads.  The Raiders did receive an advantage when future hall of famer Derrick Thomas had to the leave the game because of an illness.  It didn’t matter though.  Todd Marinovich finished the day 12 of 23 passing for only 140 yards. He also added five turnovers to the Raiders cause. Marinovich’s 5 turnovers tied Jay Schroeder’s postseason record of one year earlier (1990 AFC Title Game) and Rich Gannon would later tie both Marinovich and Schroeder with 5 turnovers in Super Bowl 37 in 2003.  Los Angeles would lose the game 12-6.

Marinovich’s performance in the playoffs and apparently his off the field lifestyle eventually made its way to Al Davis.  Jay Schroeder started the 1992 season as the primary starter but despite high expectations going into the season the Raiders started off the year with a 0-2 record.  Schroeder was benched and Marinovich was put back into the starting role against the Browns and their new head coach, a man by the name of Bill Belichick and a defensive coordinator named Nick Saban.

Marcus Allen later compared Marinovich to Joe Montana in the 30 for 30 program by stating that Marinovich possessed that certain charisma that is required of all great NFL quarterbacks.  Tim Brown later backed up his former teammate and friend Marcus Allen by stating that “Todd had all the tools to be a great one.”

Marinovich didn’t perform badly against Cleveland but Belichick and Saban utilized their entire playbook to confuse the youngster and Los Angeles lost 27-16.  The Browns were aided by running back Eric Metcalf, who accounted for all four of Cleveland’s touchdowns that day.  One week later, the Raiders travelled to Arrowhead for a rematch with Kansas City and once again the Chiefs beat Todd Marinovich and the Raiders.  The team was now 0-4 and all hope for making the playoffs was nearly lost.  The next two games pitted the Los Angeles Raiders against the 1990 NFL Champion New York Giants and the two time defending AFC Champion Buffalo Bills.  For Todd Marinovich it was not or never and with his 0-4 record as a starter undoubtaly ate away at his natural charisma.  As a fan, I remember losing hope because I didn’t think the team would ever find a quarterback.

In the first half against New York, the Raiders fell behind 10-0 and a halftime rally speech by Marcus Allen served as enough fuel for the Raiders competitive fires.  The team came out in the second half and they dominated the New York Giants.  Marinovich led the Raiders to two field goals and in the fourth quarter he connected with Tim Brown for an 68-yard touchdown.  The Raiders won 13-10 and Marinovich finished 14 of 23 passing with no interceptions.

Despite his struggles, the Raiders and the media felt that the team had found their first self-drafted franchise quarterback since Stabler in 1968.  Marinovich later told 30 for 30 that despite his success he was felt unhappy and unfilled and those emotions were projected and relieved by his persistent drug addiction.  His self-destructive lifestyle was beginning to catch up to him.

One week after defeating the Giants the Buffalo Bills came to town.  In those days the Bills were one of the league’s best teams and their roster would later produce six hall of famers.  Marinovich completed 11 of 21 passes and his two touchdown tosses went to future hall of famers Eric Dickerson and Tim Brown.  Los Angeles beat the Raiders to improve their record to 2-4.   One week later Marinovich was injured early on during a road game in Seattle and the coaching staff replaced him with Jay Schroeder.  The Raiders still prevailed 19-0 and now with a 3-4 record the team still held out hope for a third consecutive playoff season.  One week later, Marinovich was back in the lineup but he struggled against the soon to be Super Bowl Champion Dallas Cowboys.  The following week, Marinovich didn’t know it at the time but his final NFL start witnessed what would be his worst performance as a pro.  Against Reggie White’s Eagles, Marinovich threw three interceptions and he was yanked from the game.   Schroeder fared no better and Los Angeles not only lost the game but their 3-6 record put them out of the playoffs for good.

During that time the NFL increased its mandate drug testing and to counter that Marinovich turned to LSD because league testing wasn’t designed to detect it at that time.  Marinovich was walking a tight rope; a double life that imploded during the seven most important starts of his young career and all that was left was the wreckage of what had once been a hopeful start.  Rumors began to spread that Marinovich was purchasing urine from people in order to pass his mandated drug tests.  During that span Al Davis knew everything that was going on.  Marinovich later told the 30 for 30 crew that he was shown a print out of all the drugs that he was doing, the license plates of the dealers that he had purchased from and the documents contained all the lurid details that would make for trending hashtags on Twitter or Facebook.  Marinovich knew that once he was shown these documents that he was in trouble and that his days were numbered in Los Angeles.

The Raiders and Al Davis still believed in Todd Marinovich.  During that offseason the franchise carried out an intervention on behalf of Todd Marinovich.  During the meeting Todd was confronted by his family, Howie Long and other Raider teammates and he was told that his drug use had to stop or both his life and his NFL career would be jeopardy.  Marinovich went to the Betty Ford Clinic but he didn’t take the situation seriously.  During the 1993 preseason his play continued to decline and when cut day arrived, the former 24th overall pick of the 1991 NFL Draft was called into the office of Al Davis.

Davis informed Marinovich that he had tested positive for drug use for the second time and he was suspended for the entire 1993 season.  The Raiders had just picked up veteran quarterback Jeff Hostetler as their primary starter and that further fueled the belief in Todd Marinovich that he was done.  Unlike most young athletes, Todd was actually happy about the arrangement but his short two year career failed to live up to the vision that both society and his family had for him.

He bounced around a couple other leagues here and there over the next several years, all while battling recurring bouts with drug addiction. He went from gridiron hero to cautionary tale.  In 2000 he returned to Los Angeles as part of Arena Football’s Los Angeles Avengers.  During a game that year he fired 10 touchdown passes in one game but drug abuse was still a problem for Todd.  In 2009 he admitted to Esquire magazine that he had used his modest Arena Football League bonus to score heroin.  Over the years his name would bounce back and forth from the police blotter to the sports page but no NFL team ever gave Todd Marinovich another shot.  

In 2011 his 30 for 30 episode premiered and both the world and the Raider faithful were reminded of the potential that he once had and of the drug use that consumed his existence.  The show seemed to rebound his life and by 2014 his work as an artist had receive enough attention that he was commissioned to paint a mural for $20,000 in Garden Grove, California.  In August 2016 he was found naked in a strangers Los Angeles back yard and a bag of meth alongside his personal ID were found stashed nearby.  Once again Todd Marinovich had returned to the headlines and as of this writing we are still waiting to hear what is next in his life.

Todd Marinovich’s career stats are:

Record as a starter: 3-5

104 completions in 205 attempts for a 50% completion percentage.

1,345 yards passing.

8 touchdown passes versus 9 interceptions

Todd’s QB Rating is 66.4

He also has 12 rushes for 44 yards

 

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