ESPN Films Presents: The Marinovich Project (2011)

Directed by Andrew Stephan & John Dorsey

Technically this installment was part of the ESPN’s “Year of the Quarterback” series back in 2011, but that’s just some stupid category ESPN decided to throw the film in because they love to glorify the position so much over any other in sports. So of course when I sat down to view the film, it should be no surprise that what was produced was a darn good film about a young man I had never heard of, but whose celebrity not only fit his California roots and his ability at the famed football position, but whose celebrity was also his downfall from the ranks of the elite to that of a drug addict seeking the money for his next fix.

Todd Marinovich is the son of Marv, a former captain of a National Championship winning University of Southern California football team. Marv Marinovich did not have an illustrious career as a player at the next level, the NFL, but he did develop some of the modern methods not only of player evaluation, but also of strength and conditioning. So when he and his wife welcomed a son, Todd, Marv became obsessed with training his son to be the ultimate quarterback. Destined for greatness, and living with little semblence of a childhood, Todd blossomed just as Marv had intended. But when he was finally given his freedom when he went off to college, also at the University of Southern California, Todd took the opportunity to finally get his much deserved and long awaited release from the stresses of perfection but becoming a party animal. And all of this in addition to leading his team to a Rose Bowl victory as well.

In this day and age of specialized athletes, it is quite remarkable to have seen a film like You Don’t Know Bo, showcasing the freakish athleticism of two sport star Bo Jackson, and then turn around and see this film, a story of how a father molded his son for a purpose, and one purpose only: to be an NFL quarterback. Directors Andrew Stephan and John Dorsey show a knack for documenting all the angles of the story though, which takes what could have easily been a one-sided account and instead forms a well balanced profile of the tumultuous life of Todd Marinovich. How easy it could have been to blame Todd’s failures on his unorthodox upbringing. How easy it could have been to just assume Todd was forced into something he didn’t want. Todd freely admits that he loved the game of football, loved working towards his goal of becoming an NFL quarterback. His goal, not his father’s.

There were three moments in the film that stuck with me hours after I had finished the film, and with which I wrestle with still. The first was something a spectator of Todd’s career noted, which was that at a certain moment Marinovich had finally “become Todd Marinovich,” which was a startling matter to consider. It assumes that there was a preconceived aura that defined Todd, a false facade developed by the expectation of his father and those who knew of his story, which is indeed a very troubling thing to consider. Todd was always Todd, no matter the outside pressures. The second was spoken by Todd himself when he asked “Just because you’re good at something, does it mean that you were meant to do it?” A question that many probably never consider, and one that I am sure has many different answers. But truly, what are we all called to do in this life?

The final moment was again something Todd himself said. Marinovich had gone through years of troubles with drug addiction, even admitting to joining the Canadian Football League as well as the Arena Football League as just a way to get a paycheck to get his fix. He had fallen so low, and had wasted all the talent he had worked so hard to develop. Todd spoke of a moment while pumping gas when a stranger remarked to him that he had in fact wasted talent. Todd admits that much of his ability is certainly God-given, but what he said after that is true. That talent is his, and his alone. He busted his ass to get to where he was, and he alone was free to do with it as he pleased. So why should anyone else ever feel that his talent was wasted. It gives good perspective on not only the fact that we are a nation of sports crazed fans, but also Marinovich and any athlete is human, with feelings, desires, passions, and dreams of their own. Who are we to say how small or how big those dreams are? Who are we to say that Marinovich should have dreamed bigger than just making it to the NFL, a goal which he accomplished?

*** – Very Good

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