If You Think Tony Mandarich Gets Paid Too Much, You'll Have a Short Stay in Green Bay

updated 12/11/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/11/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

Tomorrow is game day, and Green Bay Packers rookie Tony Mandarich is wheeling his black Bronco into the Wisconsin countryside to relax with some gunplay. "I like to kill something," explains the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history. Stopping at a game farm, he unfolds his 6'5", 315-lb. frame from the truck and unloads his shotguns, his pistols and his three Siberian huskies. His fiancée, Amber Ligon, 24, and best Packer pal, defensive-end Shawn Patterson, are along to share in the fun. Mandarich is out to shoot birds, but today the game-farm folks tell him he'll have to settle for killing clay pigeons.

"I love this s—-," says the Pack's No. 1 draft choice, hefting a 12-gauge.

"Awesome," says Patterson, as Amber triggers the skeet machine, sending disks flying.

"This gets me angry," Mandarich shouts over the boom of his shotgun. "I think about how I'm gonna kill the guy in front of me, how I'm gonna stick my fingers in his face!"

Packer fans love such talk, especially from a massively talented hulk who could back it up by helping Green Bay to the play-offs for the first time in seven years. "Everyone has size and speed," says Patterson, "but not many have Tony's killer instinct." Adds linebacker Brian Noble, a five-year Packer veteran who has faced Mandarich in practice: "I've never felt that kind of power. His initial explosion is bad enough, but then he sustains it with amazing power and drive. It's like getting hit by a brick wall and having it fall on you. He's also got a nasty streak in him that most guys don't have."

Mandarich, 23, occasionally talks nasty as well, and last summer he made the mistake of calling Green Bay (pop. 96,500) "a village." The Michigan State All-America then made matters worse by boycotting training camp and demanding a $2 million-a-year contract. Finally, the mountainous Supermouth said he just might not play football at all; maybe he'd fight Mike Tyson for $10 million instead. The blue-collar burghers of Green Bay didn't take all that kindly, but they've gotten over it. "They didn't understand the value of entertainment," explains Bob McGinn, football writer for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "But they do understand the value of a winner, so now they've accepted him."

Mandarich missed all of training camp before agreeing to a four-year, $4.3 million deal that included a staggering $2 million signing bonus, one of the largest in NFL history. The youngster with the 19-inch neck, who bench-presses 550 pounds and runs 40 yards in 4.6 seconds, is being paid for his killer "pancake blocks"—as in, on your back, things spinning, maybe lights-out. "I just like pulverizing people," Mandarich says. "I get energized from that. It's a feeling of power, dominance. I feel unstoppable."

Mandarich has already proved he is more than a big mouth. Though used sparingly early in the season, he worked diligently to learn the Packer system and now plays regularly in short-yardage situations. "It's been hard for me not starting," he admits. "I'm not used to that after being the top college lineman in the country. And the lack of training camp hurt me. But I'll make it." Head coach Lindy Infante agrees: "He'll be starting before long, and he's gonna be a great player here for a lot of years."

Mandarich thinks his toughness comes from his father, Vic, who works in an Oakville, Ont., truck factory, and his mother, Donna. They are both hardy, large-boned Yugoslavs who raised Tony and his brother, John, a tackle for the Edmonton Eskimos, after emigrating to Canada in 1957. "We're a big family," says Mandarich, who weighed 13 lbs. at birth. After playing high school football in Ohio to learn the American style of the game, he majored in communications at Michigan State but dropped out 17 credits short of a degree. He and Amber plan to marry in two years and now live in a $500-a-month Green Bay apartment with rented furniture, the dogs and Mandarich's favorite records, by the hard-core heavy-metal band Guns n' Roses.

The skeet shoot is over, and Mandarich heads back to the Bronco, detailing his training secrets. His size and speed owe nothing to steroids, he insists—whispered suspicions to the contrary. Instead, he says, he bulks up the old-fashioned way, by downing 15,000 calories a day (and 15½ pounds of steak a week) in the offseason and lifting weights year-round. To keep the monster's edge, he also plays mental games with himself, taking motivation from personal pain. "Sometimes," he confesses, "when I have to get real mad, I think about my mom. She recently had heart surgery. So if I'm doing squat lifts, I'll say to myself, 'If I don't get this lift, Mom won't make it.' " Tossing the 12-gauge into the pickup, he adds, "I always make the lift."

—Ron Arias, Bill Shaw in Green Bay

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