Todd Marinovich, Football’s Cautionary Tale, Is Playing Again at 48

Miller opens his home to players and their empty stomachs around practices. He pointed to a sofa and said, “Over a hundred of them have slept there overnight.”

Miller texts Marinovich often: “How are you going to stay sober for the next hour?”

No players are paid in this league. They “play for the tape,” with the hopes that talent evaluators in paying leagues will give them a shot. Shaine Boyle, a defensive back, and David Williams, a defensive lineman, for example, have played arena football.

Linebacker Jake Sheffield, one of about a half-dozen Coyotes from major college conferences, said teammates have agreed to help Marinovich, who has shown no interest in playing anywhere for a salary, “focus on his sobriety.” (His main source of income these days comes from the occasional paid speech and sale of his artwork.)

For Marinovich’s mother, Trudi, there were more visceral concerns about the Coyotes’ offensive line.

“How are we going to be up front?” she asked Todd. “How are we going to protect my boy?”

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Stephen Wade/Getty Images

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Marinovich led U.S.C. to victory in the 1990 Rose Bowl, but struggled the next season before entering the N.F.L. draft, where he was selected in the first round by the Raiders. Substance abuse problems derailed his pro career, and he was out of the N.F.L. after just two seasons.

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NFL Photos, via Associated Press

Marinovich’s most unlikely ally is Michael Karls, a Coyotes quarterback, who filled in with six touchdown passes in a 54-0 win over the Los Angeles Scorpions. He missed last season with an ankle injury, but intended to return to the Coyotes this year to start. Instead, he has accepted the role of backup and is committed to making Marinovich better.

“My purpose now is to help the next guy,” said Karls, 25, who said he could overtake Marinovich in an open competition. He coaches high school football and harbors no aspirations of advancing to loftier leagues.

The Coyotes are a nonprofit organization that subsists partly on corporate donors. Last year, Marinovich was one of the team’s assistant coaches. Miller, however, thought it would be good for Marinovich, as well as for the team, for him to take another shot at quarterback.

The team operates the run-and-shoot…

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