Ex-Packer turns life around
By Greg Seubert
Suicide attempts. Depression. Alcoholism. Drug abuse.
Chester Marcol has been there and done that.
The former Green Bay Packers kicker has turned his life around since his nine-season NFL career ended in 1980 and is now a certified alcohol and drug abuse counselor at the Libertas Treatment Center in Green Bay.
The Waupaca County Suicide Prevention Coalition brought Marcol and his message to Waupaca High School Oct. 21, where about 100 people turned out.
Marcol, who led the NFL in scoring as a rookie with 128 points in 1972, hardly mentioned football in his 90-minute talk.
Instead, he talked about losing his father and younger brother to suicide; his own failed suicide attempt in 1986, one year before being named to the Packers Hall of Fame; and more than 30 years of drug and alcohol abuse.
Marcol, who turned 68 Oct. 24, grew up in Poland and moved to Imlay City, Michigan, with his mother and siblings in 1965 a year after his father committed suicide.
Soccer was his first sport, but that soon changed after a football coach in Imlay City saw him kicking.
“I could kick the ball far, but to me, it was no big deal,” Marcol said. “I was fortunate because of my athletic ability.”
That ability led him to Hillsdale College, a small school in Hillsdale, Michigan.
He recalled playing a game as a Hillsdale sophomore in De Pere against St. Norbert College.
“It was 2 below, the coldest game ever,” he said. “We stayed at a Holiday Inn and my roommate, who was a Packers fan, looked out of the window and said, ‘Someday, you’re going to play here.’ I said, ‘You put a curse on me now because of the cold.’”
Two years later, the Packers selected Marcol in the second round of the NFL draft.
“It was a privilege and I came in at the right spot,” he said. “Just think, I’m in little Poland coming to Imlay City, a little farming community north of Detroit. Hillsdale College, 1,100 students. Green Bay, tiny community. I’m grateful I didn’t end up in New York or something.”
Marcol didn’t know much about the Packers’ past history that included five NFL championships over a seven-year span in the 1960s and wins in the first two Super Bowls.
“I couldn’t even speak English in ‘65 when the Packers won their championship,” he said.
It didn’t take Marcol long to make his mark in the NFL. He was named the league’s rookie of the year in 1972 and he went on to kick for the Packers until 1980. He eventually played in the 1972 and 1974 Pro Bowls.
His most memorable game came in his final season, an overtime win over Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field.
Marcol’s two field goals accounted for all six of the Packers’ points in regulation and he had an opportunity to win the game with another field goal in overtime.
However, the Bears’ Alan Page blocked Marcol’s kick and the ball ended up in Marcol’s chest. He headed for the end zone and scored the game-winning points in a 12-6 win.
Although Marcol scored all 12 of his team’s points in the game, he later admitted in his 2011 book, Alive and Kicking: My Journey Through Football, Addiction and Life, that he snorted cocaine during halftime.
The Packers released Marcol, who by then had an reputation as a heavy drinker, later that season. The Houston Oilers eventually signed Marcol to replace their kicker, who was out with an injury, in 1980.
He played his final NFL game – against the Packers – for Houston on Dec. 14, 1980, at Lambeau Field. He kicked a field goal in the Oilers’ 22-3 win, but also missed three extra points.
“It was a privilege to play football in the National Football League and especially the Green Bay Packers,” he said. “I didn’t know their history, I didn’t know anything about championships. I didn’t care because I was in Poland.”
Marcol said his drug addiction began with painkillers during his playing days.
Years of drug and alcohol abuse followed and Marcol eventually tried to kill himself on Valentine’s Day in 1986 with a combination of battery acid, rat poison and vodka.
“How did I live?” he asked. “I really don’t know. I could not stay sober. I did everything right. I’m only one drink away from losing everything I have.”
Marcol, in his 10th year of recovery, eventually ended up in Dollar Bay in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where he began working as a drug and alcohol counselor. Libertas hired him last year and he returned to the Green Bay area.
It’s not an easy job, he admitted.
“I’m tired of going to funerals for my clients,” he said. “Way too many.”
Following his talk, Marcol signed photos and copies of his books and posted for photos with fans. Coalition members also sang “Happy Birthday” while bringing out a birthday cake.
“Isn’t it nice?” he said. “I’m still wanted. I’m just joking, but there were some bars where nobody wanted me.”
Marcol is surprised by how his life has turned around and how he is now able to help others dealing with the same issues he has faced most of his life.
“A lot of good, bad, pain, success and trauma,” he said. “It took everything to be where I’m at and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”