D'Amato: Ex-Packers kicker Chester Marcol finds peace, purpose

Gary D'Amato
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Chester Marcol speaks during a Samaritans Hand event last week in Sheboygan.


SHEBOYGAN - Chester Marcol shouldn’t be alive. He will be the first to tell you his drugging and drinking should have killed him, before or after a suicide attempt in 1986 failed to do the job.

But Marcol is very much alive. He is relatively healthy, considering he is a 67-year-old man who ravaged his body and brain with booze and drugs for more than three decades.

“I don’t question God’s grace, but when I’m in church I’m thinking it’s incredible that I’m even sitting here,” he said. “Shooting drugs years after my suicide attempt. Three detoxes in 28 days. Car crashes with no seat belts, drunker than drunk.”

Once, Marcol was a celebrated kicker for the Green Bay Packers. The NFL rookie of the year in 1972, he twice led the league in scoring and twice was all-pro. His improbable game-winning touchdown in 1980 against the Chicago Bears – off a blocked field goal in overtime – is among the most memorable plays in Packers history.

Chester Marcol's game-winning touchdown run after a blocked field goal in overtime against the Bears in 1980 is one of the most memorable plays in Packers lore.

But when Marcol spoke last week at a fundraising dinner for Samaritans Hand, a faith-based drug and alcohol outpatient clinic, he never once mentioned football. That was all a lifetime ago and is almost irrelevant to what and who he is today, other than serving as a conversation starter.

“Kicking a winning field goal or scoring the touchdown is an avenue to do what I do now,” he said. “It opens up the door. Usually, in a room full of people when I speak, someone knows something (about his NFL career).”

What Marcol does now is offer hope as a drug and alcohol counselor at Libertas Treatment Center in Green Bay.

Hooked on cocaine as far back as 1980 – he sometimes used during halftimes of games – he somehow survived the horror that was his post-football lifestyle, when he shared needles in squalid drug houses, went on weeklong drinking binges and had countless failed attempts at sobriety. If he could get clean, anyone can.

“I just want to carry the message,” said Marcol, who has been in recovery for 10 years. “No. 1, I want to provide hope for hopelessness. The population I work with, there’s a lot of hopelessness.

“Thirteen or fourteen addicts die every hour in this country. That’s a lot of people. And I think it’s more than that.”

He is employed full-time for the first time since 1985 and is doing important work – more important than kicking field goals “by far.” He convinced the Packers to help fund scholarships for the National Rural Institute on Alcohol and Drug Abuse and wants to get all 32 NFL teams involved.

Marcol was elated to get the job at Libertas for another reason: It allowed him to escape winters in Dollar Bay, a small town in the northernmost reaches of the Upper Peninsula. He’d fled there because it was as far away from his dealers as he could get, literally and figuratively. If you think Green Bay is the “Frozen Tundra,” you haven’t experienced the Keweenaw Peninsula.

“Twelve inches of snow is a dusting,” he said with a laugh. “I pushed snow 33 mornings in a row up there. That’s my record.”

Though he is in a good place emotionally and spiritually, Marcol knows there are some things he can’t get back. He has a damaged heart, likely from his drug abuse. He has been estranged for years from Julie and Eric, his daughter and adopted son from his first marriage. He wasn’t much of a father to them.

“Eric did contact me once and he sent me a photo of him and his wife and child,” he said. “I was really grateful for it. When my brother’s daughter got married a couple years ago they went to the wedding. They tell my mom that they forgive me. I’m OK because they have a good life and they seem to be doing great.”

I attended the dinner last week and spent a bit of time with Chester. I hadn’t seen him in a long time and it had been more than five years since I helped him write his autobiography, “Alive and Kicking: My Journey Through Football, Addiction and Life.” He looked and sounded great.

I asked him if he was happy.

“Well, I’m not sure what that means, but I’m very content,” he said. “I don’t get off the charts anymore. My life is not either in a penthouse or an outhouse. I do not have to deal with astronomical differences in emotions.

“I take care of my mental and physical health. I thank God every single night for the gift of recovery and I go on.”

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