Chester Marcol kicked 120 field goals in his nine seasons with the Green Bay Packers but all these years later, he is best remembered for one he missed. It led to one of the most dramatic and bizarre plays in Packers history and the only touchdown of Marcol’s NFL career.
Marcol had a strong career for the Packers and is a deserving indictee in the Packers Hall of Fame. He twice led the NFL in scoring and was twice named All Pro in his first three seasons with the team. He made 33 field goals in his rookie season of 1972 which was a major reason for the Packers 10-4 finish which led to their only playoff appearance in the 1970s.
But by the start of the 1980 season, both Marcol and the Packers had seen better days. The kicker had developed a drug and alcohol problem after suffering an injury that caused him chronic pain. He was struggling on and off the field.
Meanwhile, the team suffered an embarrassing preseason, going 0-4-1 and being outscored 86-17. Defensive line coach Fred von Appen had just resigned after head coach Bart Starr gave defensive end Ezra Johnson what von Appen considered a lenient punishment after Johnson was caught eating a hot dog on the sidelines during the Packers 38-0 preseason loss to the Broncos. The team was in turmoil.
The season opener that year came at Lambeau Field against the Packers oldest and most bitter rival, the Chicago Bears. Chicago was led by future Hall of Famer Walter Payton and had made the playoffs in 1979 for the second time in three seasons.
Fans were in a surly mood before the game. They threw hot dogs at the players from the stands during warmups. “We were embarrassed,” Marcol admitted. “When you’re warming up before the game and they’re throwing hot dogs at you from the stands, it’s pretty tough to swallow.”
The game was a defensive struggle. Neither team scored a touchdown in regulation with Marcol kicking field goals of 41 and 46 yards for Green Bay while Bob Thomas made kicks of 42 and 34 yards for the Bears. The teams headed for overtime all even at 6-6.
It was the Packers defense that kept the team in the game. They held Payton to just 65 yards on 31 carries or just 2.1-yards per carry. His long run for the game was just nine yards.
They also intercepted Bears quarterback Mike Phipps three times with Johnnie Gray, Mike McCoy and Wylie Turner making the picks. Turner’s interception came in the end zone and ended a big Chicago scoring threat.
“Our defense played magnificently today,” Starr said. “This marks the third straight game we’ve held Chicago without a touchdown.”
The Bears won the overtime coin toss but had to punt after picking up just one first down. The Packers took over at midfield and quarterback Lynn Dickey quickly moved the team into field goal range. The key play was a 32-yard pass to wide receiver James Lofton that gave the Packers a first down at the Bears 18. Lofton finished the day with five catches for 77 yards.
“They had a blitz and James just ran a corner pattern and caught them in single coverage,” Dickey said after the game.
Three plays later, Marcol came on to try the game-winning field goal from 35 yards out. Bears defensive tackle Alan Page blocked the kick but the ball miraculously bounced right into Marcol’s hands and he ran around left end for 25 yards and the game-winning touchdown. The Packers won the game 12-6 and his teammates mobbed the Polish-born kicker.
“It’s a dream come true,” Marcol said. “It was a very fortunate thing. This is probably the biggest moment in my life. They loaded up the middle and the ball bounced right at me. Once I caught it and saw the opening, nobody was going to catch me.”
Starr was thrilled with the win which the team badly needed. “We got a break to win it, we didn’t earn it,” said Starr. “A win like this is great for the spirit because when you are constantly being suppressed you have to have something like this. I’ve never seen a game won like this before. It’s the most dramatic win I’ve ever been part of. It was a heart-stopper.”
But there was a secret to the entire incident that wasn’t revealed until years later. In his book, “Alive and Kicking: My Journey Through Football, Addiction and Life,” Marcol admitted he had used cocaine during halftime of the game.
“I was under the influence of cocaine when I scored,” Marcol wrote. “I had gone into the bathroom at halftime and, while the coaches and players were preparing for the second half, I snorted coke. I don’t know if it would be accurate to say I was high when I scored that touchdown two hours later, but I definitely was under the influence.”
The drugs and alcohol caught up to Marcol. The Packers released him four weeks later, ending his nine-year tenure with the team. He kicked in only one more NFL game in his career with the Houston Oilers against the Packers in Green Bay in Week 15. He made the final field goal of his NFL career in that game but missed two extra points as Earl Campbell and the Oilers crushed the Packers 22-3. The Packers finished the season 5-10-1.
Marcol attempted suicide in 1986 but was able to get his life back on track and later worked as a drug and alcohol counselor to help others dealing with some of the demons he had to deal with.
Now, 43 years later, Marcol’s only NFL touchdown remains a memorable moment and one of the craziest finishes to any game in Packers history.
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