ESCANABA - Drugs and alcohol destroyed his career, and almost his life.
Now Chester Marcol is trying to make sure it doesn't happen to other people.
The former Green Bay Packer placekicker has written a book about his ascent to All-Pro status and his dramatic descent into the bowels of alcohol and drugs, including a failed suicide attempt depicted in graphic detail. "Alive And Kicking" was co-written by Gary D'Amato, a sportswriter with the Milwaukee JournalSentinel.
Dennis Grall photo
Former Green?Bay Packer Chester Marcol spoke at the Escanaba High School auditorium Monday night. Marcol speaks on his personal struggle with drugs and alcohol.
Marcol spoke at Escanaba and Gladstone high schools Tuesday, and to a disappointingly small group of adults Monday. The EHS students applauded when he told them he has been sober since Feb. 7, 2007.
That is his recovery date from a tortureous journey that began in 1979, but he told the students there is no guarantee it will last. "All you have to do is pick one up and you will be back in deep do-do again," he said with chilling honesty.
Marcol, who now lives in Dollar Bay, Mich. and is a certified counsellor at Phoenix House in Calumet, is brutally honest and frank about his horrifying life after football, both in his numerous speeches and in his book.
"My football career was ruined because I used drugs," he told his audiences, adding it likely kept him from a spot in the NFL Hall of Fame. Five years ago while watching an NFL game on TV, he told his son, Mikey, now 16, that "I never retired. Alcohol and drugs retired me."
A four-time NAIA All-American kicker at Hillsdale College, Marcol was a second-round draft pick of the Packers in 1972. He was the NFL's rookie of the year and a two-time All-Pro, but an injury sustained while kicking off against Detroit in the 1975 season opener in Milwaukee may have been the start of his addiction and demise.
He suffered a torn quadriceps muscle and missed much of that season, but on the bus trip back to Green Bay he drank several bottles of beer after taking team-prescribed medication for the pain.
"To me the pain pill was aspirin," he said of his ignorance. Punter David Beverly later told him it was Tylenol 3, and Marcol told him "I want to feel like this the rest of my life." Marcol told his audience Monday that the pills and beer "had a special feeling over me."
He remained a solid kicker from 1976-79, but discovered a new drug lifestyle in 1979 that eventually sent his life spiraling out of control and led to his dismissal from the Packers just weeks after one of the team's all-time top 25 highlight plays in the team's fabled history.
Incredibly, Marcol was under the influence at the time.
In the 1980 season opener at Lambeau Field, Marcol ran 24 yards for the game-winning touchdown to beat the Chicago Bears 12-6 in overtime. His field goal attempt was blocked by lineman Alan Page and the ball bounced right into his hands, and he used the reactions generated from his days as a goalie on Poland's junior national soccer team to grab the pigskin and scoot unmolested around left end.
"Off to the races I went," he said.
That race actually started earlier. "I used (cocaine) earlier in the day," he told the crowd Monday. "At halftime I put 'coke' in a bag in my (uniform) belt (after taking cocaine in the locker room bathroom at halftime)."
In his book, Marcol wrote "it was love at first snort" upon discovering cocaine in 1979. "That was the beginning of the end for Chester Marcol," he said Monday.
He wrote that "a couple weeks of casual use quickly turned into something much more debilitating. His drinking also increased during that period, and within weeks his career with the Packers was kaput.
His life went into a serious tailspin for the next 27 years, although he was picked up by the Houston Oilers to kick in Green Bay late in the 1980 season and he was inducted into the Packers' Hall of Fame in 1987.
He attempted suicide in 1986 in Lansing, following a cocaine and heroin bender, when he drank battery acid, rat poison and vodka. His father committed suicide in Poland in 1964, and Monday he said his brother Bogdan committed suicide Oct. 30. During Monday's speech he wore a Packers' No. 13 jersey with a Super Bowl XLV logo given to him by Bogdan, who was a physician in lower Michigan, after the Packers beat Pittsburgh.
Marcol survived his attempt because after swallowing the horrific drink he called a friend to inform him what happened. The friend called an ambulance, and Marcol said he was told he died en route to the hospital but paramedics "somehow brought me back to life."
He suffered massive internal damage and was hospitalized for six weeks, then spent another year in a transition home in East Lansing. He had surgery on his esophagus in Marshfield, Wis. in 1997 and still goes through procedures to alleviate that extensive damage. He also has serious heart issues and had a defibrillator inserted in Marquette in 2001.
He lives with his third wife, Carole, son Mikey and daughter Mariah in Dollar Bay. Mariah Marcol is a two-time All-U.P. basketball selection who was named most improved player as a freshman last year at Wisconsin-Superior. She is now attending Finlandia University and may transfer to Wisconsin-Stout to play basketball.
Marcol said drinking was part of the culture in his native Poland and he remembers drinking as a pre-schooler. While he imbibed after moving to Imlay City, Mich. in 1965 and through his college and early NFL days, it was under control until the late 1970s, when drugs joined the disasterous mix. "It started innocently," he said Monday.
Tuesday he told the EHS students that some of his Green Bay teammates knew of his abuse but "they did nothing."
He said drug use and drinking were part of the culture with the Packers, as it was in normal circles in the country then and now. He said many incidences involving team situations "were swept under the rug" and noted that drug testing and various programs to help were not available through teams or the NFL.
Many times he drove his car while drunk and said "I'm very grateful I never hit anybody." He was arrested several times for driving under the influence and spent time in jail, indicating the first time he was stopped was for a loud muffler. "If I had not been drunk, I would not have been put in jail," he said.
Of his extensive drinking and drug use, he said "I'm not an idiot, but I certainly behaved like one."
He was in 23 treatment centers, he told the students, but was unable to stay clean. "I would stay sober, then get drunk. I could not be consistent. I was just lost."
He told the EHS students that the abuse of aderol and ritalin "is big with young people" and said he has counselled youngsters from Escanaba and Gladstone, as well as throughout the Upper Peninsula, at his weekend position in Calumet.
"Whatever I say, I just want you to think about this and make you aware of the possible heartache and trouble down the road, because the problems do exist. It's everywhere," he said of alcohol and drugs.
Andrew Stannard, an EHS freshman, said Marcol's message hit home. "Don't do drugs," he said after the speech. "It can ruin your career. It made it sink in a little bit harder."
Madelyn Gilchrist, another EHS freshman, said she knows there is a drug and drinking problem among some area youngsters. She said "it was cool" to hear Marcol and that he "had bravery" to address his personal issues during the speech. She learned that drug and alcohol abuse "can keep you from doing things you want to pursue."
It is that kind of message Marcol is hoping to send as his recovery and battle to stay sober continues. "It helps give me a foundation in my recovery," he said of writing the book and making speeches. "My mission is to give back what other people gave me and so other people don't go too far."
He said a major key to recovery is finding a spiritual life as part of the 12-step recovery program.
In his book, Marcol wrote "we tell people religion is for people who don't want to go to hell; spirituality is for people who have already been there. I've been to hell, and I don't want to go back."
To obtain help, go online at samhsa.gov or aa.org or call 800-273-TALK (8255) for a 24-hour hotline.