It's been 20 years since Chester Marcol provided the Green Bay Packers with one of the most memorable plays in club annals.
In 1980, Marcol's last season of his nine-year career as the Packers' placekicker, he led the team to a bizarre overtime win against the Chicago Bears. In a sequence that would quickly secure itself as one of football's best finishes, he turned possible humiliation into unexpected jubilation and renewed tensions between the Packers and their longtime nemesis.
Six minutes into the overtime period with the game tied 6-6, Marcol and the field-goal unit lined up for what appeared to be an easy 34-yard field goal to seal the sudden-death victory.
But when Alan Page of the Bears bolted through the line and blocked the kick, Green Bay's hopes suddenly seemed doomed to fizzle in another loss to their most abominable rivals. However, the ball bounced off Page and directly into the arms of Marcol, who in turn evaded Chicago tacklers and raced around the left corner and into the end zone to give the Packers one of the most improbable victories in NFL history.
While the play remains as the single-most lasting image of Marcol, it only placed the exclamation point on an already great career.
Drafted in the second round of the 1972 NFL draft, Marcol became - and still remains - the highest pick the Packers have used on a kicker. At the time, he was the second-highest draft selection in league history for a player at his position.
The 34th overall selection quickly proved that he was worth the investment. In his rookie season, Marcol led the NFL in scoring with a 128-point effort and was first in the league again in 1974 with 94 points. He was named to the Pro Bowl after both seasons and was an All-Pro selection in 1972.
A thigh injury in the first game of the 1975 season forced Marcol out of action for the remainder of the year, but he regained the job in 1976 and held it until five games into the 1980 season. Marcol retired after a one-game stint with the Houston Oilers.
Over his career, which culminated in being named to the Packer Hall of Fame in 1987, he made 61.7% of his field goal attempts. His 521 points with Green Bay rank fifth in the team's record books, and he is second in number of field goals made with 120, behind only Chris Jacke (173).
Marcol's path to the NFL was nearly as unlikely as his touchdown sprint against the Bears. Born Czeslaw Boleslaw Marcol in Opole, Poland, he grew up playing soccer in a land that had hardly heard of American football.
When he immigrated to the United States in 1965 at the age of 16, he began kicking for the Imlay City (Mich.) High School football team. He then was given a chance to kick at Hillsdale (Mich.) College, a tiny NAIA school where he became a four-time All-American and set a one-time field goal distance record of 62 yards.
"It all started with my soccer career in Poland," he says. "Playing football started in high school, and then I was fortunate to get the opportunity to develop my skills in college. Football has brought me a lot of memories, a lot of good times."
Of all of his experiences, taking the league by storm his rookie year was his most rewarding career accomplishment.
"The blocked kick that's been talked about over and over again is such a unique play, but I believe my rookie year was the most memorable time of all, by far," he says today. "I led the league in scoring, and then I went to the Pro Bowl. I was able to play with these guys that I watched on TV for years, and we won the Central division championship in '72. Going to different cities and different stadiums, I was so young and in awe of it all."
Marcol, now a resident of Dollar Bay in the Upper Michigan peninsula, recalls his time in Green Bay with great fondness and appreciation. He returns every year for the NFL Alumni Weekend to see several of his old teammates and can't help but reminisce about his playing days.
"It's fun," Marcol said at the most recent gathering of former Packers this past September. "I come here every year. It's great to see all of the guys back and to share stories with each other, just like old times."
When he's not travelling back to Green Bay for the annual reunions, Marcol stays busy caring for his wife and three children at home, ages 3, 7 and 15. He also maintains a close relationship with a 24-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.
After working part time in the juvenile justice system following the kicker's retirement, he made the decision to commit himself to his family full-time. While he teaches youth soccer and spends time volunteering in other community work, the family heads his list of priorities.
"My number one goal right now is to be the best example I can be for my kids," says Marcol. "It's to be the best father and husband I can be and set the example for them. Perhaps I have other goals, but that's number one in my life, to provide the best atmosphere and most love for my family."
GREEN BAY PACKERS SEASON RESULTS (1972-80)
1972: 10-4 (1st, NFC Central)
1973: 5-7-2 (3rd, NFC Central)
1974: 6-8 (3rd, NFC Central)
1975: 4-10 (T-3rd, NFC Central)
1976: 5-9 (4th, NFC Central)
1977: 4-10 (4th, NFC Central)
1978: 8-7-1 (2nd, NFC Central)
1979: 5-11 (4th, NFC Central)
1980: 5-10-1 (T-4th, NFC Central)