Kickers in the NFL have a pretty sweet gig: they get paid millions of dollars a year to kick a football a few times a game and they almost never get hit. But as any fan or player knows, a kicker can win or lose you a game. Just ask Chester Marcol, the former Green Bay Packer who won a game by returning his own blocked kick for a touchdown — all while high on cocaine.
The year was 1980. Jimmy Carter was president, you had to call a landline to get ahold of someone, and the Packers were tied 6-6 with the Bears in sudden death overtime. The Packers set up for a 35-yard game-winning field goal but the Bears blocked it. In a stroke of blind luck. the ball bounced into the kicker’s hands, and he took off like a bat out of hell towards the endzone, resulting in one of the most memorable finishes in NFL history; Marcol’s Miracle.
An excerpt from Marcol’s book, Alive And Kicking reads,
“I had not only scored a touchdown, but a game-winner and against our hated rivals, the Bears, no less. In the locker room afterward, Starr presented me with a game ball and asked me to lead the team in prayer. I did so with tears of joy streaming down my cheeks. The ball I carried into the end zone is today in the Packers Hall of Fame.
“But here’s the thing about that touchdown that nobody knows:
“I was under the influence of cocaine when I scored.
“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.
“It’s not something I’m proud to admit. But it happened and to tell the story of my touchdown without including the part about the cocaine would not be an honest account.”
In today’s NFL, a 35-yard field goal is a gimmie, but that was not the case 40 years ago. Kids now attend special kicker camps from Pop Warner on up to learn proper technique. Back then, kickers just weren’t considered important. There wasn’t even consensus on how kickers should be kicking the ball.
The “soccer-style” kick changed everything. When you see a kicker today, assuming they’re right-footed, they take a few steps back, a few steps to the left, and approach diagonally before kicking. This method generates more power since the kicker can use his core instead of just leg strength, it’s more accurate; it’s better in every way.
Before the soccer-style kick became standard operating procedure, kickers just backed up a few steps and ran straight-on at the ball and hoped for the best. While this was an effective approach for Tom Dempsey (who was born without any toes on his right foot and held the record for longest field goal in NFL history, 63-yards, for over 40 years), it’s decidedly worse than how kickers operate today.
As the NFL has evolved, kickers have moved from the periphery into the limelight. Patriots kicker Stephan Gostkowski has a cap hit of $4.5 million this season, making him the highest paid kicker in the league. With over 1,450 points scored since entering the NFL in 2006 and a career FG percentage of nearly 88%, the defending Super Bowl champs might still be underpaying him.