A Local Life: Jim 'King' Corcoran, 65

Jim Corcoran Dies; 'Poor Man's Joe Namath' Reigned in Minor League Football

Quarterback Jim
Quarterback Jim "King" Corcoran had a so-so career at the U-Md. and a better one in the minors. Off the field, he was quite a success with the ladies. (The Washington Post)
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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 2, 2009

Stephen Miles was a freshman at the University of Maryland in the early 1960s when he noticed a classmate who looked unusually dapper for a college student. He was wearing a sharkskin suit, starched shirt and necktie and had manicured fingernails.

"This guy looks like he's out of Gentleman's Quarterly," recalled Miles, now a Baltimore lawyer.

When he introduced himself to his well-dressed classmate, this was the reply: "I'm the King."

At the time, Jim Corcoran was a backup quarterback at the U-Md. He would go on to become the most famous minor league football player of all time.

From the beginning, he was flamboyant, brash and utterly unforgettable. He was a showman, an unapologetic playboy, an egomaniacal self-promoter who traveled with his own PR agent. And, not least of all, he was a lady-killer on an epic scale. Not for nothing was he called the "poor man's Joe Namath," after the Hall of Fame New York Jets quarterback and notorious skirt chaser.

Mr. Corcoran had undeniable football talent as a strong-armed passer, but his tryouts with NFL teams all came to naught. He played in two games with the Boston Patriots of the old American Football League in 1968, completing three passes in seven attempts. Two of his passes were intercepted. Yet his achievements on the gridiron are only the merest prologue to the remarkable life of Jim "King" Corcoran.

"In all my years of knowing big-time athletes and people on Wall Street," said ex-teammate Bill Murphy, who is now an international gold trader, "never in my life have I met a guy like the King. Nobody close."

In later years, Mr. Corcoran embellished his career at Maryland, saying he engineered the Terps' 1964 victory over a Navy team quarterbacked by Roger Staubach, the reigning winner of the Heisman Trophy as the nation's top college player. In fact, Mr. Corcoran never played in that game.

His college career really peaked in 1961, when he led the Maryland freshman team to an undefeated season, including a 29-27 victory over the Navy plebes, under Staubach. In that game, Mr. Corcoran scored one touchdown and passed for two more.

After riding the bench at Maryland, he spent a decade as a football vagabond. He was released after tryouts with the Patriots, Jets, Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos -- whose coach, legend has it, found him in bed with six women. But in 1969, he signed a three-year, $125,000 contract with the Pottstown (Pa.) Firebirds, and in that low-wattage spotlight Mr. Corcoran found his glory.

There have been two documentaries and one book about the fabled Firebirds, who were justifiably called the best professional football team in Pennsylvania and twice won the championship of the now-defunct Atlantic Coast Football League.

Several Firebirds went on to star in the NFL, but no one outshone the King. He wore sunglasses on the sidelines and refused to practice in the rain.

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