Quarterback Jim "King" Corcoran had a so-so career at the U-Md.… (The Washington Post )
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.
He was loved by some of his teammates, loathed by others, but he had an uncanny ability to inspire confidence. Everywhere he went, his teams won. In 1967, with a club called the Waterbury Orbits, he won his first Atlantic Coast Football League championship. His Lowell (Mass.) Giants were undefeated in 1968, when he was called up for his brief stint with the Patriots. In 1971, he piloted the Norfolk Neptunes -- the remnants of the Firebirds -- to yet another championship. In 1974, playing for the Philadelphia Bell, he led the upstart World Football League in touchdown passes.
"He told me, 'You're the best,' and I played like it," said Murphy, who was a wide receiver for the Lowell Giants and Boston Patriots. "He knew how to make you feel better about yourself more than anyone I have ever known. It rubbed off on everybody, the whole team. He exuded this total confidence."
Mr. Corcoran had permission from his teams to drive to games on his own -- "The King doesn't ride a bus," he said.
He would pull up in his custom-equipped Lincoln Continental Mark IV, with a mobile telephone, copier and bar. He had his own Coke machine in the trunk. The license plate read "King 9," for his uniform number. He dressed like a dandy, with platform shoes, leather coats and capes.
"Seeing him walk around Pottstown," recalled Miles, the lawyer, "was like watching Travolta in 'Saturday Night Fever.' "
When they were roommates in 1968, Murphy said, Mr. Corcoran told him to spruce up his wardrobe.
"He burned all my clothes -- burned them," Murphy recalled, "and said, 'You can't go out with the King looking like that.' "
Few of Mr. Corcoran's teammates at the time knew that, away from the football fields of Pottstown and Norfolk, he was leading the life of a gentleman squire in Potomac, with a wife and two children, and a real estate company called The Royal Group Ltd.
Mr. Corcoran retired from football in 1975 to buy and sell houses and land. In the early 1980s, despite never having ridden a horse, he took up polo and became a creditable amateur player.