Thirty years ago, Montgomery County businessman Tony Puca held a New Year’s Eve party attended by some of the biggest movers and shakers in the state.
About an hour past midnight, royalty arrived. King Corcoran walked through Puca’s door and announced: “The party can begin. The King is here.”
Somewhere, the party is getting started because the King has arrived.
Former Maryland quarterback Jimmy “King” Corcoran died of a heart attack last month in Takoma Park at age 65.
He wasn’t the greatest quarterback in Maryland football history - he didn’t even start much of his time there, playing backup to Dick Shiner and Alan Pastrana. But he made his mark when he did get a chance to play, beating Navy and Roger Staubach 27-22 in the 1964 Crab Bowl Classic.
King became a legend as the quarterback of the minor league football Pottstown Firebirds, profiled by NFL films in an award-winning documentary in 1970.
And he spent time briefly with the Boston Patriots, New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles, along with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League and Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League, among other entries on his football resume.
Corcoran was a journeyman on the field but larger than life off it. His life took him in many directions, all usually paved with good times.
“He was a charismatic guy and a fun guy to hang around with,” said Rick Brown, a real estate developer who counted King as a friend.
His death almost went unnoticed, but word spread among those who knew him. Some of them said goodbye Saturday at Silver Spring’s Masonic Temple.
Friends wrote tributes on the Terp Talk Web site to a unique character whose talent never quite matched his persona.
“As a perennial red shirt, I never caught a pass or took a handoff from the ‘King,’ ” Mike Kildea wrote. “But that didn’t stop him from driving me around in former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s used limo - complete with siren and bull horn. Who knows how Jimmy got the car, but then again, he was the King!”
“I remember my sophomore year… King was next to me on the bench with sunglasses on - just being the King,” Art Brzostowski wrote. “I remember when Coach [Tom] Nugent asked Jim if he was well dressed for the [Penn State] game on TV. King said, ‘Wear the Chesterfield coat’ - he did. I remember the bull horn and him telling [Joe] Namath in the Jets’ training camp that HE was the king. We lost a great teammate and friend. RIP Jimmy. You’ll always be the King.”
He was, you might say, a poor man’s Namath. He had a style that attracted attention and welcomed those who wanted to be part of the King’s court.
It takes a certain flair to walk around with a name like King. Go ahead. Put “King” in front of your last name and see how it sounds. Pretty cool.
“I was working in Ocean City at a restaurant, and we had a midnight football league among workers in bars and restaurants there,” Brown said. “He used to come into the Embers. He couldn’t play in the league, but he would help some of us out and then hang out with us. He was larger than life, a guy’s guy.”
Coming out of Jersey City, N.J., the 6-foot, 200-pound, barrel-chested King was recruited by Notre Dame, Miami and Maryland. He spent several days at Notre Dame on a recruiting trip and declared he couldn’t go there because nobody partied. He went on a trip to Miami and declared that he couldn’t go there because there were too many girls and too many parties. He said he chose Maryland because it was in between - just enough girls and parties so that he could still play football.
“Jimmy was a real good quarterback,” said Puca, who went to school with the King. “But he started very few games at Maryland. He always had a problem with the coach. … Every place he ever went he was never quite able to live up to his potential because he couldn’t get along with authority.”
King bounced among a variety of minor league football teams and pro camps and taxi squads after leaving Maryland.
He signed a reported $125,000 contract with the Pottstown Firebirds and led them to back-to-back Atlantic Coast Football League championships in 1969 and 1970.
In 1971, he went to camp with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he met another King. The meeting didn’t go well.
“Jimmy was going to make the team,” Puca said. “It was one of the last days before leaving training camp. The Eagles had another quarterback named King Hill, and King Hill didn’t like Jimmy Corcoran. They were both on the field with a pile of footballs nearby when King Hill said, ‘Hey, rook, pick up those balls.’ Jimmy said no. King Hill said again, ‘Pick up those balls.’ Jimmy answered, ‘No. In a couple of weeks, I will have your job.’ ”
A few days later, King Corcoran was cut.
The King played for the Alouettes in 1972 and in 1974 started for the Bell in the newly formed World Football League. He led the league in touchdown passes with 31, completing 280 of 545 passes for 3,531 yards. The league folded the following season.
After football, the King drifted in and out of various jobs and enterprises, from real estate to running beauty contests - always with the same King flair. He later became a standout polo player.
“Jimmy was a good athlete,” Puca said. “It was all status. If you want to make yourself seem important, you do what important people do.”
Near the end, the King found a new angle: Native American.
“He was always looking for ways to make money,” Puca said. “When he saw the Indian tribes opening up casinos, he did some research and found he was about 1/16 or 1/32 Lakota Indian. He became known as Little Running Bear. He dyed his hair black and had braids in them. He worked for the casinos, providing entertainment for the high rollers.
“I was with my daughters at the Maryland-Johns Hopkins women’s lacrosse game in April,” Puca said. “I see King there in a big black limo and all these people are coming out of the stands to talk to him. He was no longer Jimmy Corcoran. He was Little Running Bear Corcoran. He never quite lived up to what he could be, but he loved what he was.”
He was the King.