More than anything else, Dave was a real smart, intelligent guy playing football.
Hall of Famer Lance Alworth, on Dave Kocourek as a San Diego Charger
In the starting lineup for today’s AFL champion San Diego Chargers, Dave Kocourek, 83, tight end.
In today’s lineup for the champion Oakland Raiders, Dave Kocourek, 88, tight end.
Most people who meet Marco’s Dave Kocourek are taken aback by his height, 6-foot-5-inches. His huge hands also bring awe, but to most who know him he is the quiet gentleman.
Far from what teammates or opponents said about him when he played professional football. First for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1959, the Los Angeles Chargers in 1960, which became the San Diego Chargers. He played five seasons with the Chargers, one year with the Miami Dolphins and two with the Raiders.
Between San Diego and Oakland he played in seven AFL championship games, earning a champion’s ring once for each team.
In 1961 he caught 55 passes, good for 1,055 yards. The first AFL tight end to surpass 1,000 yards in a season, averaging 19.2 yards a catch, scoring four touchdowns.
“I was pretty intimidating when I played,” Kocourek recalls. “With my size, and weighing around 245 pounds, I definitely was a challenge for most defensive ends.”
Kocourek was always intimidating, even in his high school days.
At J. Sterling Morton High in Cicero, Ill., Kocourek was a star in football, basketball and baseball. Kocourek led the Morton basketball to the state high school championship game.
He was literally on stage when it came to basketball.
“We played all our games on a stage,” Kocourek recalled. “When you went out of bounds you were really out of bounds. In fact you were in the band pit.”
It was at Morton High where he met Mary Lee Thyer. The sweethearts have been married for nearly 51 years, wedding on Aug. 16,1958.
Graduating from high school in 1955, Kocourek was highly sought after by Big Ten schools. He chose the University of Wisconsin. He was co-captain of the 1958 team which missed going to the Rose Bowl by one game as the team finished second in the Big Ten. Kocourek was named to the All Big Ten Team and honorable mention All-American. He signed with Winnipeg, receiving a $1,000 signing bonus and a one-year, $10,000 contract.
“I got to play for coach Bud Grant, which was a marvelous experience,” Kocourek said. Grant would go on to become a Hall of Fame coach for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, taking them to four Super Bowls.
Kocourek got caught up in the Canadian Football League quota rule that allowed only 13 Americans on each team. Unfortunately for the Bombers they let Kocourek go. Fortunately for him, Sid Gillman, who coached Kocourek in a college all-star game, wanted him for the Los Angeles Chargers in the fledgling American Football League.
Kocourek also would end up under the tutelage of three coaches who are in the Hall of Fame.
They included Gillman, Al Davis the tight ends coach and Chuck Noll, defensive line.
Davis went on to be head coach of the Oakland Raiders, commissioner of the AFL, managing general partner, then owner of the Los Angeles and Oakland Raiders, which he is today.
Noll went on to be coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, winning four Super Bowl titles.
Kocourek received the same dollars he was paid by Winnipeg, but he looked forward to the widen open passing game Gillman was constructing. In his first year Kocourek led the team in pass-catching yards with 662, on 40 catches, averaging 16.6 yards a catch. The Chargers finished 10-4, atop the AFL West.
They lost to the Houston Oilers in the first AFL Championship game, 24-16.
The Chargers moved to San Diego in 1961, with Kocourek having a record season for tight ends. He caught 545 passes, becoming the first AFL tight end to go over the 1,000 mark with 1,055 yards and four touchdowns.
The Chargers again lost to the Oilers in the AFL championship, 10-3.
In 1962 the Chargers had a dismal season, going 4-12, but did add a wide receiver, Lance Alworth and a running back, Keith Lincoln. Alworth teamed with Kocourek as indomitable pass catchers, while Lincoln joined Paul Lowe to become a fierce running back tandem.
In 1963 the championships was theirs.
They passed and ran over AFL opponents during the season. The Chargers went 12-2, losing only to Houston and Davis’ Raiders in the regular season. The Lightning bolts on the Chargers helmets seemed to go off against the Boston Patriots in the title game, winning 51-10. The Chargers ran up 309 yards on the ground and 292 through the air.
Lincoln personally took care of the Patriots, rushing for 206 yards and catching passes for 123 yards.
The Chargers would play in two more AFL title games, but would not win another championship and have not won again after the AFL merged with the NFL.
Kocourek went to the Miami Dolphins for one season and two more for the Oakland Raiders where he won his second championship ring in 1968.
While with the Chargers, he was first or second team All-League every season. In the 1962 and 1963 AFL All-Star games he scored touchdowns.
He was voted to the second team as tight end in voting for the Hall of Fame All-Time AFL Team in 1970.
After his playing days, Alworth became the first AFL player to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.”
“More than anything else, Dave was a real smart, intelligent guy playing football,” Alworth said. “He was a great blocker and was always where he was supposed to be. He never let you down.”
Maguire, an NFL and ESPN football analyst, and Kocourek have been close since they battled for the same position on the Chargers.
Maguire had played for Davis at The Citdael and followed Davis to the Chargers.
“In those days the teams carried just 32 players and Dave and I knew Howard Clark was going to be the other tight end,” Maguire said. “Dave was a damn good tight end and excellent blocker. I thought I was the better pass catcher,” Maguire said.
While at Citadel Maguire had led the nation in touchdown receptions.
“Jack Faulkner, the Chargers defensive backs coach, was my defensive back coach in high school at Youngstown (Ohio). I thought I had a few things going for me.”
As it turned out Maguire’s defensive and punting abilities, led to him becoming a Chargers linebacker and punter.
“Dave and I became very close, the best of friends,” Maguire said. “Dave and Mary Lee, are godparents for our middle daughter, Kristin.
Maguire said he was cut before the 1964 season, but Kocourek said Maguire and quarterback Jack Kemp were traded to Buffalo.
“I say cut, but Buffalo did give $100 each for me and Jack,” Maguire said. “There was a little pay back because we beat the Chargers for the championship in 1965.”
When Kocourek’s playing days were over he joined NBC as a football analyst from 1969 to 1973 and was color commentator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1978 to 1987.
Maguire credits Kocourek for introducing him to key people that got him started in broadcasting.
“I met everyone through him,” Maguire said. “Dave and Mary Lee, their kids Todd and Kelee, Bev and I and our three daughters, it is kind of neat to have that kind of friendship.
Mary Lee Kocourek said it was harder on her than Dave when his playing days were over.
“It was exciting, I hated to see his playing career end,” she said. “Al Davis asked him if he wanted to be a coach. When Dave went into broadcasting, he was still involved with the players. I no longer shared in the fun.”
Davis said the Kocoureks were part of his football family.
“I love Dave, he was an excellent contributor to every team he played on,” Davis said. “He could catch, he could block. He had a very nice lady in Mary Lee. I told him, ‘give her anything she wants.’ They were friends of mine, a great part of the Silver and Black (Raiders) family.”
Mary Lee Kocourek agreed.
“The players didn’t make any big money, but it was family,” she said. “I think they wold have played for nothing. As a group they were doing their best they could for everyone.”