Former prime time AFL star, Dave Kocourek dies

Dave Kocourek, who won AFL championship rings with the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders, died at 75 on Wednesday night as a result of progressive dementia on Marco Island.

He is survived by his wife, Mary Lee Kocourek, who said Kocourek’s brain has been donated to Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE).

Kocourek, a tight end, became one of many former NFL players and athletes who have donated their brains to the CSTE Brain Donation Registry so that researchers can better understand the effects of repeated head trauma on the nervous system and develop strategies for prevention, treatment and ultimately a cure.

Kocourek was one of more than 200 former NFL Players who have received assistance from Plan 88.

The plan is named after the late Hall of Famer John Mackey, who wore that number as tight end for the Baltimore Colts. Since the plan’s beginning in 2007 more than $16 million has been distributed to former NFL players and their families, according to the NFL Player Care program.

“More than anything else, Dave was a real smart, intelligent guy, playing football,” said former teammate and Hall of Fame receiver Lance Alworth when he learned of Kocourek’s passing. “He worked hard, he was a coach’s dream. He was a great player, great teammate and really nice guy. He and his wife Mary Lee made a great team after football. I don’t have the words to express what I feel.”

Other survivors include son Todd and his wife Andrea, and grandchildren Sophia and Roman; daughter Kelee Todecki, husband John and grandchildren Maggie and Mimi.

Kocourek was cremated. Visitation is 4 to 7 p.m. at Hodges-Josberger Funeral Home on Marco Island, with services at 10 a.m. on May 11 at San Marco Catholic Church.

Kocourek first began his professional career, after starring at University of Wisconsin, with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1959. In 1960, he went to the new Los Angeles Chargers in the fledgling American Football League.

A year later the franchise became the San Diego Chargers. He played five season with them, earning a championship ring in 1963.

Mary Lee Kocourek said Dave was the first player chosen in the expansion draft when the Miami Dolphins became part of the AFL. He was an offensive captain in 1966.

Kocourek garnered a second ring in his two years following with the Raiders, Between San Diego and Oakland he played in a record seven league championship games, including a Super Bowl. 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.

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.

Kocourek once said, “I was pretty intimidating with my size, weighing around 245 pounds (at 6-foot-5). I definitely was a challenge.”

The Chargers added would-be Hall of Famer Lance Alworth and Paul Lowe at running back in 1963. Alworth teamed with Kocourek and Lowe with Keith Lincoln to make a dynamic offense that trounced the Boston Patriots, 51-10 to win the AFL championship that year.

Paul Maguire, former NFL and ESPN football analyst, battled for the same position as Kocourek on the Chargers in 1963.

“Jack Faulkner, the Chargers defensive backs coach, was my defensive coach in high school (Youngstown, Ohio), I thought I had a few things going,” Maguire recalled. As it turned out Maguire became a defensive back and punter.

Maguire spoke fondly of his relationship with the Kocoureks, They became godparents to Maguire’s daughter Kristin Lee (after Mary Lee).

“I’m just sad,” Maguire said. “I will remember David as a player, friend, father and husband, I wouldn’t have been at NBC if not for him.”

Bob Zeman recalls Kocourek from their high school days in Illinois. Kocourek starred at J. Sterling Morton High School and Zeman at Wheaton. They went on to play football at the University of Wisconsin. They joined again when they played for the Chargers in 1960 and opened a restaurant and bar with Maguire.

“Dave was a good, solid guy with high morals,” Zeman said. “He worked hard for everything he got. You go through life with few best friends, but he was one of mine.”

Al BeMiller, who played for the Buffalo Bills, and wife Wanda went to many former players conventions. Wanda remembers Kocourek for his smooth moves on the dance floor.

“We went to many former players conventions together. He and I won a jitterbug contest,” she said. “The four of us would always be together at the conventions. He was a good dude.”

The late Al Davis, who later owned the Oakland Raiders, was one of the early coaches that Kocourek played under while with the Chargers. Coaches Davis, Sid Gilman and Chuck Noll all ended up in the Hall of Fame.

Kocourek played for Davis,in 1967 and 1968, winning his second championship ring in 1967 with the Raiders.

Before his own death, Davis said, “I love Dave, he was an excellent contributor to every team he played on. 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.”

The Kocoureks first came to Marco Island when Dave Kocourek was a sales manager for Deltona Corporation in the 1970s. He was on the Marco Island Area Association of Realtors for many years and at one time served as broker for Marco Beach Realty and Prudential Realty, Mary Lee said. Both became prominent realtors on Marco Island.

He was one of the Marco Eagle’s first swamis when it began a weekly NFL column with former football players predicting the games. At the time it was Kocourek, Dave Rice, Don Healy and Terry Dean. He was crowned King of the Swamis in 2006.

A former NFL player with the Buffalo Bills, Jeff Nixon, emailed Mary Lee Kocourek on Friday, saying, “I am so sorry to hear that Dave has passed. My prayers go out to you and your family. His decision to donate his brain to the Boston University CTE study is a true testament to his character and is very important to lives of all the current and former players he leaves behind. I just recently donated my brain and spinal tissue to the research study because I saw so many guys like Dave that were willing to do something positive - even in death.

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