Heart of Dallas Bowl has special meaning to former OSU player John Corker
BY KELLY HINES World Sports Writer
Wednesday, January 02, 2013
1/02/13 at 4:53 AM
DALLAS - The Heart of Dallas Bowl hits close to home for John Corker.
Proceeds from Tuesday's game, which Oklahoma State dominated 58-14 against Purdue, go toward providing permanent residences for the homeless in the Dallas area.
"It's needed," Corker said. "(The Bible) says the poor will never cease to be among us in the world.
"Homelessness has our nation inundated, but there is hope. There is hope."
Corker, 54, speaks from first-hand experience. An All-America linebacker at OSU in the 1970s, he became homeless because of a drug addiction he picked up during his NFL career.
For more than seven years, Corker has been drug-free while living in Fort Worth, where he serves on the Salvation Army's board of directors. He makes his living driving a city bus, but in his spare time shares the story of his drug recovery.
On Tuesday morning, Corker had a speaking engagement at a drug-rehabilitation facility in Fort Worth. From there, he raced over to the Cotton Bowl stadium to see his former team as the guest of Buckeye Epstein, the father of Cowboy starting center Evan Epstein.
Buckeye Epstein, who lives in Dallas, remembered reading an article on Corker several months ago and tracked him down after OSU landed a berth in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
"Many people are only a few weeks away, a paycheck away, from being homeless," Buckeye Epstein said. "This is the Heart of Dallas Bowl, so I thought it would be nice to try to find somebody that had this experience.
"(Corker) shows you that even if you have these adversities in your life ... you have to fight for what you want. He fought himself back, and now he's a productive citizen."
Normal activities like attending a college football game, where he captivated the attention of those around him with his outgoing personality, remind Corker of how far he's come.
"I'm doing things in my life now that I just didn't have a chance to do when things were going the way they were going," he said.
That includes raising his 5-year-old daughter, Alexis, after being granted full custody despite his past.
"Things have kind of come full circle," Corker said. "God has given me more responsibility and accountability, so that's what I live for today."
At OSU, the 6-foot-7 Corker was the Big Eight defensive player of the year in 1978. He spent four seasons in the NFL, mostly for the Houston Oilers, and finished his career in the USFL and Arena Football League.
Much of his thousand-dollar paychecks, including a $30,000 pension, was spent on cocaine, and not long after he was done with football Corker had nothing.
"My lowest point, I was homeless on the streets of Baltimore, Maryland, and it was zero-degree weather," he said. "I was weighing about 180 pounds then, and my entire day was consisting of trying to come up with more money to smoke more coke.
"It got really bad. I'm talking eating from the Dumpsters."
His brother took him to Texas, where Corker got a job driving a tractor-trailer. One day about eight years ago, he was heading to Georgia with a $100,000 load of electronics when he took a break in Fort Worth to get high and couldn't remember where he parked.
Corker wandered the streets desperately trying to find his semi, to no avail.
"That was really a moment," he said. "It was time to get my life back together."
With no money and now no job, Corker walked into a Salvation Army shelter planning to spend a night or two but staying eight months.
"Everybody from the news was coming to see the ex-NFL player," he said. "I had a lot of stuff to digest because of the shame and guilt.
"Once I committed myself, that's when all the activity from the football field and goal-line situations, the perseverance and the endurance started to work in my favor, kick in and actually drive me to be stronger in my commitment to get my life back in order."
Since turning his life around, Corker works to pay it forward, like when he spoke to a Bible study group of OSU football players before a game last season.
But more than anything, Corker's heart goes out to people in his former situation, such as those in the homeless district where he drives his bus every day.
"It's almost as if the Lord has made me a torchbearer," Corker said. "It can be done.
"You can get your life back. You can become productive in society again. Those bridges that were burned can be repaired."
Original Print Headline: Bowl has special meaning to ex-Cowboy
Kelly Hines 918-581-8452
John Corker, 54, watches the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Tuesday in Dallas. Corker became homeless because of a drug addiction before turning his life around. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World