Joe Kapp, the rugged quarterback who spent eight seasons in the Canadian Football League before breaking into the NFL with the 1967 Minnesota Vikings and then taking them to Super Bowl IV in January 1970, died Monday in San Jose, California. He was 85 years old.
His son, JJ Kapp, said the death, in an assisted living facility, was caused by complications from dementia.
In the NFL, he has earned a reputation for being resilient in the face of injuries.
“I played with cracked ribs, a punctured lung, a torn knee, a separated shoulder and six other injuries,” he wrote in the first-person article. “I’ve been called ‘one half of the collision is looking for the other’.” “You won’t see me out of bounds to avoid a bit of physical contact with the full-back.”
“It probably goes back to my Chicano childhood and manhood,” he added. “Machismo means masculinity, the willingness to act like a man, and if a child didn’t have the masculinity of the polyglot neighborhoods of California’s San Fernando and Salinas Valleys, where I grew up, it was tough.”
Cap, who was partly of Mexican descent, was rated the “toughest Chicano” by Sports Illustrated on its July 1970 cover.
The Vikings saw him replace Fran Tarkenton, who was traded to the Giants.
Kapp tied an NFL single-game record—set by several quarterbacks—when he threw seven touchdown passes against the defending champions, the Baltimore Colts, in September 1969.
He threw 19 touchdown passes during the 1969 regular season, and led the Vikings to Super Bowl 1970 against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Major League Soccer champions, who were in their final season before merging with the NFL The Vikings, whose anchor was the Purple People Eaters, a defensive lineman Scary with Carl Eller and Jim Marshall on the ends and Alan Page and Gary Larsen on tackles, they were solid favourites, but the Chiefs defeated them, 23-7.
Kapp suffered a severe shoulder injury when he was hit on an illegal play, but remained in the game, completing 16 passes for 183 yards, despite having two interceptions. “The Kansas City defense looked like a jungle of redwoods,” he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune afterward.
Kapp joined the Boston (later New England) Patriots in 1970. The Patriots finished with a record of 2-12, and then drafted quarterback Jim Plunkett from Stanford, the Heisman Trophy winner.
Having already been involved in a contract dispute with the Patriots, Capp refused to sign a standard contract for players for the 1971 season and resigned from the team in July. He then filed an antitrust suit against the NFL. A jury refused to award him damages, but the case presents an early challenge in the players’ successful struggle. Ultimately to win free agency rights.
Joseph Robert Kapp was born on March 19, 1938, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the eldest of five children of Florence Garcia Kapp, of Mexican descent, and Robert Kapp, a salesman of German descent.
His family moved to California when Joe was young. He played football and basketball in high school and won an athletic scholarship from the University of California, Berkeley.
Kapp led the Golden Bears to a Pacific Coast Conference football championship in 1958 and a berth in the Rose Bowl game, losing to Iowa. He played basketball for Cal teams that won a pair of Pacific Coast Championships.
A bruised 6-foot-2-inch and 205 pounds, Kapp set career records for quarterbacks, running for 931 yards in three seasons. But the Golden Bears used a split formation in favor of the running quarterback option on the passing game, so Kapp was not selected in the 1959 NFL Draft until the Washington team, now called the Leaders, selected him in the 18th round. They never called him, so he went to the Canadian Football League.
Kapp spent a season and a half with the Calgary Stampeders, then was traded to the British Columbia Lions after undergoing knee surgery. He led them to the 1963 Gray Cup for the CFL championship, losing to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but they defeated Hamilton, 34-24, for the 1964 Gray Cup title. He was a two-time CFL All-Star, threw 136 touchdown passes and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1984.
He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004.
Capp turned to acting after his NFL career ended. He appeared in the TV crime series “Ironside” and in the football-themed films “The Longest Yard” (1974) and “Semi-Tough” (1977).
He was named head football coach at California in 1982, a famous season that ended with “The Play,” Cal’s five-game return in the winning game against Stanford. He posted a record of 20-34-1 for five seasons at Berkeley.
Kapp was the general manager of the British Columbia Lions for most of the 1990 season and head coach of the Arena League’s Sacramento offensive team in 1992.
Capp lived his last years in Los Gatos, California. In addition to his son JJ (for Joseph John), he is survived by his second wife, Jennifer Kapp; another son, Will; his two daughters, Emiliana and Gabriella; His brother, Larry. and sisters, Joanie Ebberson, Linda Rorher, and Suzie McDonald. His first wife, Marcia, died in 2005.
Professional footballers aren’t easily intimidated, but Kapp’s intensity clearly made an impression.
Kansas City defensive end Jerry Mayes was quoted by Sports Illustrated as saying after the team’s Super Bowl victory over the Vikings: “He’s a passer and I’m sorry really not a great quarterback, but he’s a great leader.” “I hated playing against him. I felt his presence no matter where he was, on the sidelines or on the field. He would look at you and challenge you with his eyes. When I think of him, I think of his eyes.”
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