Joe Kapp, the rugged quarterback who spent eight seasons in the Canadian Football League before breaking into the NFL with the 1967 Minnesota Vikings then leading them to Super Bowl IV in January 1970, died Monday in San Jose, Calif. He was 85 years old. ,
His son, J.J. Kapp said the death, at an assisted living facility, was due to complications of dementia.
In the NFL, he gained a reputation for resilience in the face of injury.
“I’ve played with broken ribs and a punctured lung and a torn knee and a separated shoulder and half a dozen other injuries,” he wrote in the first-person account. “I have been called ‘half of a bump looking for another.’ You won’t see me running out of bounds to avoid the slightest physical contact with a linebacker.
“Maybe it goes back to my Chicano childhood and machismo,” he said. “Machismo means masculinity, the willingness to act like a man, and if a kid didn’t have machismo in the polyglot neighborhoods of the San Fernando and Salinas valleys in California, where I grew up, it was tough for him.”
Kapp, who was of partly Mexican descent, was labeled “Toughest Chicano” by Sports Illustrated on its July 1970 cover.
The Vikings saw him as the successor to Fran Tarkenton, who had been traded to the Giants.
Kapp set a single-game National Football League record in September 1969 when he threw seven touchdown passes against the defending league champion, the Baltimore Colts—one that was held by several quarterbacks.
He threw 19 touchdown passes during the 1969 regular season, leading the Vikings to the 1970 Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs, the defending champions of the American Football League, in their last season before the NFL merged with the Vikings. by which the anchor was cast. The Purple People Eaters, a fearsome defensive line with Carl Eller and Jim Marshall at ends and Alan Page and Gary Larson at tackle, were strong favorites, but the Chiefs swept them 23–7.
Kapp was badly injured when hit on a bootleg play, but remained in the game, completing 16 passes for 183 yards, although he was intercepted twice. He later told The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, “The Kansas City defense looked like a redwood forest.”
Kapp joined the Boston (later New England) Patriots in 1970. The Patriots finished with a 2–12 record, then drafted Stanford quarterback Jim Plunkett, the Heisman Trophy winner.
Already involved in a contract dispute with the Patriots, Kapp refused to sign a standard player contract for the 1971 season and left the team in July, then filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL. represented an early challenge in the players’ ultimately successful struggle to win free agency rights.
Joseph Robert Kapp was born on March 19, 1938, in Santa Fe, NM, the eldest of five children of Florence Garcia Kapp, who was of Mexican heritage, and Robert Kapp, a salesman who was of German descent.
His family moved to California when Joe was young. He played football and basketball in high school and received an athletic scholarship to the University of California, Berkeley.
Kapp led the Golden Bears to the Pacific Coast Conference football championship in 1958 and a loss to Barth, Iowa in the Rose Bowl game. He played basketball for Cal teams that won a pair of Pacific Coast Championships.
At 6 feet 2 inches and 205 pounds at injury, Kapp set the career rushing record for a Cal quarterback, running for 931 yards in three seasons. But the Golden Bears employed a split-T formation favoring the quarterback-option running play over the passing game, so Kapp was not selected in the 1959 NFL Draft until the Washington team, now called the Commanders, Chosen him in the 18th round. They never contacted 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 game for the CFL championship, a loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but they went on to beat Hamilton 34–24 for the 1964 Gray Cup title. He was a two-time CFL All-Star, threw for 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.
After his NFL career ended, Kapp turned to acting. He appeared in the TV crime series “Ironside” and had supporting roles in the football-themed films “The Longest Yard” (1974) and “Semi-Tough” (1977).
He was named the head football coach at California in 1982, a season that famously ended with “The Play”, a five-side kickoff return by Cal for the winning touchdown against Stanford. He posted a record of 20–34–1 for five seasons at Berkeley.
Capp was the general manager of the British Columbia Lions for most of the 1990 season and in 1992 was the head coach of the Sacramento Attack of the Arena League.
Kapp lived in Los Gatos, California in his later years. In addition to his son JJ (for Joseph John), he is survived by his second wife, Jennifer Kapp; another son, Will; their daughters Emiliana and Gabriela; his sisters Linda Rohr and Suzy McDonald; and six grandchildren. His first wife, Marcia, died in 2005.
Pro football players are not easily intimidated, but Kapp’s intensity has left a definite mark.
After the team’s Super Bowl victory over the Vikings, Sports Illustrated quoted Kansas City defensive end Jerry Mays as saying, “He’s a sorry passer and not really a great quarterback, but he’s a great leader.” “I hated playing against him. You feel his presence wherever he is, on or off the field. He would look at you and challenge you with his eyes. When I think of him, I I think of his eyes.