Joe Kapp

The starting quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV was Joe Kapp.

Kapp was an unusual character. Besides his football career, he acted in a number of television shows and films, including The Longest Yard.

After starting at Cal, he played football in Canada for eight seasons before joining the Vikings in 1967. At Cal, Kapp was an All-American and led the Golden Bears to the Rose Bowl. In Canada he was an all-star and twice led the B.C. Lions to the Grey Cup game where they won the championship once.

To get the rights to Kapp, the Vikings, Lions and Toronto Argonauts worked out an agreement between the teams. It was an unusual deal between the two football leagues.

Kapp was a throwback to a different era. He wore a face mask with a single bar and was known to run for extra yards and take on a linebacker. There was So quarterback slide in those days and defenders were free to hit quarterbacks like any other player. I’ve been called one half of a collision looking for the other,” he used to say. He played with concussions, broken ribs, torn Kees and dislocated fingers. It was a different era.

Kapp was not the most graceful or accurate of passers but he did everything possible to help his team win, including taking hits and running for every possible yard.

In 1969, the Vikings won their division and the NFL Championship, setting a battle with the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl, that the Chiefs won. That year, Kapp tied an NFL record for seven touchdown passes.

Here’s where it gets complicated. Kapp played the 1969 season without a contract, so after the season was over, Kapp was a free agent. This was back before the days of the free agency that we know tdday. Eventually, the Boston Patriots signed his to the biggest player contract. This was the first year of the combined AFL-NFL leagues, so this was also a bit unusual. The NFL Commissioner ruled that the Patriots had to give up two, first-round draft picks to the Vikings, a very steep price. There was no rule that said this was the compensation, but the Commissioner used his power to decree this outcome. By making it exceedingly expensive to sign free agents, players would not become free agents and the owners would retain control over the players. This stopped player movement for many years, a victory for management against the players.

Kapp would only play one miserable season for the lowly Patriots, who the next year would use the number one pick in the draft to select Heisman Trophy quarterback Jim Plunkett. Kapp’s career was over, the Patriots didn’t want him and no other team would attempt to sign him.  Collusion?  Later he would file an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL, eventually win, but be awarded no damages.  First the NFL, now the courts.

Thankfully, Hollywood came calling and Kapp was ready. In the next fourteen years, Kapp had 33 acting credits including several Burt Reynolds films. He was a gregarious personality onscreen, usually a tough guy or placed near the action. He was actually in the film MASH as a player on the sideline although he did play or have any lines, but he was recognizable and added credibility to the football game at the end of the film.  Acting also paid the bills.

The Longest Yard, Kapp was the Walking Boss.

Then a new career opened up.  From 1982-1986, despite no coaching experience, Kapp was the head coach at Cal. From there he served for a year as team president of the B.C. Lions in the CFL.  A few years later, he served as head coach for an Arena League team.

To say that his life was colorful would be an understatement. His life also come with many honors, including being inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame.

In his later years, Kapp was involved in a number of business enterprises and was a motivational speaker for many events and meetings, which was perfect for his personality and colorful football and Hollywood stories.

Age has finally slowed him down.  In 2016, Kapp was reported to be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, which is a shame given how Kapp is full of life and a bundle of energy.  That lifetime of stories and memories are disappearing before his eyes.

Unfortunately, this disease isn’t a linebacker you can run over, and it was that style of play that doctors fear contributed to his condition.

“Every single day I live being forgetful. I’ve got calendars on both of my shoes.”

Godspeed, Joe.


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