Joe Kapp, Quarterback Who Led Vikings to Super Bowl IV, Dies at 85
Joe Kapp, the rugged quarterback who spent eight seasons in the Canadian Football League before making it to the N.F.L. with the 1967 Minnesota Vikings, then took them to Super Bowl IV in January 1970, died on Monday in San Jose, Calif. He was 85.
His son, J.J. Kapp, said the death, at an assisted living facility, was caused by complications of dementia.
In the N.F.L., he gained a reputation for resilience in the face of injury.
“I’ve played with cracked ribs and a punctured lung and a torn knee and separated shoulder and a half-dozen other injuries,” he wrote in a first-person article. “I’ve been called ‘one half of a collision looking for another.’ You won’t see me running out of bounds to avoid a little physical contact with a linebacker.”
“Maybe this goes back to my Chicano childhood and machismo,” he added. “Machismo means manliness, a 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, he had it tough.”
Kapp, who was partly of Mexican descent, was labeled “the 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 tied a single-game National Football League record — one held by several quarterbacks — when he threw seven touchdown passes against the defending league champion, the Baltimore Colts, in September 1969.
He threw 19 touchdown passes during the 1969 regular season, leading the Vikings to the 1970 Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs, the champions of the American Football League, which was in its last season before it merged with the N.F.L. The Vikings, anchored by the Purple People Eaters, a fearsome defensive line with Carl Eller and Jim Marshall at the ends and Alan Page and Gary Larsen at the tackles, were strong favorites, but the Chiefs defeated them, 23-7.
Kapp incurred a badly injured shoulder when he was hit on a bootleg play, but he remained in the game, completing 16 passes for 183 yards, though he was intercepted twice. “The Kansas City defense looked like a redwood forest,” he told The Minneapolis Star-Tribune afterward.
Kapp joined the Boston (later New England) Patriots in 1970. The Patriots finished with a 2-12 record, then drafted quarterback Jim Plunkett of Stanford, the Heisman Trophy winner.
Having already been involved in a contract dispute with the Patriots, Kapp refused to sign a standard players contract for the 1971 season and quit the team in July, then filed an antitrust suit against the N.F.L. A jury declined to award him damages, but the case 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, N.M., the oldest 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 from the University of California, Berkeley.
Kapp led the Golden Bears to the Pacific Coast Conference football championship in 1958 and a berth in the Rose Bowl game, a loss to Iowa. He played basketball for the Cal teams that won a pair of Pacific Coast championships.
A bruising 6 feet 2 inches and 205 pounds, Kapp set a career rushing record for Cal quarterbacks, running for 931 yards in three seasons. But the Golden Bears employed a split-T formation favoring quarterback-option running plays over the passing game, so Kapp wasn’t selected in the 1959 N.F.L. draft until the Washington team, now called the Commanders, chose 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 Grey Cup game for the C.F.L. championship, a loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but they defeated Hamilton, 34-24, for the 1964 Grey Cup title. He was a two-time C.F.L. 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.
Kapp turned to acting after his N.F.L. career ended. He appeared on the TV crime series “Ironside” and in the football-themed movies “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-lateral kickoff return by Cal for the winning touchdown against Stanford. He posted a record of 20-34-1 for five seasons at Berkeley.
Kapp was the British Columbia Lions’ general manager for most of the 1990 season and head coach of the Arena League’s Sacramento Attack in 1992.
Kapp lived in Los Gatos, Calif., in his later years. In addition to his son J.J. (for Joseph John), he is survived by his second wife, Jennifer Kapp; another son, Will; his daughters Emiliana and Gabriela; his brother, Larry; and his sisters Joanie Ebberson, Linda Rorher and Suzie McDonald. His first wife, Marcia, died in 2005.
Pro football players aren’t easily intimidated, but Kapp’s intensity made a decided impression.
“He’s a sorry passer and really not a great quarterback, but he’s a great leader,” the Kansas City defensive end Jerry Mays was quoted by Sports Illustrated as saying after the team’s Super Bowl victory over the Vikings. “I hated to play against him. You felt his presence no matter where he was, on the sidelines or on the field. He’d look at you and challenge you with his eyes. When I think of him, I think of his eyes.”