Sports: My Boyhood Hero Joe Kapp Of The BC Lions Has Alzheimer’s Disease

By on April 17, 2017
Aug. 31, 1961. Touchdown Magazine was produced in Vancouver by broadcaster Bill Good Sr. This issue feaures BC Lions quarterback Joe Kapp.  From the Jab Sidhoo collection. For a John Mackie story. [PNG Merlin Archive]

By David Murray. I was looking up some sports stuff online and I was shocked to see that my boyhood hero , the “Legendary Joe Kapp” has been afflicted by Alzheimer’s Disease. Joe just turned 79 this past March 19th b (1938).

Here was a man I used to do speeches about in grade 4. This man was my hero. I even put his number “22” on my report card in grade 1. I wore his number throughout my high school and college basketball career.

He after all took us to our first Grey Cup win in 1964!

Here is a man that played in the Rose Bowl, the Grey Cup and the Super Bowl. The only man to do that. He also won a California boxing title , as well played in the NCAA basketball final four where the CAL “Bears” played Kansas, Joe got to check Wilt Chamberlain.

I have been honored to have met Joe many times during my sports travels. The last time I saw Joe was at the Trinity Western University, the BC Lions were at their first day of training camp.
Joe was introducing a new Quarterback to the media by the name of “Doug Flutie”. Who I am sure if it wasn’t for Joe Kapp, Flutie would not have come to Canada. They are both in the CFL Hall of Fame now.

Joe was born in Santa Fe New Mexico, He attended William S. Hart High School, located in Newhall, California. He went on to play for the CAL Bears . Joe led the California Golden Bears to a Pacific Coast Conference championship in 1958 and the 1959 Rose Bowl, where they lost to Iowa. This remains California’s most recent Rose Bowl appearance. Kapp was named an All-American in that same year. He was also awarded the W. J. Voit Memorial Trophy in 1958 as the outstanding football player on the Pacific Coast. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in physical education from the University of California in 1959.

Joe Kapp was drafted in the 18th round of the 1959 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins, who owned his rights to play professional football in the United States. After the draft, Washington did not contact him, so his only choice was to accept the offer from Jim Finks, the general manager of the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League (CFL).

Kapp joined the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL for his rookie season in 1959. The following year, Kapp led Calgary to their first playoff appearance in years. The season was a difficult one, because he injured his knee against the Toronto Argonauts early in the season, but did not miss any games, because he played heavily taped.

In 1961, the BC Lions, then the CFL’s newest franchise, traded four starting players to the Calgary Stampeders for Joe Kapp. The move paid off for the Lions when Kapp led the team to a Grey Cup appearance in 1963. The following season, Kapp led the Lions to their first Grey Cup victory in 1964. However, the Lions proved unable to defend their championship in 1965.

By that time, Kapp had proven he was an elite quarterback, and also developed the reputation of being a tough player and a great leader. While most quarterbacks dislike being hit, Kapp was the opposite. He loved to hit and when he took off on a run he’d try to run over defenders.

Before the 1967 season, Kapp made the decision to return to the U.S. to play pro football. The AFL’s Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, and Houston Oilers were heavily pursuing him.

Kapp ended up signing with the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings in a multi-player “trade” between the CFL and NFL teams, one of the very few transactions to ever occur between the two leagues.

The Minnesota Vikings in 1965 had drafted running back Jim Young out of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. He had spent the 1965 and 1966 seasons with the Vikings, but wanted to return to Canada. The BC Lions were very interested in acquiring Young, but the Toronto Argonauts had his CFL rights.

The Minnesota Vikings general manager was Jim Finks, who had brought Kapp to Canada in 1959, and their head coach was Bud Grant who had faced Kapp while coaching the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Both Finks and Grant thought Joe Kapp would be the best replacement for Fran Tarkenton who had been traded to the New York Giants. To make this transaction possible, the BC Lions traded all-star defensive lineman Dick Fouts, and future Canadian Football Hall of Fame running back Bill Symons to the Toronto Argonauts for the CFL rights to future Canadian Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Jim Young. They then managed to get Kapp waived out of the CFL. The Minnesota Vikings managed to get Jim Young waived out of the NFL, which allowed the BC Lions to sign him. The expansion New Orleans Saints wanted Young and it took some work from Finks to keep them from claiming Young. Kapp, now waived from the CFL, was free to sign with the Vikings, who had previously claimed his NFL playing rights from Washington.

1967 was Kapp’s first season in the NFL, and he started 11 of 14 games for the Minnesota Vikings, compiling an unusual record of 3 wins, 5 losses and 3 ties. Kapp completed only 47 percent of his pass attempts with 8 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Joe also scored 2 rushing touchdowns. Of note, the team was winless without Kapp starting at quarterback.

In 1968, Kapp led the Minnesota Vikings to their first ever playoff appearance, losing to the Baltimore Colts, 24–14. The Colts were upset a few weeks later by the New York Jets in Super Bowl III.

On September 28, 1969, Kapp threw for seven touchdown passes against the Baltimore Colts, which still stands as the all-time record with 7 other players (Sid Luckman, Adrian Burk, George Blanda, Y. A. Tittle, Nick Foles, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees). Burk was one of the officials who worked the game. Kapp led the Vikings to a 12–2 record, and a berth in Super Bowl IV after defeating the Cleveland Browns 27–7 in the last NFL Championship game ever played. However, he was unable to lead the team to victory in the Super Bowl, as the Vikings lost 23–7 to the Kansas City Chiefs. In 1970, the NFL and AFL consummated a merger that had been agreed to in 1966, and the NFL Championship game was no more after 50 years of NFL competition. On July 20, 1970, Sports Illustrated dubbed Kapp “The Toughest Chicano” on the cover of its weekly magazine. He received the team MVP, but refused the team MVP award, saying, “There is no one most valuable Viking. There are 40 most valuable Vikings”[4]

Prior to the 1969 season, the Minnesota Vikings had exercised the option clause of his contract, so Kapp had played the entire season without a new contract. It was unusual for teams to use the team’s option and not to offer a new contract prior to a season. This dispute made him a free agent for the 1970 season, by the NFL’s own rules.

Despite being a Super Bowl quarterback, no teams in the NFL made contact with Kapp until September of the 1970 season, when the Boston Patriots signed him to a four-year contract, making him the highest paid player in the league. Pete Rozelle stepped in and forced the Boston Patriots to give up two number-one draft picks as compensation to the Minnesota Vikings.

The Boston Patriots of 1970 were a poor-performing team and the late-arriving Kapp played poorly himself that season, leading the team to the league’s worst record at 2–12. When the year ended Pete Rozelle demanded that Kapp sign a Standard Player Contract. After conferring with his lawyer and the NFL Players Association, Kapp refused to sign a new contract.

With the top pick in the 1971 NFL Draft, the Patriots selected a quarterback, Jim Plunkett of Stanford. Kapp reported to the newly renamed New England Patriots’ training camp in 1971 and was turned away. The headlines in the Boston papers read “KAPP QUITS!”. After this incident Kapp never played again, his 12-year career as a professional football player was over.

Kapp started an anti-trust lawsuit vs. the NFL claiming the standard NFL contract was unconstitutional and a restraint of trade. He won the Summary Judgment after four years. The court had ruled that Joe Kapp’s trade was indeed restrained. It was two years later (April 1, 1976) in the trial for damages, that the jury decided that Kapp was not damaged.

Although Kapp was not awarded any damages, in 1977 the rules at issue in the Kapp case were later revised, a new system was instituted, and a multimillion-dollar settlement was made between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.

Joe was also an excellent actor , In the 1970s and early 1980s, Kapp appeared in several television programs as well as theatrical film titles. In most cases, the character roles were minor. Programs included Adam-12, Emergency!, Police Woman, Captains and the Kings, and Medical Center. Movies included The World’s Greatest Athlete (1973), The Longest Yard (1974), Breakheart Pass (1975), Two-Minute Warning (1976), Smash-Up on Interstate 5 (1976), Semi-Tough (1977), The Frisco Kid (1979), and Off Sides (Pigs vs. Freaks) (1984).

Joe Kapp’s biggest challenge is ahead of him now . Joe was walking up the street to a local hardware store where he lives recently to buy chicken feed. But by the time he had gone two blocks, the former Cal and Minnesota Vikings quarterback couldn’t remember what he needed. He asked for dog food instead.

I am so sad to hear of this. All the blows to his head during his sports career has no doubt added and been responsible for this. Joe Kapp’s son Will Kapp graduated from Cal in 2011 after walking on as a fullback from Los Gatos High. He suffered three concussions while playing for Cal. His grandson Frank Kapp who is a graduate from Mountain View High is now looking to catch on at Cal Berkley as a third generation Kapp suiting up for the “Bears” football program. J.J. Kapp , Joe’s oldest son quotes “We’re afflicted with the football disease,” The Kapp family loves the game. “I’m hoping if Frank does end up playing, it’s just college and hopefully it is not so much damage.”

Joe Kapp is a fighter, he is going to take this fight to the last quarter of his life. Anyone that has met Joe Kapp agrees, there has been nobody that has competed harder and loved life more than my hero “Joe Kapp”!

Thanks to Wikipedia for background information

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