Joe Kapp Minnesota Vikings has led an interesting life. Now 82 and living with a form of dementia that primarily impacts his short-term memory, Kapp is the only quarterback to have led a Canadian Football League team to a Grey Cup championship and taken an NFL team to a Super Bowl.
He coined the “40 for 60” expression that personified the Vikings’ 1969 Super Bowl team — 40 players uniting as a team for 60 minutes. He left the Vikings in a contract dispute and was locked out of the NFL after refusing to sign a standard league contract. He wanted to become a free agent at a time when free agency for players was not much more than a dream.
He became head coach at his college alma mater — the University of California, Berkeley — and was the winning coach of the 1982 game that featured the infamous five-lateral kickoff return against Stanford that resulted in a you-had-to-see-it Cal victory, culminating with returner Kevin Moen weaving through the Stanford band for a touchdown in what became known as “The Play.”
Away from the field, he acted in several movies, including the original “The Longest Yard” with Burt Reynolds. At a CFL alumni dinner, he got into a fistfight when he was in his 70s with Angelo Mosca, an adversary from his Canadian football days.
He also has written a memoir with the help of his son, J.J., entitled “Joe Kapp, ‘The Toughest Chicano’: A Life of Leadership”. The book is available on Amazon, and comes with an autographed picture at Fan HQ in Minnetonka and Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis. Book proceeds go toward funding The Joe Kapp Scholarship, which assists first-time Latinx students at Kapp’s alma mater, Cal.
The Pioneer Press reached out to Kapp to share some of his thoughts and memories.
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Could the Joe Kapp who led the Vikings to the Super Bowl play in today’s NFL?
Sure. But you’d have to teach us how to lift weights and stay off the tequila.
Is there a current quarterback who reminds you of the way you played?
I don’t know, but I never ran out of bounds to avoid contact.
What was your favorite season in pro football — was it that Super Bowl season or one of the seasons you played in the CFL?
I loved them all. I never wanted to do anything else.
How long did it take to get over that Super Bowl loss, or does it still sting?
We gave it our best shot. If I think about it, I always wish we had another run at it.
Are you surprised the Vikings still haven’t won a Super Bowl?
It is a surprise, but keep the faith.
What was your relationship with coach Bud Grant?
It was professional. I think there was mutual respect. We knew each other from Canada. Sometimes I had to cut us loose — against Bud’s conservative wishes.
Who was your closest friend on the Vikings?
Don’t make me answer that. The quarterback tries to be friends with all of his teammates. God bless those who have passed — Milt Sunde, Fred Cox, Bill Brown, Ed Sharockman, Earsell Mackbee, Wally Hilgenberg, Karl Kassulke, Grady Alderman.
Ever regret not signing a standard contract and not playing longer in the NFL?
I have no regrets about what we did in football. (In 12 years of pro football — 8 CFL, 4 NFL — Joe started more games (190) than many of his contemporaries in the NFL). The lawsuit for free agency had to be fought. Somebody had to do it. It was the right thing to do.
You weren’t known for perfect spirals on your passes. Is a perfect spiral overrated?
Of course. That’s almost like saying a clean uniform is important.
Were you a better quarterback or coach?
I was a better quarterback, but I didn’t give myself as many chances as a coach.
What started the feud between you and Angelo Mosca?
There was no feud. We didn’t like the way he played football.
Was it your intent to fight with Mosca at that CFL reunion?
Absolutely not. He swung a metal cane at me.
Have you and Mosca reconciled and let bygones be bygones?
We haven’t spoken since he swung his cane at me.
When you were a kid, who was your favorite quarterback?
I looked up to Cal (UC Berkeley) greats like Paul Larson.
You did not mind hitting people. Were you a quarterback with the mentality of a lineman or linebacker?
I took pride in being a complete football player. I was from the last part of the era where you had to play both ways in college. I never wanted to go back to the old neighborhood and be called a sissy quarterback.
Have NFL teams gotten away from the 40 for 60 mentality you had?
The most successful teams have some form of 40 for 60. There may be more factors than ever that go against team-first recipes but all great football teams have to care more about the team than about themselves. It is really that simple.
You appeared in several movies. Which was your favorite, and why?
Well, “The Longest Yard” was (my) biggest part, and since it was a football movie, Bob Aldrich, the director, really welcomed my suggestions. Bob coached up a great atmosphere on the set and had selected great actors/players in Burt Reynolds and Ed Lauter.
How important was it to become a trailblazer for Mexican-Americans with what you did in college and pro football?
We are very proud of our heritage, and if being public about it encourages Mexican-Americans to be their best in sports or anything else, that’s a good thing.
To this day, you continue to support other Mexican-Americans. Was one of the reasons you wrote the book to fund a scholarship at your alma mater?
We have been trying to get this book written for 30 years, but it seemed like a natural to try and use it to support our scholarship, which is used to help first-time Mexican-American and Latinx students at Cal.
How often have you watched replays of The Play — those final moments of the Cal-Stanford game with all the laterals and the band on the field? And have you ever seen a stranger ending to a game?
The Play was lucky but was not an accident. Our guys knew rugby principles because our whole squad played a rugby game called “Grabazz” on Sundays as a fun way to work out. If the guys know rugby principles, that’s all the coaching they need. Even with all the coaches in the NFL that teams have now they still don’t know how to lateral the ball and move up field when they need a play in the last seconds. Kind of hard to believe.
If you could change anything about your pro football career, what would it be? Or, would you leave it as it is?
Can’t change a thing. You always wish you had a second chance to be in the Super Bowl with the Vikings. Always thought we’d get the job done the second time like we did with the BC Lions in Canada. We lost the Grey Cup in ’63 but won it against the same team in ’64.
As you deal with dementia, do you have a good days and bad days?
We try and stay positive, and when you do, you usually have good days.