Joe Kapp (A Quarterback in a League of His Own)

Fifty years after he retired, Joe Kapp is still the only QB in history who played in the Rose Bowl, a Grey Cup championship game, and the Super Bowl. 

After a successful college career at Cal, Joe Kapp began his professional football career in 1959, playing for the Calgary Stampeders. Then, in 1961, Calgary traded Kapp to the BC Lions. Kapp led the Lions to a 1963 Grey Cup appearance, and the following year the team won the Canadian championship. 

Having achieved success in the CFL, Kapp took his skills across the border to the NFL. There he had an ally–Bud Grant–who had coached against Kapp in Canada. Grant thought Kapp would be a good fit for his new team, the Minnesota Vikings. Minnesota had just traded its starting quarterback Fran Tarkenton to the NY Giants, and Grant needed a new man under center.

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Joe Kapp Joins the Vikings

At the time, Minnesota was an NFL newcomer, having joined the League in 1961. The team was getting its footing (29–51–4 overall) when Kapp entered the scene. In his first season with the Vikes, Kapp started eleven games and went 3–5–3 as the team went 3–8–3 overall–par for the course in Minnesota.

Things began changing the following season. Kapp started all fourteen games, and the Vikings reached the playoffs with an 8–6 record. Even though the team lost in the playoffs to the Colts, the future looked bright with Kapp at quarterback.

In 1969, Kapp started thirteen games, winning twelve, and the team went 12–2. At season’s end, his teammates voted Kapp the team MVP–an award he refused to take. “There is no one most valuable Viking,” he declared. “There are 40 most valuable Vikings.”

Kapp Proves Himself

Although the team’s season ended on a sour note, losing the Super Bowl to the KC Chiefs 23–7, Joe Kapp had proven he could play with the best, but (man) did he still have his critics! They said he threw a wobbly ball, threw too many interceptions, and that his passer rating was below average.

But those criticisms didn’t fluster Joe Kapp. “A quarterback in professional football is paid to win,” he said, “I do my job with the tools I have.” “If people don’t think it’s pretty, that suits me just fine–as long as we win.”

His teammates didn’t waver either. They knew, no matter what, Kapp would give 100%. Carl Eller, the Vikings Hall of Fame DE, said: “We had a closeness on that team among the black and white players, and Joe Kapp was the key to that.”

Another thing teammates liked about Kapp was his toughness. Unlike most QBs who avoid contact, Kapp relished it. Rather than run out of bounds, Joe would run straight ahead, often looking for a defender to run over. He did just that in the 1969 NFL Championship game. He ran over Cleveland Browns’ linebacker Jim Houston, knocking him out of the game.

One big misconception about Kapp is that he didn’t have a strong arm. While it’s true that he was not the most accurate of passers, he had a cannon for an arm. He could throw the ball 70 yards. Few quarterbacks in the history of football could throw the ball that far.

Closing Out Kapp's Career

Despite achieving success in Minnesota, Kapp played the entire 1969 season without a new contract. Unable to reach an agreement with the Vikings’ front office, Kapp then signed a four-year deal with the Boston Patriots, which made Kapp the highest-paid player in the League.

But things didn’t turn out in New England the way they had in the Midwest. Kapp and the Patriots finished the season at 2–12. Worse yet, Commissioner Pete Rozelle didn’t like his four-year arrangement and demanded that Kapp sign a standard player contract. Kapp refused, and, just like that, his twelve-year pro career was over.

Kapp did some acting, but the lure of football was too strong. In 1982, he signed on as head coach at his Alma Mater and remained at the helm for five years. He then had a brief stint as GM of the BC Lions before transitioning back to coaching as the head man of an Arena League team.

Today at 83-years-old, Kapp lives in Los Gatos, California. He’s a family man (wife, four children, and four grandchildren) and gives talks once in a while. He’s in the record books, too–the only QB ever to play in the Rose Bowl, the Grey Cup championship, and in the Super Bowl.

Kapp, you see, wasn’t an ordinary Joe. He was extraordinary.

Mark Morthier is the host of Yesterday’s Sports, a podcast dedicated to reliving memorable sports moments from his childhood days and beyond.  He grew up in New Jersey just across from New York City, so many of his episodes revolve around the great sport’s teams of the 70s for the New York area. 

He is also an author of No Nonsense, Old School Weight Training (Second Edition): A Guide for People with Limited Time and Running Wild: (Growing Up in the 1970s)

Mark Morthier headshot - host of Yesterday's Sports podcast on the Sports History Network
Photo Courtesy: Mark Morthier
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