Joe Kapp was larger than life, on and off the football field.
The fiery quarterback led the B.C. Lions to their first Grey Cup title, then made global headlines more than 45 years later when he came to blows with fellow Hall of Famer Angelo Mosco. Kapp died Monday night at the age of 85.
The Lions confirmed Kapp’s passing. The cause of death wasn’t immediately divulged but Kapp told the San Jose Mercury News in 2016 he had Alzheimer’s disease and was donating his brain for concussion research.
There were reports he also battled dementia for over a decade.
“Joe Kapp will go down as one of the all-time great players for not only our franchise but the entire Canadian Football League,” Neil McEvoy, the Lions co-general manager/director of football operations, said in a statement. “Along with helping put the Lions on the map after some lean early years, Joe also served as a trailblazer for quarterbacks making a name for themselves on both sides of the border.
“Our thoughts are with Joe’s wife Jennifer and the entire family at this time.”
The six-foot-two, 215-pound Kapp played eight CFL seasons with the Calgary Stampeders (1959-60) and B.C. (1961-1966) before also serving as the Lions GM (1990). He completed 1,476-of-2,709 passes (54.5 per cent) in Canada for 22,725 yards with 136 touchdowns and 129 interceptions.
Kapp, a native of Santa Fe, New Mexico, also ran for 2,784 yards on 579 carries (4.8-yard average) and five TDs. Kapp led B.C. to a Grey Cup appearance in 1963 and the franchise’s first league title the following season.
Kapp was definitely a throwback in Canada as instead of avoiding contact, Kapp seemingly went looking for it. And when he found it, rather than run out of bounds the rugged Kapp would lower his shoulder and try to run over or through a defensive player.
“Joe Kapp was tough as nails,” CFL commissioner Randy Ambosie said in a statement. “While most quarterbacks tried to evade defenders, he would run over them.
“Kapp, in his playing days, epitomized a brash, young league making its mark in the sports world.”
Kapp went to the NFL after the ‘66 season, playing for both Minnesota (1967-69) and the Boston Patriots (1970). Kapp signed with the Vikings in a deal that allowed Canadian receiver Jim Young, a future Canadian Football Hall of Famer, to join the Lions.
Kapp led the Vikings to the Super Bowl in 1969 where they lost 23-7 to the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Vikings GM at the time was none other than Jim Finks, who had brought Kapp to Canada with the Calgary Stampeders. Minnesota’s head coach was the late Bud Grant, the former Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach whose teams had faced Kapp in Canada.
Kapp, a two-time CFL all-star, is the only quarterback to play in the Rose Bowl, Grey Cup and Super Bowl.
Kapp was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1984 and named to the U.S. college football Hall of Fame in 2004. Kapp is also a member of the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame (1999) and B.C. Lions Wall of Fame.
His No. 22 has been retired by the Lions.
Kapp played his collegiate football at the University of California, Berkeley, leading the school to a Pacific Coast championship in 1958. On Jan. 1, 1959, the Golden Bears lost a 38-12 decision to Iowa in the Rose Bowl.
Kapp was a two-sport star at Cal. He also played basketball on the school’s Pacific Coast Conference championship teams (1956-57, 1957-58).
Washington selected Kapp in the 18th round of the 1959 NFL draft. But after the franchise failed to contact Kapp, he accepted an offer from Finks, then the Stampeders GM.
Kapp spent two seasons in Calgary before being dealt to the B.C. Lions. The move came after Kapp suffered a bad knee injury early during the 1960 season but didn’t miss any games as he played with it heavily taped.
Kapp led B.C. to a 12-4 record and top spot in the West Division standings in 1963. The Lions dispatched the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the conference final to advance to the Grey Cup game versus the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Vancouver’s Empire Stadium.
Hamilton won 21-10 but the game is remembered for Mosca’s controversial blow on Lions running back Willie Fleming. Mosca’s sideline hit on Fleming while Fleming was on the ground touched off a long-standing feud between players on both teams.
The Lions avenged the Grey Cup loss the following season. After posting a stellar 11-2-3 record, B.C., dispatched Hamilton 36-24 in the Grey Cup game, the first title in franchise history.
But the bad blood never dissipated. In 2011, Kapp and Mosca had a physical altercation during a CFL Alumni Association luncheon in Vancouver.
Video of Kapp shoving flowers in Mosca’s face, Mosca retaliating by swinging his cane at Kapp, who then punched Mosca, knocking him to the floor grabbed global attention.
Kapp left for the NFL following the 1966 season. But he returned to B.C. in 1990 as the club’s general manager. While Kapp was responsible for recruiting former NFL star Mark Gastineau (who was a flop in the CFL), he did sign Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Doug Flutie.
Flutie spent eight illustrious seasons in Canada (1990-97) with B.C., the Calgary Stampeders and Toronto Argonauts before joining the Buffalo Bills in 1998. The former Boston College star was the CFL’s outstanding player an unprecedented six times and was a three-time Grey Cup champion.
Flutie was voted as the CFL’s top player all-time in a TSN poll in 2006 and two years later was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. Flutie is also a member of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Kapp also worked as an actor in the 1970s-’80s, appearing in such TV programs as Ironside, The Six Million Dollar Man, Adam-12 and Police Woman. He also had roles in such movies as The Longest Yard, Semi-Tough, Breakheart Pass and The Frisco Kid.
—Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press