Legendary B.C. Lions, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Joe Kapp passes away at 85

Photo courtesy: BC Sports Hall of Fame

Legendary B.C. Lions’ quarterback Joe Kapp passed away on Monday after a 15-year battle with dementia, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. He was 85 years old.

An outstanding two-sport athlete at the University of California-Berkley, Kapp was selected in the 18th round of the 1959 NFL Draft by Washington but instead signed with the Calgary Stampeders. He spent two seasons as the team’s starting quarterback before the Lions acquired him via trade, sending four starters to the Stamps in exchange.

In six seasons with B.C., Kapp established himself as one of the league’s best quarterbacks, earning CFL all-star honours on two occasions. He was named the West Division’s Most Outstanding Player in 1963 and led the Lions to their first Grey Cup victory the following season. All told, he threw for 22,725 yards, 136 touchdowns, and 129 interceptions in eight CFL seasons, while rushing for 2,784 yards and 26 majors.

“Joe Kapp will go down as one of the all-time great players for not only our franchise but the entire Canadian Football League,” said Lions’ co-general manager and director of football operations Neil McEvoy 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.”

In 1967, Kapp returned to the United States via a rare inter-league “trade,” with the Minnesota Vikings waiving future Hall of Fame Canadian receiver Jim Young so he could join the Lions in exchange for the right to sign Kapp. He spent three seasons with the team, earning a Pro Bowl selection in 1969 while leading the Vikings to a Super Bowl berth.

After becoming a free agent the following offseason, Kapp signed a four-year deal with the Boston Patriots which made him the highest-paid player in the NFL. Commissioner Pete Rozelle attempted to force him to sign a standard player contract the next season, leading to the end of Kapp’s NFL career. He would later win an anti-trust lawsuit against the league.

In four NFL seasons, the Santa Clarita, Calif. native threw for 5,911 yards, 40 touchdowns and 64 interceptions while adding 611 yards on the ground and five majors.

After his playing career, Kapp worked as an actor, appearing in TV shows like The Six Million Dollar Man and movies like The Longest Yard. In 1982, he was hired as the head coach of his alma mater, the California Golden Bears. His tenure lasted six seasons with a 20-34-1 record.

Kapp rejoined the Lions as the team’s president and general manager in 1990. He was fired after just 11 games, but not before organizing the signing of Hall of Fame quarterback Doug Flutie.

In 2011, Kapp generated international media attention after he was involved in a brawl with former Hamilton Tiger-Cats defensive lineman Angelo Mosca at the Canadian Football League Alumni luncheon. The altercation stemmed from a controversial hit delivered by Mosca on Lions’ running back Willie Fleming in the 1963 Grey Cup.

“Joe Kapp was tough as nails. While most quarterbacks tried to evade defenders, he would run over them. He started his CFL career in Calgary, but will forever be remembered as a B.C. Lion after leading the Leos to their first Grey Cup in 1964,” said CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie.

“Kapp in his playing days epitomized a brash, young league making its mark in the sports world. The Lions organization retired his number 22 for his contributions on and off the field. Upon news of his passing, our thoughts are with his friends and family.”

Kapp was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1984 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004. His number 22 jersey was retired by the B.C. Lions and he was named one of the 50 greatest Minnesota Vikings of all time in 2010.

He still holds the NFL record for most touchdown passes in a game with seven, a distinction he shares with Sid Luckman, Adrian Burk, George Blanda, Y. A. Tittle, Nick Foles, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees.