Joe Kapp, a history-making Latino football player, dies at 85

Joe Kapp, the “toughest Chicano” and first Latino football player to take a team to the Super Bowl, died Monday at the age of 85.

Kapp passed away following a long bout with dementia, according to a statement from his alma mater, the University of California, Berkeley.

A native of New Mexico whose mother was Mexican American, Kapp is the only quarterback to have played in the Rose Bowl, Super Bowl and Canada’s Grey Cup.

He also still holds a share of the NFL single-game record with seven touchdown passes, in a 1969 win by his Minnesota Vikings over Baltimore.

Kapp made history when he took the Vikings to the 1970 Super Bowl, the first Latino player to do so.

He was a trailblazer as one of the first Mexican American stars in pro football. He and Jim Plunkett are the only two Mexican Americans to start at quarterback in a Super Bowl.

“Men like Joe Kapp are the cornerstones the Minnesota Vikings franchise was built upon,” Mark Wilf, Vikings owner and president, said in a statement. “Joe’s toughness and competitive spirit defined the Vikings teams of his era, and his tenacity and leadership were respected by teammates and opponents alike. We mourn Joe’s loss with his family, friends and Vikings fans around the world.”

During his collegiate career at Cal, he led the Golden Bears to a Pacific Coast Conference title in 1958 and a trip to the Rose Bowl where the Bears lost to Iowa.

Before making it to the NFL, Kapp played in the Canadian Football League, leading the British Columbia Lions to their first Grey Cup title in 1964. Kapp was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1984.

 “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, BC Lions co-general manager and director of football operations, said in a statement.

As a head coach at Cal, in 1982 his team pulled off what’s regarded as the single greatest play and game end in college football history, when the Bears pulled off “The Play” — a wild, five-lateral kickoff return with no time left.

Kevin Moen scored while running through the Stanford marching band, crushing a trombone player and winning the year’s Big Game for Cal.

“Playing for and coaching at Cal meant the world to him,” his son J.J. Kapp told The Associated Press.

Known as a fighter on the field, Kapp was the subject of a Sports Illustrated cover story that dubbed him “The Toughest Chicano.” That was the title of Kapp’s autobiography published in 2019, co-authored by his son J.J. Kapp and two of his friends.

He also dabbled in acting, with credits that include a role in the 1974 film “The Longest Yard” about a prison football team.

Kapp was survived by his second wife, Jennifer Kapp; four children and six grandchildren. His first wife, Marcia Kapp, died in 2005.

The Associated Press and David K. Li contributed.

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