Patrick Reusse
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The Gophers opened the 1968 football season with home losses to O.J. Simpson and Southern Cal (29-20) and powerful Nebraska (17-14). The crowds for those two home games at Memorial Stadium totaled 116,182.

The Gophers then defeated Wake Forest, went 5-2 in the Big Ten and finished No. 18 in the coaches' United Press International poll.

This was a continuation of a very positive decade, with Murray Warmath's gang going to the program's only Rose Bowls after the 1960 and 1961 seasons, and tying for their most recent Big Ten title with Indiana and Purdue in 1967.

The Gophers still remained an equal rival to the Vikings for autumn attention.

The Vikings actually had only gained a tie for that devotion in 1968, winning the NFL's pre-merger Central Division with an 8-6 record, then losing to the Baltimore Colts, 24-14, in a first-ever playoff game.

The Gophers opened the 1969 season vs. Arizona State in the heat of Tempe, Ariz. The Sun Devils couldn't stop the power-running of Jim Carter, and they didn't have to … because the defense that carried the Gophers so often had no chance to cover the vapor trails left by ASU's receivers.

Final: ASU 48, Gophers 26. Yardage: Gophers a hefty 463, ASU an over-the-top 583.

On that night, the honeymoon was over for the Gophers' approach to playing football.

The Vikings opened the next day at Yankee Stadium against Fran Tarkenton and the Giants. A Minneapolis Tribune headline early in the week read: "Grant ponders … Kapp or Cuozzo?''

Gary Cuozzo had been Joe Kapp's backup throughout the 1968 season, but coach Bud Grant couldn't be blamed for seeking more efficiency.

Kapp's passing statistics in 14 regular-season starts: 52% completions, 1,695 yards, 10 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and a QB rating of 58.8.

Grant went with Cuozzo in the opener in New York. Tarkenton threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to Don Hermann for a Giants win, 24-23.

Grant decided to go with Kapp for the home opener in another meeting with the Colts. The date was Sept. 28, 1969. The site was Met Stadium.

This was the day the Vikings zipped past the Gophers and put them in the rearview mirror, which those Gophers now share with every other sports entity in the Twin Cities.

The NFL is king. The Vikings are kings. But not always.

And on Monday, the kingmaker, the man who created that coronation on an incredible September afternoon, Joseph Robert Kapp, died at 85 at a care facility in San Jose, Calif.

Kapp threw seven touchdown passes that Sunday – two to Gene Washington (83 and 42 yards), one apiece to Bobby Grim, Dave Osborn, Jim Lindsey, Kent Kramer and John Beasley.

Final: Vikings 52, Colts 14. Total yards: 622-235. Kapp's passing yardage: 449.

That was the beginning of a 12-game winning streak for the Vikings. Kapp took them to the Super Bowl. That didn't go well, nor did the following three with the returning Tarkenton as the quarterback.

No matter. There are blips — when Lou Holtz comes to town and Les Steckel is spending a year coaching the Vikings, for example — when the Gophers surge to the forefront, but those are merely moments.

Joe Kapp made the Vikings our kings.

Notably, he turned down the team MVP at a banquet at the end of the season, saying: "It's 40 for 60. There is no one most valuable Viking. There are 40 most valuable Vikings.''

On Tuesday, I talked with Alan Page, the greatest player in Vikings history (MVP as a defensive tackle!), about the death of another teammate from those days of much winning.

"That business about 40 players for 60 minutes from Joe — that was real,'' Page said. "He might've had bad numbers at times, but he brought something else to the party. A big personality, but also big leadership.

"He got things done.''

Sadly, it was done after '69, because an aged lawyer named John Elliot Cook convinced Kapp they could beat the system by not signing a contract and becoming a big-buck NFL free agent. He finally won, but didn't get a job until October with a bad Patriots team, and was out of the game by 1971.

What a blunder. But what a wonderful coronation ceremony he created for Vikingdom.

We appreciated Fran Tarkenton, an all-timer as a quarterback, but we loved Joe Kapp, the swashbuckling tequila drinker.