Joe Kapp, one of the toughest and most beloved blue-collar characters in Vikings history, died Monday after 85 years of never turning away from a fight, never taking the easy road and never, ever running out of bounds when the most prudent thing for a quarterback to do was head for the safety of the nearest sideline.
Kapp, who battled dementia the last 15 years of his life, was 31 years old in the fall of 1969 when he kept telling any and all who asked that his success hinged on all 40 players on the roster giving full effort for 60 minutes. That "40 for 60" mantra became the battle cry for a Vikings team that went 12-2 while scoring a league-high 379 points and allowing a league-low 133 en route to the franchise's first of four Super Bowls in eight seasons.
"Joe was one of the most dedicated team-first guys I think I ever played with," said former running back Dave Osborn, who was with the Vikings during Kapp's three-year stint from 1967-69. "He was a quarterback who didn't care if he completed a pass or gained one yard because all he cared about was, 'Did we win the game?'"
Arguably the biggest win in franchise history — the 1969 NFL Championship Game against the Cleveland Browns at Met Stadium — came with a classic Kapp moment that's been relived countless times over the past half-century, and more.
"Oh yeah, I remember it," Osborn said.
Kapp dropped back to pass near midfield. He looked left, but his receivers were covered. He then saw an opening around right end that even his legs could get to.
"Joe wasn't exactly the fastest guy or the greatest athlete you ever saw," Osborn said. "But no one worked harder."
Kapp lumbered beyond the line of scrimmage as linebacker Jim Houston closed in for the clobber. Kapp could have cut right to the sideline, but that wasn't who he was.
A tough-talking, tequila-loving, fists-a-flying swashbuckler, Kapp once was described as "The Toughest Chicano" in a headline by Sports Illustrated. Locally, he was called many things, including "Hennepin Avenue Joe" in a witty Midwestern bent on the "Broadway Joe" Namath craze from that same era.
So "Hennepin Avenue Joe" didn't turn to the sideline. He turned toward Houston.
"I put all my moves on him," Kapp said years later. "All two of them."
Houston bought neither so Kapp tried to hurdle him. Kapp's knee caught Houston's helmet. Houston fell face first, knocked out before he hit the ground, and was done for the day. Kapp flipped head over heels, got up and walked back to the huddle.
The Vikings needed a quarterback in 1967, when Fran Tarkenton was traded to the Giants as Bud Grant was arriving from the CFL as head coach. General Manager Jim Finks turned back to his CFL roots and signed Kapp.
A star player at Cal, Kapp was an 18th-round pick of Washington's in 1959. He never played there, joining Finks with the Calgary Stampeders.
Bud and Joe went 3-8-3 in 1967. A year later, they went 8-6 and made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. They lost to Baltimore in their playoff opener.
The Vikings opened the 1969 season with a loss to Tarkenton and the Giants. A 12-game win streak began the following week when the Vikings beat Baltimore 52-14 with Kapp throwing seven touchdown passes — an NFL record he still shares with seven others.
"I ran the offense," Kapp told the Star Tribune after the game. "I looked at more film than anybody despite having the reputation of spending all my off time at Duff's Bar."
Kapp would go on to become the first Vikings quarterback to win a playoff game, beating the Rams 23-20 on Dec. 27, 1969 at Met Stadium.
"Men like Joe Kapp are the cornerstones the Minnesota Vikings franchise was built upon," said Mark Wilf, current Vikings president and co-owner.
The Vikings, of course, were upset by the Chiefs in Super Bowl IV. Kapp never played for them again.
With his contract up, Kapp and his agent, John Elliott Cook, demanded a five-year, $1.25 million deal with $250,000 up front. The Vikings refused yet still controlled Kapp's rights because of the "Rozelle Rule," which basically eliminated free agency by letting Commissioner Pete Rozelle set unbearable compensation that a team had to pay to acquire another team's unsigned players.
Kapp was traded to the Patriots during the 1970 season for a first-round pick in 1972 and safety John Charles. Kapp went 1-9 in Boston, walked out of training camp in 1971 and filed a $2 million lawsuit against the NFL and Rozelle. Kapp won his argument that the "Rozelle Rule" was unfair, but he got nothing in damages and never played again.
The NFL was forced to abandon that rule in 1976 thanks in part to Kapp's efforts.
"Joe brought people together, and that's a testament to his character," said former Vikings teammate Clinton Jones. "He led by example and would sacrifice for others."
Kapp once endeared himself to teammates off the field in a way that's talked about to this day. It came during the team banquet in 1969.
"They tried to give him a trophy for team MVP that year," Osborn said. "He went up there and said, 'There is no most valuable Viking on this team. Everybody is the most valuable player.' Then he handed the trophy back and walked off the stage. That was Joe."
Kapp is the only quarterback to lead his team to a Rose Bowl (Cal lost to Iowa in 1958), Grey Cup (won and lost with the British Columbia Lions) and Super Bowl.
In 2016, Kapp acknowledged publicly that he had Alzheimer's disease, telling a reporter: "Every single day I live being forgetful. I've got calendars on both of my shoes."
At the time, Kapp pledged to donate his brain for medical research after his death and his son confirmed Tuesday that it will go to the medical school at the University of California, San Francisco.