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Joe Kapp doesn't fool a lot of people with his fakes, he throws the football with more hope than accuracy and when he runs he isn't fleet, but then he isn't elusive, either. However, as Karl Kassulke, one of the Minnesota Viking defensive backs, says, "Joe Kapp is one tough son of a bitch."
Last Sunday in Bloomington, Minn., with the temperature on the field ranging between 7° and 9°, Joe Kapp and 39 other tough so-and-sos beat the Cleveland Browns for the NFL title. The score was 27-7, the win put the Vikings in the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs in New Orleans on Sunday, and the only time Kapp felt that he let his team down was late in the second period when he was lumbering along the sideline and stepped out of bounds. He said he should have veered in and hit the tackier coming up.
In recent years winning quarterbacks have usually been brainy types who can keep track of complicated game plans even under duress. For Kapp, a happy-go-lucky soul who is half Mexican, half imp and often half of a collision, a game plan is a bunch of plays selected by his learned coaches, which, if the mood strikes him, he may use. If not, he invents his own. The Vikings, to be sure, are not what you would call a subtle team. They operate on the theory that if you hit the other people harder than they hit you, you will very likely win the football game.
The one play that summed up this philosophy—and this game—came in the middle of the third period, and no coach would have dreamed of calling it. The Vikings were ahead 24-0. Most quarterbacks would have been playing conservatively, keeping the ball on the ground, running out the clock. Not Kapp. With third down and four to go on the Cleveland 47, he dropped back to pass. Unable to locate an open receiver, he ran to his right, turned up-field and discovered his path was already occupied by Jim Houston, a 240-pound linebacker who is the best man on the Cleveland defense. Early in the game the Vikings had directed most of their attack away from Houston, on the sound theory that there are better places to go.
Houston hit Kapp head on. Kapp went high in the air, spun half around and landed on his back. After such an impact you would expect the quarterback to be left for dead. Kapp bounded to his feet. It was Houston who lay face down, blood running from his nose, through for the afternoon. Kapp trotted back to the huddle and a few plays later completed a 20-yard pass to Fullback Bill Brown which set up a Fred Cox field goal, the second he kicked, that put the Vikings ahead 27-0.
Late in the fourth period, with the score 27-7 and no reason at all to gamble, Kapp came up with something that might be called a play, and was definitely Kapp. He called a drive into the middle of the line, with Brown carrying the ball. Brown fired ahead, reached for the ball and came up empty. After faking the hand-off Kapp rolled to his left and, bereft of blockers, rumbled 19 yards for a first down on the Cleveland 32.
"I wasn't thinking of that when I called the play," he said later. "But I didn't think it was going to be a good play for Bill after I came up to the line of scrimmage, so I kept the ball myself." As End Jim Marshall, the mustachioed leader of the Viking defensive unit, says, "Nothing Joe does ever surprises me."
What Joe Kapp may have done is to pretty much destroy the mystique of pro football. The arcane mysteries of the flexed line and the overshifted defense and the combination man-to-man and zone defenses mean nothing to him. He attacks defenses basically, with no frills and no excess ratiocination.
"Winning is everything," he said after the game. "You do anything you have to do to win. Everything else is crap."
Kapp, then, is no picture quarterback. His passes do not fly on a flat, hard line. On long throws they wobble precariously in a lofty, arcing trajectory before dropping almost straight down, sometimes with defensive backs climbing atop one another for the opportunity to intercept.