Before he boarded
the Boston Patriots' chartered jet for Kansas City last weekend, a tramp
quarterback named Joe Kapp sniffed the delicate salt-scented air of the Hub
City and observed, "Man, this life's worked out just too good. Something's
bound to happen." Something did. Jerry Mays and Buck Buchanan happened.
Aaron Brown and Bobby Bell happened. The whole Kansas City defense happened,
and for the second time in 10 months Joe Kapp, the Man of Machismo, found
himself looking at the world through a haze of red jerseys. But he didn't mind
a bit. "I'm playing football again," he said, "and that's what
counts. For a while this summer it was looking pretty bleak."
Bleak is an
understatement. Ten days before Kapp suited up for Sunday's game against the
Chiefs, the man who had led the Minnesota Vikings to the Super Bowl was not
only unemployed, he was stunned and hurt by the Vikings' refusal to negotiate
seriously with his longtime agent, John Elliott Cook of San Francisco, the man
who obtained the Taj Mahal for 49er Quarterback John Brodie. Kapp's only role
in the summer-long war of nerves was to keep his mouth shut, and he took his
beautiful wife Marcia and his 7-year-old son J.J. off to California, where they
stayed with relatives in San Jose and Sacramento. When an ultimatum came from
the Vikings' front office, Kapp exploded in private. "Goddamn it," he
said, "I don't answer ultimatums. I'm not some kind of goddamn slave."
But mostly he was unseen and unheard. "I laid around watching TV," he
recalls. "Me and my six-pack. I watched the Vikings beat Kansas City and,
man, was I proud. Then another weekend went by and I still wasn't playing, and
my mother kept telling me, 'Don't worry, everything works out for the best.' It
all goes to show you, boys. Listen to your mother."
The lady in
question, Florence Garcia Kapp, was working in her San Jose Dairy Queen when
the telephone rang and a man who identified himself as Clive Rush, coach of the
Boston Patriots, asked to speak to her son the vagrant. Two days later, Joseph
Kapp, 32, flew to Boston and became the Patriots' second-string quarterback.
The terms were unannounced, but a club official dropped a strong hint. "Not
since the U.S.S. Nautilus" he said, "has that much money been paid for
a sub." The members of the Boston working press came up with a consensus
estimate of $100,000 a year for five years. There was good reason to believe
that for once they were conservative. The Vikings had offered Kapp $100,000,
and he had responded with dead silence. The best guess is that Boston will pay
him no less than $150,000 per annum.
Is he worth it?
The citizens of Boston seem to think so. Kapp and Patriot President Billy
Sullivan had been spotted as they deplaned at Boston's Logan International
Airport after the all-night flight from San Francisco. "Hey, Joe," a
mechanic shouted, "you gonna play for the Pats?" Kapp raised both hands
in a victory salute and shouted back, "Everything for the team." The
mechanic raced to a telephone and called a local radio station, and for the
next few hours the airwaves were buzzing with rumors and predictions. On the
rumors alone, stock in the Boston Patriots Football Club Inc. jumped from 16 to
19, and at midday, after the official announcement, it went up again. Within 24
hours of Kapp's arrival, the team had sold 100 more season tickets, and the day
after he hit town hopeful purchasers were lined up outside Fenway Park, where
the club has its offices, some of them rubbing their eyes from a night on the
pavement. Said Ticket Manager John Fitzgerald, "It's the first time this
has ever happened to us for a regular-season game."
Around the city
usually unflappable Bostonians blew their cool en masse. On the morning that
Kapp arrived switchboard operators at the three major newspapers fell
hopelessly behind trying to handle the calls. The Boston Evening Globe's
headline that night was PATRIOTS GET KAPP FROM VIKINGS. It was set in the type
newspapers usually reserve for such news as DEWEY BEATS TRUMAN. "There may
be no more patsy in the Pats," Herald-Traveler Columnist Jack Clary wrote,
and Bud Collins in the Sunday Globe tagged Kapp "the Mexican Messiah"
and said that Boston fans were willing to give him a few days "before they
expect him to lead them to the green pasture called the Super Bowl." The
Globe began a three-parter on Kapp's life and hard times, and the
Record-American called the quarterback "a Kapp-ital gain." This was to
be the first in a long succession of puns. "Marksman Joe is no Kapp
pistol," read another item. A headline blared: PATS KAPP-TURE FANCY OF
FANS. Joe was quickly tagged "The Hub-Kapp," and when he was seen in a
nightclub, "The Night-Kapp."
ink," Kapp was heard to cry. "Just let me play football." But the
"ink" flowed on, and the citizens of Boston soaked it up. Approaching
the city, TWA Captain Wes Jacobs observed that it was "a beautiful night
for football," and the tower operator added, "Yeah, now that Kapp's
here." Hotelier Stephen Stearns said, "Joe Kapp is the biggest thing to
hit Boston since Bobby Orr, and Bobby Orr is the biggest thing to hit Boston
since Paul Revere," thereby avoiding even a tip of the Kapp to Bill
Russell, Ted Williams, Bob Cousy, Charlie Brickley and Babe Ruth. Tom Burns,
operator of Yellow Cab No. 2, said, "It's a gift from heaven. And we
accept." John Sullivan, 13, said to his friend, John MacDonald, 11: "My
favorite QB use to be Bat Stan. Now it's Joe Kapp. But one thing we gotta
remembuh, Jawn. He's only human. He's not a good scrambluh." "Then what
is he a good?" John MacDonald asked. "He's a good QB. He fires the
ball." "Yeah," John MacDonald said. "He oughta fire the
ball—for $500,000 a game." Young John refused to divulge the source of his
adulation and speculation were sweeping Boston, Kapp was playing a new and
unlikely role: the cram scholar. On his first day in town Rush had picked him
up at the airport at 6:30 a.m. and drilled him on the Patriots' complex
offensive system for four straight hours. Then there was a press conference.
"I've got to get to work, boys, so let's get this over with," Kapp
announced as several dozen reporters opened their yaps. "When will you be
able to start?" one asked. "What difference does that make?" Kapp
said. "The idea is for everyone to help the other guy." "Would you
be willing to serve as a backup quarterback for the remainder of the year?"
another reporter asked. "If you want to ask a dumb question like that, then
I'm willing to say, yes, I'll be the backup," Kapp replied. Rush jumped up
and grabbed Kapp's hand. "Joe," he said, "you and I are going to
get along great."
Now it was noon.
Kapp had not slept. His suitcase was at his side. He had a single change of
clothes plus the rumpled outfit he was wearing, and he had no hotel room. But
instead of attacking his personal problems, he went to the blackboard with Rush
for another marathon session. Finally Rush said, "Joe, we've thrown a lot
at you today. Maybe you want to relax a little bit, let the smoke clear?"
He sent Kapp off in the company of Gino Cappelletti, the Patriots' pass catcher
and placekicker, and the two old pros taxied to Cappelletti's club. The Point
After, drank a few beers and talked. "I thought he'd want to relax,"
Gino said later, "but not him. He sits me down and he says, 'O.K., tell me
about the club.' And he made me go right down the roster, 40 guys, and give him
their total biographies, what they eat, what they drink, who're the swingers,
who're the serious guys, and then he wanted to know about the trainer and the
Late in the
evening somebody reminded Kapp that he hadn't made hotel accommodations.
Cappelletti rushed his new teammate to the Hotel Sonesta, across the Charles
River in Cambridge, where an excited manager said, "My God, you're Joe
Kapp. You're our guest. Namath stays here, and he pays. But you—you're our
Kapp's first game
in a Patriot uniform was two Sundays ago, when Baltimore beat Boston 14-6. He
wore his old Minnesota number (11) and prowled the sidelines leading cheers and
patting backsides. Once he went over to the timekeeper and said, "Listen,
any chance you have, give us an edge, will you? I'll buy you a beer." The
P.A. announcer said, "Ladies and gentlemen, there are a few roster changes.
Wearing No. 11 is Kapp, Joe Kapp...." No one in the record crowd of 38,235
at Harvard Stadium could hear the rest of the changes. Overhead, a light plane
towed a streamer: BOSTON WELCOMES JOE KAPP. The Most Happy Chicano had been in
town for two days, and already he was the sole proprietor.