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Jack Olsen
October 19, 1970
He is Joe Kapp, wandering quarterback, and last week he was in Kansas City, playing for the Boston Patriots, who are in deep trouble. Despite Kapp, the Pats lost, but wait until the new boy learns the system
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October 19, 1970

He Goes Where The Trouble Is

He is Joe Kapp, wandering quarterback, and last week he was in Kansas City, playing for the Boston Patriots, who are in deep trouble. Despite Kapp, the Pats lost, but wait until the new boy learns the system

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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."

"No more 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 figures.

While the 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 water boy."

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 guest."

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.

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