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.
January 12, 1970
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 FredCox 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 over shifted 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.
Kapp threw two of these mortar shots early in the game. One of them set up a touchdown and the other scored one. "Sometimes you get to a point when you know someone up there loves you," he said. "Some of those passes I threw today, He had to love me. That first pass I threw to Washington...that was a crappy pass."
On that heave Wide Receiver Gene Washington was racing down the sideline with Corner back Walt Sumner matching him stride for stride. The pass was under thrown, and both Washington and Sumner tried to slow down. Both slipped and fell. But as Washington was falling, the ball plopped into his arms. The Vikings had a first down on the Cleveland 24 on a 33-yard gain, but it could just as easily have been a Cleveland interception.
Two conventional running plays moved the ball to the Cleveland seven. Then Kapp improvised. He called Bill Brown into the middle of the line, only Brown slipped and ran full tilt into Kapp. While the impact knocked the 230-pound Brown back and almost down, Kapp, who still had the ball, spun around and began to run. Guard JimVellone applied a shattering block on Tackle Jim Kanicki at the line of scrimmage, and Kapp paddle footed through the hole. In the short secondary he brushed by Free Safety Mike Howell. Tackle Walter Johnson and End Ron Snidow converged on him at the three and Kapp carried them into the end zone.
The play gave the Vikings their first touchdown and seemed to dispirit the Browns. They had played defense perfectly well, by the book, but it's a book Kapp has never taken out. He had succeeded twice on plays that should clearly have been failures, and he did it again about three minutes later, and whatever gods were looking down on the game must have been sitting in Valhalla. This time Kapp was operating from the Minnesota 25, third down, nine yards to go. He dropped back under an oppressive rush and threw one of his pop flies. Washington waited under it patiently, caught it and loped in for the touchdown with no defender within hailing distance. Erich Barnes, who had the primary responsibility for covering Washington on the play, had been knocked down by Houston, his own teammate. Had there been any kind of coverage, the pass could easily have been batted away.
That made the score 14-0 with only a few seconds over seven minutes gone in the game and, to all purposes, that made the Vikings NFL champions. Of course, it wasn't all Kapp. The Minnesota offensive line, which tirelessly blocks and pulls and traps without earning praise—much less a catchy nickname—played what may have beenits best game of the year, prying narrow holes in the Cleveland defense through which Dave Osborn, for one, boomed for 108 yards in 18 carries.
Osborn, like Kapp and the rest of the Vikings, dominated Cleveland with pure physical strength.Once, cracking through a hole in the center of the Cleveland line, Osborn ran head on into Middle Linebacker Dale Lindsey, knocked him sideways, spun away and went on for six or seven more yards. On the touchdown run that sent the Vikings ahead 24-0, Osborn ripped through the left side, shrugged off one tentative tackle and rumbled 20 yards, breaking another tackle by Ernie Kellermann en route.
Despite the fact that many of the Browns wore sneaker like broom ball shoes (broom ball is a game played on ice) to keep from slipping, they couldn't get going in the first half, in which they advanced no farther than the Minnesota 48 until the final minute. In fact, the score was 17-0 before Cleveland got its second first down.Nick Skorich, Coach Blanton Collier's chief offensive assistant, said, "We intended to run early to open up the pass. Then we felt we could complete passes in the cracks of the zone, 10 to 20 yards down field. But their pass rush hurt us. Even when they weren't getting to Nelsen, they were coming in with their hands up and Nelsen couldn't find Warfield or Collins. Our running game wasn't going and we couldn't pass. That doesn't leave much."
Moreover, Bill Nelsen was knocked down and hurt early in the game. In the regular-season game against Minnesota, which the Vikings won 51-3, he was hurt, too, and his arm went dead. Now, in the first quarter, he was hit by Jim Marshall and again he lost all feeling in his arm from the elbow down.
"He hit me on top of the head," said Nelsen, who avoided most of the reporters by going into the treatment room directly after the game. "When I got up, my arm was numb and I thought, 'God, not again.' I had no feeling in my fingers. I would drop back to pass and I couldn't feel the ball and I couldn't throw it."
Nelsen, who was so sharp against Dallas the week before, completed only five passes in the first half. He wound up with 17 of 33 for 181 yards, but threw two interceptions and he had his most productive moments late in the game when the Browns didn't have a prayer. Kapp, on the other hand, completed seven of 13 for 169 yards and was the Vikings' second best rusher with 57 yards in eight carries.
"I wouldn't change our game plan if we played again tomorrow," said the stubborn korich. "When Kapp threw his ruptured ducks they came back and caught them, which we didn't do. I think we might have been a little too cautious in the first half and we didn't execute as well as I would have liked us to on the third-down play, but we did what we thought we could do."
In the second half the Browns executed somewhat better, especially after Lonnie Warwick, the Vikings' middle linebacker, left the game in the third period with a twisted ankle. Warwick had been dropping back in zone coverage to cut Paul Warfield and Gary Collins off from the quick shots over the middle, and Warfield hadn't caught a pass. The Vikings got the idea for this double coverage on the weak side watching the Cleveland-Dallas game on TV. When Warwick went out the zone coverage broke down a bit and Nelsen found War-field and Collins for key gains in the Browns' only touchdown march of the day, which concluded with a three-yard pass to Collins.
By then it was all over—or almost. With 12 seconds left to play and the unruly vanguard of the crowd encroaching on the field, the Vikings had the ball on the Cleveland two.According to Kapp, the referee asked him whether he wanted to go to the locker room or try to get off one more play. Snapped Kapp, "We're going to score again," and he went back to the huddle and told his teammates, "We're going to score again." No they weren't. Mysteriously the gun went off and the crowd poured on the field and battered Kapp on the helmet with so many love taps that he was in danger of getting concussed. One group of determined fans also managed to make off with a piece of a goalpost. Now what are they all going to do with 20 feet of metal pipe?
Jim Marshall knew what the Vikings had to do. "We had to lean on the Browns or they would have run us out of the stadium," he said. "We knew we had to play on their side of the line. This is a punishing game and you have to punish people if you want to win. You have to hit people. That's what you have to do. Not intimidate people. Dominate. You have to dominate them."
After the game Kapp, the most dominating Viking of them all, sat in the dressing room surrounded by writers and broadcasters, toying with a bottle of champagne he had confidently bought the day before. He shook the bottle and sprayed everyone in range, then laughed and hollered, "Me colorful." From the back of the room a Viking yelled, "Joe Kapp has soul." Kapp grinned and yelled back, "And a sore body." Then he said, "You'll never believe this,but once, when I was in college, I missed the hand-off to a back and followed him into the hole. I ran 92 yards for a touchdown and when I got to the 20-yard line I looked back for a flag. I figured the officials would be calling delay of the game."
"You made a beautiful fake on the bootleg in the fourth period when you ran 19 yards,"a reporter told him and Kapp laughed, his round, dark face lighting up.
"Hey," he said. "That's the first time anyone ever accused me of making a beautiful fake."
"Is it true you throw the ball without putting your fingers on the laces?" someone else asked, and Kapp smiled hugely again.
"What good would it do?" he asked.
"Does it bother you that some people have written that you aren't a classic quarterback?" another reporter asked.
Joe Kapp looked up. Blood was trickling from one nostril down to his upper lip.
"Classics," he said, "are for Greeks."