Joe Kapp
NFL-CFL Quarterback

Interview by John Boston
Special to The Signal

Sunday, September 18, 2005

[WATCH the television interview conducted Sept. 8, 2005]

Joe Kapp

    "Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and produced by Signal Multimedia Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
    This week's newsmaker is Hart High graduate Joe Kapp, who was the only player to quarterback in the Rose Bowl, Super Bowl and Canadian Grey Cup game. Questions are paraphrased and some answers may be abbreviated for length.

SCVTV: Welcome to "Newsmaker of the Week."

Kapp: What a real pleasure and honor it is to be back in — I want to say is Newhall, but Santa Clarita, and get to see a lot of old friends. Our high school Class of '55, we're are having our 50-year reunion. I never thought I'd live that long, but it's just really nice. I'm seeing relatives, friends, people — it's just really fun. But things have changed.

SCVTV: It must be hard to find your way around here.

Kapp: I can't. I've got some guides.

SCVTV: You've played quarterback in the Rose Bowl, you've played in the Canadian Football League's Grey Cup, you've played in the Super Bowl for the Minnesota Vikings. You were college coach of the year, coaching the famed teamed that beat John Elway's Stanford squad in the infamous Band Bowl game. But maybe your largest accomplishment is being a graduate of Hart High, isn't it?

Kapp: I think so.

SCVTV: You started out as a basketball player, didn't you?

Kapp: The call of the ball hit me early in life, and maybe that was really lucky. In fact, my mother said: When are you going to get a job? Because for me, playing sports was natural. It was fun. I loved doing it. So I guess if you really love what you're doing, you might have some success. But you mentioned all that stuff — Grey Cup, Super Bowl, Rose Bowl, etc.; you've heard of Forrest Gump?

SCVTV: Yeah. Canyon High guy, you know.

Kapp: Well I'm Jose Gump. I had the pleasure of just being at Hart High School at a time when we had — George Harris was our principal, and you could not have had a finer man and educator, even if he did go to the University of Iowa, which we played in the Rose Bowl, and not very successfully. But Coach Al Lewis, God bless him, he's in Heaven. When he passed away he went right to Heaven. We can talk about a lot of people —

SCVTV: Did you have Cecil Sims?

Kapp: (Yes.) Mr. Sims.

SCVTV: What was that? The good child — if you were bad you were a Ronald; if you were good you were a good child.

Kapp: Good. I was good. I was always good.

SCVTV: You played at Berkeley, both sports, football and basketball —

Kapp: Let's get it straight, the University of California, the mother school. You've got to say L.A. if it's in L.A., or Irvine or whatever. But California.

SCVTV: OK, Cal. In your prime, as a defensive specialist —

Kapp: I haven't hit my prime yet.

SCVTV: OK, so this is going to be in the future. When you hit your prime, how many points will you allow Michael Jordan to score?

Kapp: Are you kidding? 106. ... We need to talk about the opportunity I had at Hart High School and then to go on to school, it almost became a team effort. My pals in chemistry — "Gee, if Joe gets a better grade, he can get to the university" — so we got together and it was a team effort. Then to go to Cal, and the great teachers that were there: Our chancellor was Glenn T. Seaborg, and he was a friendly guy. Head of the Atomic Energy Commission. Berkelium — in fact, (the element) seaborgium is named after him. Some great people. Coach "Pappy" Waldorf, Coach Pete Newell. Just to be around those people and get that kind of a education — that's why you come back to Santa Clarita here and really emphasize (that) whatever you want to do in life, you've got to pay the price, go to school, get the education, get the license. And that's what life is about. Be the best that you can be.
    So did I have fun? Absolutely.

SCVTV: Let's go back to when you were a skinny, 17-year-old kid here in a town filled with onion fields and potato patches. What did you see? You knew you were going to go on to college, but here you were at this point in your life and you had this monumental rÈsumÈ —

Kapp: OK, slow down. First of all, I never knew if I was going to college. Nobody in our family had been to college. A lot of families did not have people who (went) to college. It was tough to go to college. University of California, you had to meet the academic requirements.
    A lot of firsts took place. (Classmate) Bruce Fortine went to Pepperdine. Charlie Johnson went to Pepperdine. A lot of kids didn't go to college. But you could compete maybe, get a job in those days. But nowadays, if you don't have a college education and if you haven't paid the price, it is hard to compete.
    So I know what you're asking me about being in a school. At little Hart High School we had 47 or 43 in our graduating class, and we played San Fernando in the 1955 season and they were the city champs. They beat us 38-0 in football, because football takes a few more players.
    But in basketball we had a great team, and I'm so proud of that basketball team. Like you say, I was skinny — we were all kind of skinny in those days — but we had a tremendous team. We beat Ventura in one of the most exciting games. I can't remember my phone number, but 47- 46 we beat Ventura. They had a big school and big guys, and those little Hart High Indians ran in there and we scalped them. And I'm proud of that. As proud as any of the other things you talked about, I'm proud of that.

SCVTV: Have you been around the campus since you've been back?

Kapp: Hart High School? Yes.

SCVTV: What do you think of the new buildings there? And that circular driveway that's now filled with buildings?

Kapp: Well, I think it's — we played a lot of great games on the field there, and I know they've switched over to COC, but I guess that's progress. But I think we do need to learn from history...
    The people, the teachers; we had a band. We had a photographers group. We had tremendous acting and theater. I think these are things to stimulate people to what is it they want to do? For me, to be able to play sports, to go to the University of California and meet these great teachers, that's what we'd like for everybody.

SCVTV: Across America on a Friday, somebody is going to hit three home runs in a game, or some guy is going to score 45 points in a college football game, or somebody's going to rush for 250 yards. There are wonderfully talented athletes all across America, and most don't even come close to reaching the top of the Himalayas, as you have. What is it that separates the great athlete from the very good one?

Kapp: Firstly, I did not play a individual sport. In football, basketball, baseball, yes, you are an individual within the framework of the team, and you'd better bring your best game, (whatever the) skill. I learned in a team sport, it isn't just the star. I know I'm the best looking guy and I'm the quarterback ... but in a team sport like football and basketball, you're really only as strong as your weakest link.

SCVTV: You can't wiggle out of this one.

Kapp: I don't wiggle. ... But you bring what you bring. But the team, and the most fun with the team, is rubbing elbows, the camaraderie. And those teams that usually play together the best, they win the most.

SCVTV: Still, there are so many guys out there who stay extra at practice and lift weights and they're great team players. But what is it that makes them —

Kapp: In my time, for example — I got to go to the University of California, there was hardly a Latino in the whole school. Maybe five or six; you couldn't find them. But the quarterbacks call the plays Well, there was a running back from Selma, Calif., named Bob "Speedy" Gonzales, and there was a great — the Colusa Comet, a big, 6-foot-three, 220-pound, blonde, blue-eyed, freckle-faced guy (who) got all the publicity. But I'm calling the plays, right? So we played at Stanford on the freshman team, and Doug Mayberry, the Colusa Comet, he got 29 yards. Bob "Speedy" Gonzales got 129 yards. I was the quarterback. They asked me, how did that happen? I said that's what you call affirmative action. You've got a Mexican quarterback, so (Gonzales) got the ball. But we won the game.
    So once again, you're asking me about being an individual, and what you do. My job as a quarterback, (No.) 1, win. Do what you have to do to win the game. As a quarterback, you've got to throw the ball. Well I never got credit for throwing it very good —

SCVTV: You had this undeserved reputation of throwing dying-duck passes, in spite of having so many passing records and seven touchdowns in one game against the Colts, who were the previous Super Bowl champions. Where did the idea come from that you couldn't throw a spiral?

Kapp: I think people saw me having so much fun, that was the attraction. Joe Kapp, oh, look, he is having a lot of fun. He's not very good, but look at all the fun he is having.

SCVTV: Larry Bird (Boston Celtics) said there were times when he was playing, the basket seemed a yard wide. Willy Mays said he could see the seams of a fast ball coming at him at 98 mph. What did you see behind the line as quarterback?

Kapp: I think football is very much a people game. Without question. You have to have the skill. You're the quarterback; you've got to throw the ball. If you're a blocker, you've got to block. If you're tackler, you've got to tackle. But I think there is so much interaction of people, at least in our day, that I'm taking it personal.
    You're Dick Butkus? You're ugly, you've got bad breath. You're called a dirty player, but then I don't say that. He's very hard of hearing. But it's a people thing. I think in a team game, the team that gets their people together — with the Vikings, we were losing lots of games, in building that team, in the last few minutes. Well we came up with a little credo. It just evolved. "Forty for 60." Forty players on the team, 60 minutes. Don't give up. Not one second less. Not two seconds less. You kind of learn that. It's a people thing. If everybody's working, it makes my job (as) quarterback easier; it makes the coach's job easier. ... Everybody has to carry their time. When they get their numbers called, you be ready to play.

SCVTV: You're heavily involved today in getting Hispanic children to stay in school. What gifts have you been given to help send that message to them?

Kapp: OK, I could really talk good in the huddle. If somebody gets in a huddle with me, we'll have some fun.
    You know, it's not really Latino students. But in the state of California, half of the students are Latino. They bring a tremendous — everybody brings themselves to the arena. Well, we know Latinos, Mexicanos, Guatemalans, they're doing a lot of the work, and sometimes, within having to work, kids don't go on to school. They drop out. So it's not just Latinos. We want everybody to get an education. Arm themselves.
    In football you need to put your pads and your helmet on; in life, you'd better get an education or a license to do this or license to do that, and more than anything, do what makes you feel good. And not necessarily feel good, but where you can bring your best person to the table.

SCVTV: You have a son, right?

Kapp: I have a 16-year-old son, William Lorenzo Kapp. Guillermo.

SCVTV: He plays at Los Gatos High School?

Kapp: He's playing at Los Gatos.

SCVTV: What is the one thing you love most about watching your son play?

Kapp: I must say you get butterflies when you play, but when you watch your son play, you get even more butterflies. But he loves it. I wish he'd play the piano or the guitar or whatever, but he loves it, and he does play it with intensity. He's got a passion for it, so he plays very, very good.

SCVTV: Does he tease you about your past?

Kapp: No, no. Teenagers don't talk to their dads.

SCVTV: No kidding.

Kapp: Everybody that is in the arena, and they're choosing to be in the arena, they're testing themselves. ... What a honor to be rated like we're rated here, and with all humility. I mean, I didn't jump 7-foot-4 like Bobby Avant (high jumper from Hart High, 1957). I was a national champion.

SCVTV: What's Bobby Avant doing now?

Kapp: I've heard he is superintendent of schools in a school district in San Diego (Grossmont Union High School District). I played with Harry Avant, his older brother, and he was fast. But (today) Vanessa Atler is a national champion (in gymnastics). They do something that I can't do. I couldn't do.

SCVTV: I'm going to say a series of words or phrases and you give a one-word answers, OK?

Kapp: That's hard. I'm quarterback.

SCVTV: John Elway.

Kapp: One word? Great player.

SCVTV: Fran Tarkinton, the quarterback before you for the Vikings.

Kapp: Should have worn a dress. Give me three words.

SCVTV: Hart Principal George Harris.

Kapp: The greatest. The greatest man.

SCVTV: 1970 Kansas City Chiefs.

Kapp: Overrated.

SCVTV: Things to do on Saturday night in Newhall when you were a boy.

Kapp: Oh, man. Shoot baskets.

SCVTV: Pete Newell.

Kapp: The greatest basketball coach.

SCVTV: Squirrel Peanut Butter.

Kapp: Oh, the greatest. You know what? All of them are the greatest.

SCVTV: Tell us about the commercials you did in Canada for Squirrel Peanut Butter.

Kapp: Let me tell a little story about Canada. When I went to Hart, whatever reasons, it was hard to speak in class. I went to the University of California —

SCVTV: Wait a second. It was hard for you to speak when you were younger?

Kapp: I was a new kid in school, and a little bit shy or whatever. I had a problem speaking when the teacher asked a question. ... I'd know the answer but I can't speak in public. I was captain of almost every team; I always got somebody else to do the talking, believe it or not. And that was including Cal.
    So when I got to Canada I said, this is ridiculous. I could face all these mean, terrible football players, but why can't I speak to anybody? So I really forced myself, and I ended up with a company, Nabob Foods, that was selling Squirrel brand peanut butter.

SCVTV: Was it made with real squirrels?

Kapp: Nutty. Nutty. Nutty. The connotation. So we did a program where I spoke to kids — and I don't mean high school kids, I'm talking about Cub Scout kids, fourth, fifth, sixth graders — and that's how I overcame my fear. And it is fear. It is a fear to speak in public. So I overcame that at working for Squirrel brand peanut butter. It really helped me in my life, by seeing what was killing me, and then attack(ing) it and beat(ing) it.

SCVTV: What three people from history would you like to invite to dinner?

Kapp: You're getting creative. OK, John Steinbeck ... Harry Truman ... that I'd want to meet? Cleopatra.

SCVTV: What would you serve for dinner?

Kapp: What else? Tacos. Or enchilada combination No. 6.

SCVTV: What's the best Mexican meal you ever had?

Kapp: Oh, my goodness. Now you're making me compete with my mother and my wife. ... I've got to go with my mother.

SCVTV: Any special dish?

Kapp: Frijoles in the morning, frijoles in the midday. No beans. When I was in Canada, imagine that, they didn't have tequila up there, they did not have salsa.

SCVTV: Their salsa is ketchup and water and some onions.

Kapp: In the cold. And here we are, coming from Santa Clarita, and then you go to Canada and the wind comes over the North Pole — I threw a 90-yard pass once, I caught it myself.
    But it was a great country. It is a great country. An so, being a migratory football worker, I sort of did it all.

SCVTV: You were also an executive with the Canadian Football League; didn't you bring in Doug Flutie?

Kapp: We did that.

SCVTV: How did you pull that one off?

Kapp: Business. The business of football is a business. It's a monopoly. It does whatever it wants to do, and I pretty well wasn't suited to do that. I was a more an on-the-field kind of a guy.

SCVTV: Every athlete, whether a weekend warrior or NFL quarterback, has some moment, either in practice or in a game, when he realizes, oh my goodness, I'm starting the decline.

Kapp: Never happened.

SCVTV: Never happened yet?

Kapp: Never happened, no. Here's the answer to that.
    My career — and it's part of the story — it got cut short. We went to the Super Bowl, played the season in Boston, and the business — they sent me to Boston. I didn't want to go to Boston. I didn't want to go to Canada. But the business took to me to these places. Bottom line, at Boston, they say, "Cap Quits." So I never really felt that I was declin(ing). I wanted to stay and play as long as I could.
    Now. Recently — and with this 16-year-old boy I'm telling you about — I try to keep up with him, a little one-on-one. But little by little we did the races, 20 yards, 10 yards, and me doing the hut count, right? The starting signal...
    So, decline? Probably the last 10 years.

SCVTV: Were there moments that you remember?

Kapp: You're pushing something here, OK? The only time I've ever lost any sleep in my life, is worrying about, do we have enough linemen? Am I going to get enough protection?
    No. 2, the only other sleep I've ever lost — because as a quarterback, you've got to throw the pass — is interceptions, right? I have two interceptions that haunt me at night, OK?
    One of them was in the Super Bowl. It was a little bootleg roll-out kind of play. I'm going to my left and I've got a redwood forest here: Buck Buchanan and Aaron Brown and all these guys. But my man is open, coming across my tight end, John Beasley. So I raise up (my arm) to throw him the football and instead of hitting him on the eighth, I hit him on the seventh, so the ball bounces up, Willie Lanier intercepts, and it pretty well took us out of the game. Not only that, I got hit and dislocated my shoulder and had to leave the game. Well, OK. Bad interception. Inches. Just inches. If it's just a little more this way, he catches the ball and we keep momentum.
    The other interception is, I'm playing basketball — or, excuse me, guarding the bench for Coach Pete Newell. We've won, it's up in Oregon State, and we're playing the University of San Francisco and it's in the NCAA tournament. We're down by one point and Coach Newell puts me in to put an inbound pass in. Well, I threw a beautiful spiral. It landed in Mike Farmer, the USF forward's, hands. So I failed. And that's basketball.
    But I learned from both of those things that you've got to be prepared. You've got to be ready when your number is called. It's going to happen. If you get ready for it, it'll happen. If you don't get ready for it, you won't deliver the ball when you have to deliver the ball.

SCVTV: Who is your best friend and why?

Kapp: My best friend right now (is) my oldest son, J.J. He's a public defender in Santa Clara County. I consider him a great, absolute friend. I mean, he's the judge. But my wife right now I consider my friend, my brother Larry, my cousin Jimmy Atler. I've got so many friends, I am blessed.

SCVTV: Speaking of friends, Merlin Olson.

Kapp: Father Murphy.

SCVTV: Yes. What's the deal this guy, and a lot of guys like him? Sweet sons-of-guns in real life, and then they get on the football field and they're just beasts.

Kapp: OK, but you know what? Merlin — defensive tackles are cuddly. He's cuddly. He's 300 pounds. He's Father Murphy. He sells flowers.

SCVTV: But on the field —

Kapp: No, I'm telling you, he's like that on the field.

SCVTV: He sells flowers on the field, too?

Kapp: And you've got Roosevelt Grier, and he does needlepoint. They call him Rosie. But that other guy, Deacon Jones, he's a mean man.

SCVTV: If we put together a 6-foot-and-under basketball team, would you like to be on it?

Kapp: Sure. (But) 6-foot and under? Well, I passed that in what grade? About the tenth grade, just about the time I'm coming to Hart High School, and nobody, or very few people in my family are very tall, but I made myself tall because I found out, the closer you are to the basket — you need to be taller. So I hung from an apple tree every day of my life so I could accomplish what I needed to do.

    See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.

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