Last Dec. 5, University of California Athletic Director Dave Maggard, a man of exemplary personal habits who is, by all accounts, as sane as the next college administrator, hired Joe Kapp as the new football coach at Berkeley. No one had faulted Maggard for cashiering the mild-mannered Roger Theder, Kapp's predecessor, not quite 48 hours after the Golden Bears were thrashed 42-21 in their annual Big Game with Stanford. The loss to Stanford—always intolerable—left Theder's team with a 2-9 record for the '81 season, the worst in 19 years for a school that had scarcely distinguished itself on the gridiron the past quarter century. No, it was sadly apparent that Theder, a fine gentleman who had hewed scrupulously to the student-athlete line espoused at Berkeley, had to go. But Joe Kapp? The old Minnesota Vikings quarterback? Kapp, the brawling roughneck whose only football experience over the past dozen years had been in the courtroom? Kapp, who had never coached the game at any level—high school, college or pro? Kapp? What on earth did he stand for? Tequila, that's what. And a punch in the snoot. Some inspiration for young men—students at one of the country's finest universities—who might well represent the future of their beleaguered generation and ours as well.
The coaching community was predictably outraged by Maggard's decision. And it was quick to inform him so. "To some coaches, it was simply heresy," says Maggard. "One called me and gave me a lengthy recitation of his personal credentials—graduate assistant coach, high school assistant, high school head coach, college assistant, college head coach and so on. 'And you,' he finally shouted at me, 'you go out and hire a guy who hasn't coached a down!' " That's not entirely true. Kapp did coach a pickup alumni team to a 68-7 loss to the Cal varsity six years ago, even taking the field himself in Levi's and tennis shoes for a series at quarterback (he completed a pass, handed off once and was sacked). And he had helped out as a volunteer from time to time at both Cal and Laney College, a two-year school in Oakland where many of his old friends teach and coach.
Nevertheless, Maggard was obviously breaking all the rules. For a man to become head coach at a major university, even at one whose football team would have trouble staying out of the Ivy League cellar, he must first pay his dues. He must serve time in a darkened cell with a film projector, ruminating on post patterns. Cowboy defenses and the like; he has to hit the recruiting circuit, humbling himself in the company of arrogant teen-agers and grasping parents; he must suffer in servile silence as an aide to some nincompoop who doesn't know an X from an O before he finally gets to have a blackboard of his own, maybe some 15 or 20 years after his first coaching job. Take Bill Walsh. Now he paid his dues. He had coached for 20 years, beginning at the high school level, and was in his mid-405 before he ever became a college head coach (at Stanford), and he was 47 when he finally became head man of the 49ers in the NFL. Who can begrudge Bill Walsh a Super Bowl victory? The other coaches don't much care for his being a genius, but they have to admit, dammit, that he paid his dues. All Kapp has paid lately is his attorney.
The image was all wrong, too. A Cal coach must at least seem professorial, the sort of guy who can trade Hegelian dialectic with the best of them at the Faculty Club, even if he hasn't a clue what he's talking about. The late Pappy Waldorf was the perfect Cal coach. In his time (1947-56), he was called the Wise Walrus, partly because of his impressive bulk and partly because he sounded as if he could put the kids in Philosophy 6A to sleep as quickly as any of the tenured pipe smokers. Actually, Pappy was a spellbinder, a basso profundo of sesquipedalian speech who could make a game with Oregon State sound like a Punic War. And Pappy took the Bears to three straight Rose Bowls, a feat comparable in Berkeley now to transforming funky Telegraph Avenue into a suburban shopping mall. That the Wise Walrus could drink any sportswriter extant under the Holiday Inn piano bar was discreetly ignored. Pappy was perfect. Kapp? Well, what do you do with someone who defines the exquisite art of passing as "grabbing the old seed and flinging it."
But Maggard didn't waver from his resolve. To accusations that he had lost his marbles, he patiently replied, "Wait and see." Maggard, who went to Cal with Kapp in the late '50s, knows his man. "Certainly Joe doesn't fit the image of the big-time coach," he says. Joe doesn't even fit his own image. People who think of him as a wild man don't know the compassionate, intelligent, sensitive person he is. Sometimes it takes the unusual guy to get something done. And Joe definitely has a unique quality about him."
Kapp, for his part, simply tuned out all the catty crepehangers, donned his 25-year-old Cal letter jacket (it still fit), his sweat pants and cleats and started working 18-hour days. He put life into spring practice and did his level best to instill confidence in players who associated putting on their shoulder pads with losing. Cal football players were no longer "kids," they were "young men." That's what Pappy used to call them. If Kapp's experience was in question, he answered with his enthusiasm, which is boundless, exhausting. He doesn't oversee his players from the remoteness of a tower; he's with them—a head popping into a huddle, a pair of hands reaching in behind the center, another pair of cleated feet clattering along cement walkways to the practice fields.
Maggard is right. Kapp is unique. And he isn't what he has always seemed to be. The brawler is an eager learner who reads Jack London and Hemingway and Steinbeck and treasures his degree from Cal more than any championship ring. The free-lancing quarterback is a canny theorist who has built his own reference library of playbooks and coaching principles gathered in Canada and the NFL. The litigant is a man of unshakable principle. The nomadic warrior is more loyal to his alma mater than the daffiest pennant-waving Old Blue. The tough guy is an incurable softy. The pub crawler is a stickler for detail. And no one could possibly have more loyal friends.
"Joe Kapp is the most extraordinary person I've ever met in sports," says Bob Steiner, who was the sports information director at Cal for 11 years and is now director of public relations for the Los Angeles Forum. "I don't know anyone whom people respond to the way they respond to Kapp. Maybe the university should be as proud of him as it is of any nuclear scientist. With him, they took a guy who was willing to learn—who had no educational background to speak of—and they made him into an educated person, someone who goes well beyond sports in his range of interests. I think what we have here is the best of the university returning to the university."
"There's not a phony bone in Joe's body," says his former Cal teammate. Jack Hart, now a vice-president of Levi Strauss & Co. in San Francisco. "His enormous love for Cal is genuine. This is more than a job to him. He's multidimensional. He goes into things to experience them totally. He's completely involved. If I were ever to have brain surgery, I would hope that the surgeon would have the same sort of dedication to his job that Joe has to his. My oldest son is named Joe. What does that tell you?"
"I've never known a more team-oriented man than Joe," says Pete Newell, Kapp's basketball coach at Cal and now a talent consultant for the Golden State Warriors. "There is nothing synthetic or plastic about him. It's hard to put into words the magnitude of his leadership."
Indeed, it's probably time for Kapp and Cal to be reunited. The public response to the football team in recent years has been tepid at best. Cal grads, like their cross-Bay nemeses from Stanford, tend to spend more time boasting of their school's academic standing—10 Nobel Prize winners on the Berkeley faculty, the highest-rated graduate school, according to the American Council of Education—than of its prowess on the gridiron. Berkeleyans are much more proud than embarrassed that the student revolution of the '60s began (with the Free Speech Movement of 1964) on their campus. There is much less talk among Cal people than Stanfordites of spirit and mystique, but the bonds to alma mater are just as strong. And the campus, which rolls down from the Berkeley hills almost to the Bay, is beautiful, with its stands of redwood and eucalyptus and rippling Strawberry Creek. Cal people may be cool, but they care. Joe Kapp fits in.
Kapp is a tall (6'2½") man with long limbs and large hands. His once coal-black hair is silver now, and his speech is husky, precise, almost like that of someone whose second language is English. He has a bit of Anthony Quinn's Zorba the Greek in him, although the resemblance isn't quite as strong as some would have it. Kapp's face is fuller, his features smaller, save for the luminous hazel eyes and the paintbrush-black eyebrows. His mother, Florence, is Mexican; his father, Robert, is German. The ethnic mix, Kapp feels, has much to do with the soft-hard duality of his nature. "When I wake up in the morning," he says, "the German in me shouts, 'Achtung!, let's get going!' Then the Mexican in me says, 'Ma√±ana'...and I roll over and go back to sleep."
In truth, the Mexican mother was the German in the family. The father, an alcoholic (since recovered), was "the free spirit in every sense." Kapp was born on March 19, 1938 in Santa Fe, N. Mex., but the family moved two years later to the San Fernando Valley, then to Salinas, "Steinbeck country," a hundred or so miles south of San Francisco, and finally to Newhall in Southern California, where Kapp went to high school. Joe was the oldest of five children. In high school he was a star in both basketball and football, but he entered Cal, in 1955, on a basketball scholarship. "I had a scholarship left," says Newell. "And Pappy didn't. If he had had one and I hadn't, he would have given him one. We both wanted him."
Kapp's offices are in temporary quarters above the weight room at Memorial Stadium. He will move to a more spacious suite down the hall when renovation of the 59-year-old stadium is nearer completion. Kapp's office walls aren't decorated with photographs of himself in action, but with pictures of the Rose Bowl and with Rose Bowl memorabilia, reminders to players and visitors alike that his team has a goal.
On this day he is fingering a dark blue helmet on his desk, part of a proposed new uniform. On the helmet is pasted a bear claw in gold that is similar in design to the horns that adorn the Minnesota Vikings' headgear.
"I'm not so sure about the claw," says Kapp (the bear claw logo will eventually be discarded), "but I know one thing: Our uniforms are going back to the old Pappy Waldorf navy blue—Cal blue, not that pussyfoot blue they've been using here the past few years. It's a matter of presenting a strong image." He laughs at the mention of the fateful word, image. "Oh yes, my image? Well, what can I do about it? I think it's an honest image, although stories do get embellished. Somewhere therein, as they say, lies the truth. But you've got to have a sense of humor about these things. What can I tell you? I live my life honestly and straight ahead. I just keep coming."
Jennifer Adams, Kapp's secretary, calls out to him from an adjoining office. "Dave's on the phone." "Dave who?" asks Kapp facetiously. He leans back in his chair and cradles the phone between his neck and shoulder while he bounces the helmet on his lap. "David, what's up? Yes, I know all about it. Meet you at lunch." There is a crisis Maggard and Kapp must discuss, although it's pretty much out of their control now. Kapp had adopted as a virtual protégé a black junior college tailback named Elton Veals, who had signed a letter of intent to enter Cal. But Veals's grades hadn't been good enough. Kapp persuaded him to change junior colleges and switch to a solid academic course so that "even if he can't make it in here, he'll at least have gotten himself some kind of an education."
To his gratification, Veals had done well in his new school, well enough so that by attending summer school he might yet be able to crack Cal's difficult admission requirements as a "special action student." Kapp had written an impassioned letter on Veals's behalf to the Special Action Committee, which is composed in part of faculty members with little interest in football. "We can build on his sense of responsibility," Kapp wrote. "We can enhance his chances of becoming a whole person—educated, open, worldly and giving." Veals's own letter to the committee nearly brought tears to Kapp's eyes. "I know I will have to work extra hard," Veals had written, "but I want to make Cal proud of me by getting a degree." Neither letter said much of anything about football.
"Joe has approached this whole Veals thing with a missionary zeal," says Bill Cooper, a new Kapp assistant and former Cal teammate who had been a coach, a teacher and an administrator in high school for the past 22 years. "I know that cynics will find it hard to believe that he means what he says about helping a smart, disadvantaged kid to get the kind of education we offer here. After all, Elton is a fine football player [3,054 yards rushing in two jaycee seasons] who can help us. But you have to know Joe and where he came from to know that he wanted that young man to experience this place. He knows what that means. So do I. I'm back here mostly because of Joe, but I'm also here to pay this university back for my athletic scholarship."
Kapp had learned that very morning that the heavily recruited Veals, whose family lives in Baton Rouge, La., had decided to forgo summer school and enter Tulane, closer to home, in the fall. The Cal letter of intent wasn't binding, it seems, because Veals had not yet enrolled or even been accepted at Berkeley. There remained, in fact, the chance that he wouldn't be admitted despite Kapp's efforts on his behalf. Kapp was deeply disturbed, but he has confronted enough adversity in his own roller coaster career to accept this latest setback.
He bounces out of his office, descends a long flight of stairs to the parking lot and heads for the Faculty Club, a redwood building below a grassy knoll that is all but hidden by a grove of trees. He nods to passersby, smiling bravely as he plunges onward to commiserate with his boss. An elderly gentleman halts his progress. "I've been here since 1923, Mr. Kapp," the man says, gripping the coach's elbow. "And I just want to tell you how thrilled I am that you're back."
"I'm just as thrilled," says Kapp, patting the man on the arm. The encounter proves to be a restorative. Kapp's step is springier.
"I'm prepared to fight for the right of people like Elton Veals to come to Cal," he says. "People said Joe Kapp couldn't make it, either as a student or a player. I had to start from some place, you know. I was first taken here when I was 14 years old by my junior high homeroom teacher, Palmina Brunelli. I'd never seen anything like it—me, a poor little half-Mexican from Salinas. But there we were in Strawberry Canyon, Memorial Stadium. The Bears came on the field in those dark blue uniforms—they beat Missouri that day—and I was hooked. 'What do you have to do to get here?' I asked Miss Brunelli. I took college preparatory courses from then on. Went to summer school to get the last B I needed. I mean, nobody in my family had been to college before. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I got to meet a man like Glenn Seaborg [the Nobel Prize-winning chemist]. I'd go down to Robbie's for coffee and someone would point out to me that there was a communist sitting over there. I'd go over and talk to the guy. Hell, I'd never met a communist before. They're all here—communists, liberals, conservatives, you name it. I'd get hammered at the stadium on Saturday, then get up aching on Sunday and go lie out on the Berkeley pier watching the sailboats pass, knowing that Jack London sailed on that Bay, went to classes right here. Hey, life here is rich. Rich, I tell you. I want to share that experience with people who've never known it. A young man like Elton is starting from way back. But, as I say, you've got to start from somewhere. It depends on what quarter you want to win. Me, I always wanted to win that last quarter."
Kapp was always tough. Because of football he had too little time left to become more than a reserve in basketball at Cal, even though that was his better sport in high school. But he was the team's enforcer. Newell recalls a game against USC in which Earl Robinson, the Cal captain, who was one of the few blacks then playing basketball in the Pacific" Coast Conference, was deliberately shoved after a play by a USC center. Newell had advised Robinson to behave as his baseball namesake had done 10 years earlier—with restraint in the face of provocation. Kapp seethed on the bench. "At halftime," Newell recalls, "I was prepared to deliver my mumbo jumbo when I noticed that Joe wasn't in the locker room. After a few minutes he showed up. 'There was something I had to do, Coach,' he told me. No other explanation. I was mad as hell. Halftime was almost over and I hadn't even given my speech. Well, the game had been close until then. But we just killed them in the second half. People kept telling me how brilliant I was afterward, asking me what I had said to inspire the team. Then I found out what happened. After the first half ended, Joe had gone over to that center and told him, 'When the fight starts, you better be looking for me because I'm coming for you.' The rest of the USC guys just sort of hung back. They knew about Joe. Somehow, they just weren't ready to play that second half."
Kapp didn't box at Cal, but he worked out with the boxing team, and its coach, Eddie Nemir, said he thought Joe could have become a collegiate heavyweight champion had he worked at it. He reserved his fighting spirit for football, which he played as if it were a Pier Six brawl. As a sophomore, Kapp quarter-backed the 3-7 Bears to a 20-18 upset of Stanford and its All-America quarterback, John Brodie. Waldorf, whom Kapp idolized, resigned after that crowning victory, and with him went Cal's straight T formation. Pete Elliott, a believer in the split T, replaced Waldorf. The split T isn't a passing formation. It requires its quarterbacks to scuttle along the line, either keeping the ball or lateraling it to a trailing back, a forerunner of the wishbone. Kapp ran 92 yards for a touchdown against Oregon in 1958, his senior year, and led the then Pacific Coast Conference in rushing with 616 yards. To everyone's amazement, the 1958 Bears won the conference championship and went to the Rose Bowl. Virtually the same team had finished the previous season with a 1-9 record. This one went to Pasadena principally because of Kapp's ferocious determination.
"Joe could convince you that you could do anything," says Hart, who as a running back was the team's other offensive threat. "When we were playing UCLA we desperately needed a good kick, and our regular punter, Wayne Crow, was hurt, so I had to do the kicking. It wasn't a good situation, but Joe never blinked. 'Jack's gonna kick it down there close,' he said just like that in the huddle. 'So let's cover, O.K.?' Me, kick it close? Well, I'll be damned if I didn't kick the ball out on their one-yard line and we won 20-17."
But the Kapp charisma could carry the thin blue ranks only so far. Iowa, "running a freeway" over Pat Newell (now a successful lawyer, then Cal's starting tackle, though he weighed barely 180) and the Cal line, beat them 38-12 in the Rose Bowl. "I remember it was a beautiful day," says Kapp, "because I spent most of it lying on my back looking up at the blue sky." Willie Fleming, Iowa's star halfback, later Kapp's teammate on the British Columbia Lions in the CFL, remembers the game for something else. "In that Rose Bowl game, I'm in the end zone after scoring and I see this madman running straight at me," he says. "It's Kapp all right. He grabs me by the jersey and says, 'We're gonna kick your ass.' I tell him, 'Hey, there's five minutes left and we're way ahead.' But he said that with such conviction, he had me believing we were in deep trouble."
There was something else significant about that Rose Bowl game: Cal hasn't played in one since.
Kapp made two All-America teams in 1958 and won the Pop Warner and Voit awards as the best football player on the Pacific Coast. But the NFL savants were obviously not impressed with his passing statistics—64 completions in 114 attempts for 775 yards and only three touchdowns—and he wasn't drafted until the 18th round, when the Redskins called out his name. Kapp was stung by the slight, and in his heart he declared war on the NFL. It was a war that lasted somewhat longer than the Napoleonic conflicts and not quite as long as the Thirty Years' War.
Kapp spurned Washington, which never really made an offer anyway, and signed with Calgary of the CFL. He quickly established that his meager college passing stats were misleading by completing a league-leading 196 passes for 2,990 yards and 21 touchdowns in 1959, his rookie year. Kapp passed for 3,060 yards in 1960, and after a contract hassle that would seem insignificant in comparison with future Kapp-employer disagreements he was traded to British Columbia. The Lions were 1-13-2 in Kapp's first year. Two years later he had them in the Grey Cup game for the CFL championship. And in 1964 he led them to the title. Kapp had prospered in Vancouver, investing in real estate, but he had proved himself in Canadian football, and he longed to show the NFL a thing or two. By now, even the most intransigent of NFL scouts seemed convinced that Kapp could quarterback an NFL team.
In 1967, the year after the AFL-NFL merger, some teams were looking north for talent, among them the Houston Oilers, who reportedly offered Kapp $100,000 to join them for 1968, the year after his contract with the Lions would have expired. Kapp agreed, assuming that the discussions were confidential and the agreement perfectly legal. When he returned to Vancouver, he found that the CFL had suspended him indefinitely and that NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle had voided the Houston agreement, ruling that the Oilers had no right to negotiate with a player still under contract with another team. Kapp was a man without a country to play football in.
In desperation, he turned to John Elliott Cook, a semiretired San Francisco attorney, then nearing 70, who had represented John Brodie in his dispute with the merged hierarchy over an agreement Brodie had signed with the Oilers during the AFL's premerger raids on NFL quarterbacks. Cook established in court that Brodie was entitled to the $750,000 the Oilers had agreed to pay him and then some, even though he didn't jump leagues. Brodie had been Cook's only athlete client, and the aging lawyer was not at all anxious to take on another one. But Kapp sought him out in his Lake Tahoe retreat and importuned him so vigorously that Cook, admittedly taken with "the boy's candor and charm," took the case. Threatened with another potentially disastrous day in court, the NFL backed down. Kapp's contract was finally awarded to the Vikings, who had also been bidding for him. The Oilers were reprimanded, and British Columbia was reimbursed for the loss of its star quarterback. Kapp signed a three-year contract with Minnesota for the same reported $100,000 per season Houston had offered.
In eight seasons in Canada, Kapp had passed for 22,725 yards and 136 touchdowns, and he remains to this day the third-leading alltime CFL passer. But the NFL had to be convinced, and Kapp went about establishing his credentials in his customarily direct way. In his first offensive series in an NFL game, against the Rams, he addressed his opponents—who were leading 23-0 and laughing—across the line of scrimmage just before the snap from Center Mick Tingelhoff: "——you, Rams, and——you too, Deacon [Jones]! Let's see how good you are." Kapp's courage and unflagging confidence quickly won over his new teammates. Here was a quarterback who seemed to enjoy contact as much as any middle linebacker. "Other quarterbacks run out of bounds," said his coach, Bud Grant. "Kapp turns upheld and looks for a tackle to run into." One memorable Kapp collision occurred in the NFL title game of 1969. With the Vikings safely ahead of the Browns, Kapp decided to run with the ball when he couldn't locate a receiver. In his path was Jim Houston, the 240-pound Cleveland linebacker. Houston hit Kapp a lick, and after a midair flip, Kapp landed fiat on his back. He got up. Houston didn't.
"Joe was a hitting quarterback," says Cal Assistant Coach Ernest (Pokey) Allen, who was Kapp's teammate at Vancouver. "The other players appreciate that. It's hard not to be motivated by somebody like that. As a defensive back [and sometime quarterback], I rated quarterbacks by what they did after an interception. If they went for the tackle, they earned my special respect. But you can count on the fingers of one hand the ones who did. Actually, I can't think of anyone but Joe. And he went for that tackle with a vengeance."
In the '69 season Kapp quarterbacked the Vikes to the Super Bowl. Though he was derided for his wobbly passes, he tied an NFL record that year by throwing for seven touchdowns in a 52-14 rout of the defending NFL champion Colts. The wobble, says Kapp, is attributable to his habit of hastily grabbing "the seed" anywhere he could get hold of it, not necessarily with his fingertips on the laces. Kapp and the Vikings were the darlings of the '69 season. It was Kapp who coined the team battle cry, "Forty for Sixty"—40 players for 60 minutes, and with Kapp as the topkick, the Vikes seemed more like a commando unit than a football team. They finished the regular season 12-2, the losses coming in their first and last games, and they buried Cleveland 27-7 for the league title. Kapp was voted the NFL Player of the Year in five different polls and was selected as the team's Most Valuable Player. At a banquet Kapp startled the celebrants by rejecting the award. "There is no one most valuable Viking," he said, citing the team's one-for-all, all-for-one credo.
Kapp also became the answer to a trivia question: Who is the only player to quarterback a team in the Rose Bowl, Grey Cup and Super Bowl? Of these, alas, the Grey Cup would be his only win. The underdog Kansas City Chiefs trounced the Vikes 23-7 on Jan. 11, 1970 for the AFL's second straight Super Bowl win, and Kapp suffered a shoulder injury late in the game after being tackled by the Chiefs' Aaron Brown. He was a battered loser, but he won the admiration of his conquerors. "He's a sorry passer and really not a great quarterback," said Chiefs Defensive End Jerry Mays, "but he's a great leader. I hated to play against him. You felt his presence no matter where he was, on the sidelines or on the field. He'd look at you and challenge you with his eyes. When I think of him, I think of his eyes."
Super Bowl IV was virtually Kapp's swan song as a player. He and the Vikings couldn't agree on a new contract, and on Cook's advice, Kapp held out. He finally signed as the NFL's equivalent of a free agent with the Patriots for three years at $200,000 a year—at least he thought he did. Even though he did not report until well into the season, Kapp took a fearsome beating behind a porous Patriot line in 1970. At one point, he says, he was asked to serve as player-head coach, an offer he declined. As it was, the Patriots went through two coaches, Give Rush and Johnny Mazur. Of Mazur Kapp now says, "He went to Notre Dame, was an ex-Marine and he smoked cigars. Any one or even two of those things you can live with, but not all three."
At the conclusion of that dreadful season, Kapp was informed that the contract he had signed was merely a "pro tempore" agreement to play one season. In order for him to continue to play with the Patriots, he was told, he must now sign an NFL standard player contract. Kapp sent the standard contract to Cook, who advised him not to return it because it seemed clearly unconstitutional. Besides, as far as Cook was concerned, Kapp already had a legitimate contract, many of the provisions of which the standard contract would negate. On July 16, 1971 Kapp was ordered out of the Patriots training camp. He sat out the entire 1971 season. On March 27, 1972 he filed an antitrust suit against all 26 NFL teams, asking damages from each one for forming a "group boycott" and depriving him of his right to earn a living. Kapp was 34 at the time, an age when many NFL quarterbacks are in their prime.
On Dec. 20, 1974 Kapp appeared to win a major victory when U.S. District Court Judge William T. Sweigert in San Francisco issued a "summary judgment" which found that the standard contract and the NFL's reserve system were "patently unreasonable and illegal." One of Kapp's attorneys, Moses Lasky, forecast damages for his client in excess of $10 million.
The trial to determine damages for Kapp began in Judge Sweigert's San Francisco court on March 2, 1976 before a jury of two men and four women. One floor above, Patty Hearst, a bigger drawing card, was on trial for bank robbery.
The Patriots held that Kapp had never intended to play another season with them, that he had decided, in effect, that it would be less injurious to his health to get his money through the courts than by earning it dodging blitzing linebackers. One of the six lawyers opposing Kapp, Joseph Alioto, the former mayor of San Francisco, who would later marry Patriot owner Billy Sullivan's daughter, Kathleen, described Kapp to the jury as entertaining a "little dream of avarice."
Still, Judge Sweigert instructed the jury to consider the NFL's standard contract illegal, even though it had been agreed upon by the players association. On April 2, 1976 the jury deliberated for not quite six hours and then found that Kapp wasn't entitled to damages. Not $10 million, not one dollar. "We got our tails kicked," said Kapp afterward, his career in ruins, his crusade unrewarded.
What with subsequent and futile appeals all the way to the Supreme Court, it took eight years finally to resolve the case. During that time Kapp supported his wife, Marcia, and son, J.J. (now a student at Cal State-Chico), by tending to his real estate ventures, which included a hotel in Vancouver; acting in TV and movies; working as a technical adviser on (and acting in) the Burt Reynolds film The Longest Yard; and serving as an associate producer to George Litto on a film about suburban teen-agers, Over the Edge.
Kapp was busy, but, despite what the Patriots had said about him, he wasn't doing what he wanted. Because of the trial he couldn't play, nor did he feel he should coach, although Maggard had already sounded him out about the Cal job. "How could they say I didn't want to play?" Kapp asks now. "I was a football player, and a football player has to play. It's an addiction." Kapp bounces the prototype helmet off his desk. "That was an agonizing time for me," he says. "Just agonizing!"
When it seemed to be apparent that Theder's days at Cal were numbered, Kapp, finally free of legal encumbrances, was ready. "I talked to a lot of people—Pete Newell, Sid Gillman, friends," he says. "The only question I had was, is it in the best interests of Cal? I told Dave, hey, if you can find a better man, get him. I'll be rooting for him, whoever he is."
Maggard had seriously considered only one other candidate. Jack Elway, the imaginative and highly successful coach at San Jose State. "But I felt all along that Joe was the outstanding candidate, particularly for what we need now," Maggard says. "I'm willing to live with that decision." He laughs. "It's obvious, I guess, that no one besides Joe wants him to succeed more than I do."
The first "game" Kapp coached at Cal was an intrasquad scrimmage on May 15 at Memorial Stadium that concluded spring practice. In some schools, intrasquad games of this nature can be wars; at Cal they're more like family picnics. A "crowd" of maybe a couple of thousand turned out, students mostly, with a sprinkling of Old Blues, there more to see the return of the old quarterback than to get a fix on football prospects for the coming season. There were jokes in the stands about Kapp not knowing how to operate his headphones, about his quitting on the spot at the sorry spectacle of a new-breed quarterback stepping prudently out of bounds in the face of onrushing tacklers.
Actually, Kapp had a ball in every sense. As the coach in an intrasquad game he could neither win nor lose, and his expectations were low. The defense installed by Defensive Coordinator Ron Lynn, a holdover from the Theder administration, was clearly ahead of the offense, which was what the coaching staff expected. Kapp has as many playbooks in his offices as the British Museum has illuminated manuscripts. They represent knowledge accumulated from sundry sources. "Take Bart Starr," Kapp will say, thumbing through one of his dusty texts. "He's really only had one coach—Vince Lombardi. What can he have learned? I had so many coaches I can't count them." But from this vast library he selected only a slim volume of X's and O's for his offense in this spring game, so his quarterbacks fooled no one.
One quarterback carried most of the load for both sides, anyway—a youngster named Torchio who calls himself J. His given name is Lloyd John, but from childhood on he has been simply J., not even Jay, just the initial. Torchio was described in Cal's 1981 media guide as "a tough hard-nosed competitor in the Joe Kapp mold." The author of that description couldn't then have known that hard-nosed J. would be toughing it out the very next season under instructions from the original Kapp himself.
Pacing the sideline with Kapp was Gale Gilbert, a redshirt sophomore who lasted only one quarter into the 1981 season before injuring his left knee. Then in the off-season he slipped and fell down a flight of stairs in his Berkeley apartment house and broke his right foot. He didn't play a down of spring football, but as the best pure passer on the team he is expected to be Kapp's starter this season.
Kapp didn't grab a helmet and position himself under the center during the scrimmage, but he did lope onto the field from time to time, kneeling in the huddle to discuss strategy with Torchio and his other quarterbacks. To many of the spectators, it seemed like old times having him out there in the middle of things.
At halftime some former Cal stars—including Tight End Joe Rose of the Miami Dolphins and Wide Receiver Matt Bouza, who spent part of last season with the 49ers—played a game of flag football. One of the flag ball coaches was Rod Franz, the university's only three-time All-America (1947, '48, '49), a guard on Pappy's first two Rose Bowl teams and a member of the college football Hall of Fame. Franz's appearance on the sidelines represented a return to the tradition Kapp is laboring to restore. This is the 100th year of Cal football, and the athletic department is pulling out all the stops to make this a memorable centennial. Both a book and a film, One Hundred Years of Blue and Gold, are scheduled for release this fall.
Kapp's return to the campus has proved to be a spectacular piece of promotional timing. He is, of course, a featured performer in the film, the leader of a Cinderella team. And his own sense of history is so strong that he has spent an unusual amount of time communicating tradition to his players. "Coach Kapp has taught us to appreciate the past," his tiny (156 pounds) wide receiver, Mariet Ford, says. "The alumni are starting to come back. They're showing up at our practices. It's a whole new atmosphere around here."
Kapp has had to work hard convincing the parents of high school recruits that Cal has a football tradition. The Wonder Teams of the '20s, the Thunder Teams of the late '30s and Pappy's Deep Freeze of the late '40s and early '50s are but distant memories to all but the most confirmed trivia buffs. What most parents remember about the university is the student revolution of the '60s. It's no secret, to be sure, that football recruiters from other institutions do little to disabuse parents of the notion that Berkeley is the seat of communist revolution in this country. Indeed, it is felt they encourage such talk. Would you want your kid to go to the Big Red Schoolhouse?
Kapp turns the image around to suit him. There may be Reds among the Blue and Gold, says he, but there is everything else, too. There is variety, inspiration. Invaluable experience is to be gained. That's what he, an All-America, found there. Would you want your kid to go to a football factory?