October 11, 2010

1970: Joe Kapp Debuts with Patriots in Loss to Chiefs

QB Joe Kapp had led the Minnesota Vikings to the NFL Championship with a Pro Bowl season in 1969. The Vikings had then lost to the AFL-champion Kansas City Chiefs in the last pre-merger Super Bowl. In the offseason, the 32-year-old Kapp, who had played out his option, failed to come to terms with the Vikings for another contract. The dispute lingered into the 1970 season and on October 2 the veteran quarterback signed with the Boston Patriots for a reported $500,000.

The Patriots were coming off three straight losing seasons and had gone 4-10 in 1969 under first-year Head Coach Clive Rush. The team certainly had to be hoping that Kapp would bring his habit of winning to Boston. He had led the University of California to the 1959 Rose Bowl as an option quarterback. Foregoing the NFL (he was an 18th-round draft choice of the Washington Redskins) for the Canadian Football League, he was the quarterback for the British Columbia Lions when they appeared in back-to-back Grey Cup games in 1963 and ’64, winning the second one. Finally, he joined another CFL refugee, Head Coach Bud Grant, in Minnesota in 1967.

Kapp didn’t throw picturesque passes or display great technique as a quarterback, but what he lacked in skill he made up for with fiery, charismatic leadership. Sticking to his roots as a college option quarterback, he was a good (and very willing) runner and also threw well on the run.

The Patriots had won their opening game against Miami before losing the next two contests. With Kapp hurriedly learning the offense in preparation for his first action of the season, the team traveled to, coincidentally, Kansas City, where they took on the Chiefs at Municipal Stadium on October 11.

The defending-champion Chiefs were also 1-2 and playing without star QB Len Dawson, who had a knee injury, although as Head Coach Hank Stram said afterward, he could have played if necessary. Third-year backup Mike Livingston was behind center. Mike Taliaferro, the holdover quarterback from ’69, again started for the Patriots.

Boston scored first, late in the opening quarter, after DB Art McMahon recovered a fumbled fair catch by Kansas City HB Ed Podolak. The result was a 25-yard Gino Cappelletti field goal.

The first KC touchdown came in the second quarter following a 70-yard drive that was sustained by a roughing the kicker penalty on the Patriots and ended with FB Robert “The Tank” Holmes running in from a yard out. Later in the period Jan Stenerud booted a 42-yard field goal and the Chiefs held a 10-3 lead at halftime.

Kapp replaced Taliaferro in the second half. He might not have been very familiar with the plays, but he looked ready. As Chiefs DE Jerry Mays said, “When Joe came up for that first play, he looked like Reddy Kilowatt. His eyes were flashing and you could see the excitement on his face. He worried us. He has that ability to lift a team.”

The initial impression that Kapp exuded didn’t yield results. The third quarter was scoreless, and early in the fourth quarter, Kansas City drove 55 yards in seven plays after SS Jim Kearney intercepted a pass by Kapp at the Patriots’ 33 yard line. A clip on the return moved the ball back to the 45. But the resulting drive, highlighted by a 33-yard run by Podolak (making up for the earlier muffed punt), resulted in Holmes again scoring a short touchdown, this time on a two-yard run.

Another Kapp pass was intercepted by LB Bobby Bell at the Boston 25. Stenerud kicked a 24-yard field goal for a 23-3 KC lead. Kapp finally connected with WR Bake Turner for a 12-yard touchdown in the last two minutes and the final score was 23-10 as the Chiefs won handily.

After the game, Kapp said “It’s terrible to lose. I don’t like to lose, what else can I say?” Asked how familiar he was with Boston’s offense, he replied “it was pretty obvious out there – very little.”

Kapp completed two of 11 passes for 16 yards and was intercepted twice and sacked twice, although one of the completions was for a touchdown. Overall, the Chiefs intercepted six passes as Taliaferro’s numbers were also poor (three completions in 12 attempts for 30 yards with four interceptions). Wide receivers Turner and Ron Sellers combined for five receptions for 46 yards and a TD. HB Carl Garrett was a bright spot, rushing for 53 yards on 10 carries.

Boston managed just 105 yards of total offense, compared to 346 for Kansas City. 272 of those yards for the Chiefs came on the ground, as Mike Livingston went to the air just 14 times, completing 8 for 85 yards with one intercepted. Robert Holmes was the leading receiver with two catches for 28 yards while also contributing 35 yards on 13 carries, including the two touchdowns. Ed Podolak led KC with 81 yards on 10 carries and RB Warren McVea added another 71 yards on 8 attempts.

Of the six passes intercepted, Jim Kearney and CB Jim Marsalis each had two. In addition, Jerrel Wilson had an outstanding day punting, averaging 56.7 yards on his five kicks, with a long punt of 63 yards.

Kapp might have been frustrated by his performance, but Coach Rush had only praise for his new quarterback. “For his first game with us, he did well,” Rush said. “We're trying to feed him slowly as possible on our system.” Added Hank Stram, “Kapp will help Boston. He did extremely well having been in camp only a week. He'll give that team a great lift because he's an inspirational leader.”

Alas, the high hopes for Kapp in Boston didn’t work out. The Patriots ended up at the bottom of the AFC East with a 2-12 record and the eccentric Clive Rush was replaced halfway through the season by John Mazur. Kansas City went 7-5-2 for second place in the AFC West.

The Patriots had the lowest-ranked offense in the newly-expanded NFL and Joe Kapp was the lowest-ranked passer (Taliaferro was just ahead of him) as he completed only 44.7 percent of his throws (98 of 219) for 1104 yards (5.0 yards per attempt) with just three touchdowns against 17 interceptions. Kapp’s emotional leadership couldn’t begin to compensate for a weak supporting caste.

The 1970 season proved to be Kapp’s last – the Patriots wanted him back, but with a cut in pay, and he retired (he also filed an anti-trust suit against the NFL that failed).

With the first choice in the 1971 draft, the Patriots, with a rich quarterback class to choose from, took Heisman Trophy-winner Jim Plunkett from Stanford. They also moved to a new stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts for ’71 and were renamed the New England Patriots.