In late 1981, Commanders coach Ron Rivera had finished his sophomore year at Cal when the coaching change was made. Out was Roger Theder. In was a former Cal quarterback with no coaching experience.
Rivera spent two years playing for Joe Kapp, who has died at the age of 85. It had a massive impact on Rivera.
“He’s been an inspiration in my life,” Rivera told PFT by phone on Tuesday. “He stressed how important education was . . . . He was hard. He showed me how it needed to be done in order to be successful.”
Rivera recalled that the Cal program had lined him up for a construction job, making five dollars per hour. He’d show up at 6:00 a.m., work until two o’clock, and then go to the facility for a workout. It was exhausting.
At one point, Rivera asked Kapp why he couldn’t have gotten an easier job.
“Was it hard?” Kapp said.
“Yes,” Rivera said.
“Do you want to do that the rest of your life?”
“Then get your education.”
Rivera and Kapp had a connection through a shared Latino heritage. Rivera’s mother and Kapp grew up in the Salinas Valley in California. Rivera’s uncles and Kapp competed on the same fields.
“It was a tough life,” Rivera said of the Salinas Valley. “Farm work, field workers. . . . I knew who he was, and why he was who he was. . . . He would not just accept the life that was thrown at him.”
It explains why Kapp was a pioneer for player rights against the NFL. He told Rivera that his efforts to fight the way things were in the NFL might have derailed Kapp’s playing career. But Kapp accepted it.
“I was committed,” Kapp told Rivera. “I wasn’t gonna be pushed around.”
How would Kapp want to be remembered?
“As a tough individual who loved everything about his life,” Rivera said, “everything about being from California and having gone to the University of California at Berkley, which he truly loved. He would want people to know he gave his all, all the time.”
It’s a standard that helped Kapp lead an uncommon and memorable life. It should be the same inspiration to the rest of us that it has been to Ron Rivera.