Ron Rivera: Joe Kapp “has been an inspiration in my life”

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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.

14 responses to “Ron Rivera: Joe Kapp “has been an inspiration in my life”

  1. He was one of my favorite Players growing up. He wasn’t a big wuss like the other QB’s were back then, he got in your face no matter who it was on either team, Player or Coach (except Bud Grant).

  2. I agree with Ron. Kapp was a pistol. Remember when he punched Angelo Musca at the CFL Hall of Fame luncheon in 2001? Both of them were in their 70s at that time. Capp carried a beef with Musca for 40 years then walked him on stage

  3. Great article. Joe Kapp threw the wobbliest passes of any QB, but they seemed to find their mark.

  4. He had to be watching and learning, as RR’s HC, from local legend now broadcaster John Madden, who he had seen beat his Vikes now A 4th time, back in that 1976 SB.

  5. Made for a great interview and had tons of charisma. I like the Bud Grant comment that Kapp said things with purpose behind them. He was a “deep thinker.” I think he passed along some of that to Coach Rivera in the above quotes.

  6. I love the old NFL Films stuff on him; type of player any fan would love. RIP

  7. Favorite line from NFL Films Vikings highlights when talking about Joe Kapp: “His passes had nothing more on them than the Commissioner’s signature.” A fine fellow and most worthy opponent. Wish he played for us. RIP, Joe. A Packers fan.

  8. Joe Kapp Ruled! I fell in love with the Vikings in 1969 because of Joe. He helped deliver the Vikings only NFL title with a style of raw, blue collar play that was a pleasure to watch.

  9. How does Rivera fail every year in Washington and keep his job? He should have been fired a couple years ago.

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