Peter J. Kaplan
3 min readMay 25, 2023


Joe Kapp and Denny Crum probably didn’t know each other and likely had little in common.

They were a year apart in age and died a day apart in early May.

What they did share was celebrity.

And success.

Each man was a star in his own right, shining brightly in the pantheon of his peers.

Kapp played and coached football.

Crum played and coached basketball.

Joe Kapp was rugged and tenacious, a face-first dude.

He carried the California (UCal-Berkeley) Golden Bears to its last Rose Bowl appearance in 1959.

Ten years later he led the Minnesota Vikings to the Super Bowl.

That season, 1969, Kapp tied an all-time record when he threw 7 touchdown passes in a game against the defending NFL champion Baltimore Colts.

Only seven other quarterbacks have ever done that: Sid Luckman, Adrian Burk, George Blanda, Y.A. Tittle, Nick Foles, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.

When he received the team MVP award, he refused to accept it.

“There is no one most valuable Viking,” he declared.

“There are 40 most valuable Vikings.”

Joe Kapp led with his heart and his gut.

His Canadian Football League numbers included a Grey Cup championship in 1964.

His career NFL individual stats were borderline putrid.

TD-INT: 40–64;

Passing Yds.: 5.911;

Completion Percentage: 48.9%;

Passing Attempts: 918;

Passing Completions: 449.

Make it “putrid.”

But that was never the point with Joe Kapp.

He was a fearsome and fearless leader, as a player and a coach.

The venerable Sports Illustrated–on its July 20, 1970 cover–referred to Kapp as “The Toughest Chicano.”

Never mind heritage.

He was tough as nails always.

Something to which all who competed with him and against him, could–and would–readily attest.

Denny Crum had a different personality, but he was no less a competitor.

Not at all.

The pie-faced Crum tried to convince French Lick’s Larry Legend to commit to Louisville.

Bird wouldn’t make the recruiting trip.

The story goes that Crum challenged Bird to a game of HORSE in his high school gym.

The stipulation?

If Crum, who played at UCLA under John Wooden and later became his top assistant, won, then Bird would attend Louisville.

If not…

Bird smoked Denny.

No Louisville for Larry.

The University of Louisville hired Denny Crum as the men’s head basketball coach in 1971.

The Cardinals became a national power; Crum’s 1972 squad reached the Final Four.

Only to lose to Wooden.

But the die was cast.

Crum took the Cardinals to Final Four #2 in 1975.

No cigar.

Again, a loss to UCLA’s Wooden-coached team, 75–74 in OT.

But the third time was the charm.

Against UCLA.

Louisville’s first program title came in 1980 in a 59–54 win in the championship game.

And there was another.

1986 against Duke, when the Cards’ Pervis Ellison was the first freshman ever to be named the tournament’s MVP.

(Since then, Syracuse’s Carmelo Anthony in 2003, Kentucky’s Anthony Davis in 2012, and Duke’s Tyus Jones in 2015 have achieved that honor as a freshman).

Kapp and Crum.

Maybe successful as law partners too.

Or not.

[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in May 2023.]