It was one of the most surreal contract negotiations in NFL history. At the start of training camp in July 1971, New England Patriots star quarterback Joe Kopp was locked in an office with the team’s new general manager, Upton Bell, and its principal owner, Billy Sullivan. was
Cup had already agreed to a three-year deal worth about $500,000 last season. All Sullivan needed was to sign a standard player contract used throughout the league to replace the “memorandum of understanding” that Cup originally signed. Cup refused, saying the standard contract would limit his options to move to another club after his three-year contract expires.
As the media gathered outside, Sullivan asked Kapp for 20 minutes to sign the petition. The cup stood firm.
“All he had to do was sign a contract and you could still say the NFL is a monopoly, but he threw it away,” Bell said. “It was like a shootout at the OK Ranch.”
Sullivan gave up and with a sharp eye led the resolute cup out of the building. He also carried a bag of cups. The Patriots lost their quarterback, Cup never played in the NFL again, and lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
But Kapp, who died this week at the age of 85, continued to fight. He successfully sued the NFL for violating antitrust laws that protect the rights of players. Although he never received any monetary damages, the precedent in his lawsuit paved the way for full free agency, and 20 years later players replaced modified free agency, which demanded compensation from teams for the loss of players. won outright free agency.
“The ultimate achievement of free agency can be traced back to the cup,” said one of the lawyers who helped NFL players win the 1992 lawsuit against running back Freeman McNeil, who pioneered full free agency. Jeffrey Kessler said.
Kessler said he relied heavily on the Cup ruling and the precedent set by previous lawsuits filed by Jim Smith and John Mackie. Smith, nicknamed Yazoo, won a lawsuit filed against the league in 1970, alleging that the NFL Draft unduly restricted the right to negotiate directly with the team. (The NFL Players Association approved the draft in a 1977 collective bargaining agreement.) McKee’s 1975 lawsuit was against the so-called Roselle Rule, which requires teams that sign free agency to compensate their players’ former clubs. successfully challenged it as unfairly restricting the player’s freedom. Find a new team.
Three cases were the basis for legal battles between the players and the NFL, but the Cup case was the most interesting. A beefy quarterback from Cal, who wasn’t afraid to run his head over a defender, Cup was drafted by Washington in the 18th round of the 1959 draft. However, he never heard from the team, so he went to the Canadian Football League, where he played eight seasons.
In 1967, Cup joined the Minnesota Vikings, coached by fellow CFL veteran Bud Grant. In his third season, Cup led the Vikings to Super Bowl IV, but lost to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Cup, whose three-year contract with Minnesota has expired, turned down a new three-year $100,000 offer from the team. The Vikings, aware of Cup’s injury and inconsistent passing, released him.
“Joe Kapp wasn’t the prettiest passer, but he was a man to speak up in the locker room,” said Joe Horrigan, former executive director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “In fact, he was nearing the end of his career. He was chewing gum and stapled.”
The Vikings still control Cup’s service rights, trading him to the bleak Patriots in October 1970 in exchange for cornerback John Charles and a 1972 first-round pick. According to Horrigan, Kapp signed a personal services contract that pays him about $500,000, creating a looser bridge between the Vikings and Patriots contracts.
The league asked Sullivan to get Cup to sign a standard contract, but the Patriots owner kept pushing it forward. Sullivan was enamored with Cup fame, even though the quarterback helped lead the team to 2-12 after the trade.
On the advice of his attorney and agent, John Elliott Cook, Kapp refused to sign the standard contract and had to leave training camp in the summer of 1971 without a contract. That led to one final ill-fated meeting in Bell’s office.
A federal judge in Northern California, who heard Kapp’s original case, found the draft and the Roselle Rule “clearly unreasonable and illegal.” A jury in the ensuing lawsuit ruled that Cup did not deserve damages from the Patriots or the NFL, in a sort of Pyrrhic victory.
The lawyer defending the league in the lawsuit was future NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliavue.
Still, Michael Leroy, who teaches sports labor law at the University of Illinois, said the ruling was a win for the players. Because at the time associations and leagues were “fighting to define the blurry line between collective bargaining and antitrust law.” “
The Cup incident “helped define what anti-competitive practices the league can impose,” he said.
It took almost 20 more years and many more struggles before the players union won free agency, in part because of the cost of defending the league’s appeal of the lawsuit filed by Kapp et al. Because. By the 1980s, however, the union had built up a war chest with proceeds from licensing rights sales and continued to spend about $25 million fighting two major lawsuits in the late 80s and early 90s. Become. led to modern free agency.
“He showed everyone the way and was a trailblazer. We were grateful to him, but he also told us what not to do from a legal strategy standpoint,” said the union. Former NFL player Doug Allen, who helped run the club, said: Union from the 80’s to the early 20’s. “Mr. Kapp lacked the resources to appeal the lawsuit. The lesson he learned was not ‘don’t sue the NFL,’ but ‘you shouldn’t go it alone.'”
Like Kurt Flood, who challenged Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption, Cupp is also remembered for taking dangerous positions. He received no pay and was never downed again in the NFL, but his efforts went unnoticed.
“He taught the players that fight,” Kessler said.