Ex-Viking quarterback says he has Alzheimer's

In an interview The San Jose Mercury News former Viking quarterback 77-year-old Joe Kapp disclosed he has Alzheimer's.   

While doctors won't be able to say for sure if playing football is to blame, the connection between football and brain injuries has been receiving a lot of attention in recent years.

Joe Kapp was the starting quarterback for the Vikings when they played in their first Super Bowl appearance against the Kansas City Chiefs in January 1970. Fans watched as Kapp eventually got knocked so hard he was taken out of the game.

The outcome of that game is something Minnesota fans will never forget, but the hits Kapp took in that -- and other games -- are exactly why he believes he does forget.

HCMC neurosurgeon Uzma Samadani, who studies the long term cognitive effects of contact sports, says someone like Kapp, who played in the 1960s and 1970s is of far greater risk of brain damage than those who play now.

"I believe that it's almost a different sport at this point than it was many years ago," Dr. Samadani said. "There was no concussion guideline and awareness that brain injury was bad for you."

Dr. Samadani points to research that has linked concussions and early on-set Alzheimer’s, but says she can't say for sure that it was the cause of Kapp's condition.

"The incidence of people getting Alzheimer's at age 77 is not a low number, so to live to that age and be cognitively well after playing that hard is pretty impressive."

Kapp says he will donate his brain to the University of California San Francisco once he dies; hoping to continue the research Samadani and others have done on professional football players.

He also is a litigant in a lawsuit that led to a settlement between the NFL and retired players who suspect they've suffered brain damage.