Four Proud Latino NFL Players Who Have Played in the Super Tazón

This year Super Bowl in Indianapolis will be known by some as the Boricua Bowl, since the New York Giants Victor Cruz and the New England Patriots' Aaron Hernández will be playing for their respective teams. Cruz and Hernández might be two of the most famous NFL players of Puerto Rican descent, but pro players of Latino descent have been playing in Super Bowls since 1970. Here are just a few who succeeded in their sport and spoke proudly about their Latino roots:

Joe Kapp, Minnesota Vikings, Super Bowl IV

In 1970, Kapp was the starting Super Bowl quarterback for the Vikings, who lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, 23-7. In a Sports Illustrated feature about Kapp published July, 1970, Kapp addressed his Chicano roots:

 

I'm aware of my own reputation, and I enjoy it. I've been called "one half of a collision looking for the other." The adjectives you usually read about me are "unstylish," "brutal," "unrelenting" and sometimes "dumb." (That's when we lose; when we win, I'm a "great genius.") People take one look at the scars on my face and they assume that I spend most of my off-hours prowling around looking for fights, when the truth is that the fights are prowling around looking for me, and sometimes they find me. I think of myself as a gentle, fun-loving, peaceful person, but you can be all these things and still get in fights—especially if you don't back down, and I try not to. You won't see me running out of bounds to avoid a little physical contact with a linebacker, and you won't see me ducking out the window when somebody wants to tangle. So I've been known to get in an occasional tête-à-tête.

Maybe this goes back to my Chicano childhood, and machismo. Machismo means manliness, a willingness to act like a man, and if a kid didn't have machismo in the polyglot neighborhoods of the San Fernando and Salinas valleys in California, where I grew up, he had it tough. When I was little I saw guys lying in their own blood at the corner of Mission Boulevard and Hollister Street in San Fernando. Sometimes the Mexicans would fight the Anglos; sometimes it would be the Mexicans and the blacks from Pacoima. They had gang fights going all the time and even an occasional shoot-out or knifing.

When we moved to Salinas in the California lettuce belt, we lived in a housing project with pickers, Okies, Arkies, blacks and whites and browns and purples. In the fifth grade a bigger kid called me "a dirty Mexican," and at first I didn't challenge him. But when I got home I brooded on what he had said. My sense of justice was outraged. My mother, Florence Garcia Kapp, is Mexican-American, but my father is of German descent; therefore, at worst, I could only be half of what that kid had called me. So I went back and found him and really whaled him. I didn't win the fight, but I got in some licks. That was machismo, not backing down, acting like a man. I think I violated the code of machismo only once: in the seventh grade, when two guys took my basketball and rolled it down the hill. I should have whaled them, too, but one of them was Bob Sartwell, the best athlete in Salinas, six feet tall and 180 pounds, and I chickened out. I've never backed down since. On that dry, dusty basketball court in Salinas, I would look around me and say to myself, "Well, if I'm gonna win this game I'm gonna have to kick somebody's butt!" That was valuable training for NFL football.

 

Ted Hendricks, Oakland Raiders, Super Bowls V, XI, XV, XVIII

Hendricks is half-Guatemalan, having been born in Guatemala City to his Guatemalan mother and American father. He was also a 4-time Super Bowl champion, having won one title with Baltimore in Super Bowl V and three with the Oakland Raiders. Hendricks, known as "The Mad Stork," was one of the greatest linebackers in the history of the game and was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1990.

When Sports Illustrated did a 1983 feature about Hendricks' illustrious career, he made it at a point to remind readers about his Guatemalan roots: "My roots are in the banyan trees," Hendricks will say. "My cousin owns a rum factory in Quezaltenango. Each city has its different costume…the beauty there…. I get excited just thinking about it…."

 

Jim Plunkett, Oakland Raiders, Super Bowl XV MVP, Super Bowl XVIII

Not only was Plunkett, who is of Mexican American descent, a Super Bowl MVP, he was also the 1970 Heisman Trophy winner out of Stanford. He is also a two-time Super Bowl winner. In 1974, People ran a feature about him, and Plunkett was quick to point out that his personal challenges did nothing to affect his quest for sporting greatness:

For all his triumphs on field, Plunkett's life off it has been laced with genuine pathos. His parents met in a school for the blind in New Mexico. His mother, Carmen, has been sightless since she was 20 and Plunkett's father, William, suffered a degenerative eye disease that left him legally blind long before his death in 1969. Plunkett's dad sold newspapers at a post office, and the family at times was on welfare. Plunkett, a five-sport high school star, had to work after school in gas stations and grocery stores. Between college years he joined construction gangs. But Plunkett winces in discomfort at any "hard-luck" handle. "That story has been blown out of proportion," he says. "I hesitate to go into it anymore. We were poor, but I did the things I wanted to."

 

Ron Rivera, Chicago Bears, Super Bowl XX

Rivera, the current coach of the Carolina Panthers, is of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent. He won his Super Bowl title with the 1985 Chicago Bears, considered one of the greatest defenses in NFL history. When Rivera became head coach of the Panthers, he was quick to acknowledge his heritage: "I'm very proud of the fact that I am of Hispanic descent. I'm very honored to have this opportunity."

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