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Sports Then and Now

Repeating History? Cooper Kupp Conjures Memories of Bucky Pope

Posted on December 09, 2018 by Dean Hybl
Bucky Pope caught 10 touchdown passes and averaged 31.4 yards per catch during his rookie season in 1964.

Bucky Pope caught 10 touchdown passes and averaged 31.4 yards per catch during his rookie season in 1964.

Even though Los Angeles Rams receiver Cooper Kupp was a third round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft and a third-generation NFL player, his emergence as a star receiver for the Rams conjures comparison to another small school player who made an immediate impact more than 50 years ago.

With a 5-7-2 overall record, the Los Angeles Rams didn’t have a lot to celebrate during the 1964 campaign. However, one bright spot was the emergence of eighth round draft pick Bucky Pope. Known as the “Catawba Claw” because he played his collegiate football at tiny Catawba College in North Carolina, Pope proved to be one of the greatest deep threats in NFL history.

He emerged as a deep threat with a 65-yard touchdown reception from Bill Munson against Detroit during the second week of the season and over the year caught 10 touchdown passes, including six touchdowns of 48 yards or greater.

In a 42-14 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in week six, Pope caught four passes for 141 yards, including touchdown catches of 48, 68 and 18 yards from Roman Gabriel.

Twice facing Vince Lombardi’s Packers, Pope had a 55-yard touchdown reception in their first meeting and a 95-yard score in the final week of the season.

Overall, Pope caught 25 passes for 786 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 31.44 yards per catch were the second highest single season total in NFL history.

Unfortunately, Pope’s amazing rookie season proved to be something he could not repeat. He hurt his knee during a preseason game in 1965 and didn’t play at all that season.

He caught one pass, a 14 yard touchdown pass, during the 1966 season. In 1967, he caught eight passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Included in that total was a 48-yard touchdown catch against the Eagles that would prove to be the final touchdown catch of his career.

Clearly no longer the player he had been in 1964, Pope was released by the Rams and spent a brief period of time in camp with the Atlanta Falcons before playing in three games, with no catches, for the Green Bay Packers in 1968.

Cooper Kupp emerged as a key receiving threat for the Rams as a rookie.

Cooper Kupp emerged as a key receiving threat for the Rams as a rookie.

For his career, Pope caught 34 passes for 952 yards and an amazing 28 yards per catch. He also finished his career with 13 career touchdown receptions, which meant he averaged a touchdown reception every 2.61 catches.

Much like Pope, Kupp spent his collegiate career out of the spotlight playing at Eastern Washington. However, unlike Pope, who had originally been a basketball player, Kupp grew up in a football family with the NFL on his mind.

His grandfather, Jake Kupp, was selected by the Dallas Cowboys a round later than the Rams grabbed Pope in the 1964 draft. After two seasons in Dallas and another in Washington, he split thhe 1967 season between the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints. He eventually became a mainstay on the offensive line for the Saints as he was a starting guard through the 1975 campaign. He even made a Pro Bowl with the Saints in 1969.

Cooper’s Dad, Craig, was a fifth round draft pick as a quarterback by the New York Giants in 1990. He never played in a game for the Giants, but played in one game for the Phoenix Cardinals in 1991.

Craig Kupp played collegiately at Montana Tech and Pacific Lutheran. More than two decades later, Cooper was a record-breaking receiver at FCS Eastern Washington. In four years, he caught 428 passes, including eclipsing 100 receptions in each of his final three seasons. His 6,464 career receiving yards broke the previous FCS record set by Jerry Rice.

Despite his great statistics, there were questions as to whether is college performance could be duplicated at the professional level.

Any doubts were quickly squelched as Kupp emerged as a key target for second-year quarterback Jared Goff. Spurring memories of Pope more than five decades earlier, Kupp caught a touchdown pass from Goff in his first NFL game and during his rookie season caught 62 passes for 869 yards and five touchdowns.

He began the 2018 season right where he left off catching 30 passes with five touchdowns in the first five weeks of the season before missing two games with injuries.

Kupp returned to catch 10 passes and a touchdown during the next two games, but in week 10 against Seattle tore his left ACL to end his sophomore season.

We hopefully hope that unlike Pope, Kupp will recover completely from his knee injury and continue his early success.


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