As Craig Kupp sometimes struggles to identify his first recollection of football, he smiles.
There is, after all, so much to sort through.
So much football. So much family. So much life.
Yet Kupp enjoys considering it all because also there has been so much fun — for him, his parents, his wife and their children.
And if it seems like the Kupps’ collective connection with the gridiron has existed forever, it’s because for many of them, it has.
“I do remember,” Kupp said wistfully, “going to watch my dad play in New Orleans with my brother — these two little, little people in this massive stadium.”
So you get the idea.
Craig Kupp, as a young child, watched his father, Jake, play for the NFL’s New Orleans Saints.
Then Craig, 25 years ago, played for the NFL’S Phoenix Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys.
And now Cooper Kupp — Craig’s son and Jake’s grandson — is performing at such a stratospheric level as an Eastern Washington senior that he seems virtually certain to become a third-generation Kupp NFL participant.
It almost begs a chicken-or-the-egg question as to which came first, football or the Kupps?
“We don’t have many family gatherings,” Cooper Kupp said, “where there isn’t a football around somewhere.”
Or at least symbolic evidence of the game, even at Cooper’s wedding.
Two summers ago Cooper Kupp married Anna Croskey, and when the couple was pronounced husband and wife Anna grabbed an EWU football helmet, put it on her husband’s head and then jumped on his back.
And down the aisle romped Mr. and Mrs. Cooper Kupp, with the bride holding her bouquet triumphantly aloft, to the delighted howls of their many well wishers.
“You should’ve seen it,” said Ketner Kupp, Cooper’s younger brother who’s excelling as a sophomore linebacker at Eastern. “It was awesome.”
Their grandfather thought so, too.
“Something, huh?” Jake Kupp said while proudly displaying photos of the event on his cell phone.
It turns out that this fun-filled football odyssey began with Jake, who as a fifth-grader at Sunnyside’s Washington Elementary School daydreamed of playing sports.
At Sunnyside High School, where Kupp also played basketball and baseball, he became good enough at football to earn a scholarship to Washington. And at UW, where Kupp continued to play baseball, he got good enough at football to become a ninth-round draft choice by the Dallas Cowboys.
While Jake got his start with the Cowboys, his greatest success over a 12-year NFL career came with the New Orleans Saints from 1968-75.
During his 1968-75 stint as a Saint, Kupp was a three-time offensive captain (1969, 1972, 1974), made the NFL’s Pro Bowl in 1969 and is a member of the team’s Hall of Fame.
It was in New Orleans that Kupp, as an offensive guard, blocked for the head of another renowned football family, Archie Manning.
The Kupps and Mannings still stay in touch, and Cooper Kupp has spent part of the past four summers working as a counselor and coach at the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodeaux, La., which Archie Manning founded in 1996.
“We had Saints jerseys custom made for the boys,” Jake said of Craig and older brother Randy. “We had them specially fitted, had their names on the back and all that.
“But then when we asked what number they wanted, both of them screamed out in unison, ‘EIGHT!’ That was Archie’s number. That’s what happens when you compare a skill-position player like Archie with a non-skill-position player like me.”
Once the laughter among the Kupps had subsided, Craig, who played quarterback, staunchly defended his dad.
“Hey,” he said, “I’ve seen film where dad would get knocked down, and he’d still be sort of like crab-walking, still moving around to get in a defensive player’s way.”
Jake, grinning broadly, said, “Thanks, Craig.”
The Kupp football fraternity, however, is clearly not limited to males.
Carla Kupp, Jake’s wife of 54 years, is the daughter of a Sunnyside HS football player, Carl Marion, who was offered a scholarship to Washington State but had to stay home and work on the family farm.
And Karin Kupp, Craig’s wife, is the daughter of Tom Gilmer, a longtime coach at Franklin Pierce and Washington high schools near Tacoma.
Jake and Carla’s romance began at Sunnyside High School where Jake, a 1959 graduate, was two years older.
“On the night of my high school graduation,” Carla Kupp said, “Jake and I became engaged.”
Craig and Karin, meanwhile, met at Pacific Lutheran where both were All-Americans — he at football and she at soccer, before Craig went on to play during the 1991 season for the Cardinals and Cowboys. Both are members of PLU’s Hall of Fame.
“I was pretty much used to football by the time I met Craig,” Karin Kupp said. “And obviously I still am.”
Craig, who played prep football at Selah, and Karin Kupp have two children who are still at home — Kobe, a senior at Davis High School, which his brothers attended, and Katrina, a Wilson Middle School eighth-grader.
Kobe plays baseball for the Pirates while Katrina enjoys soccer.
And there’s more.
Jeff Kupp, Jake’s younger brother, was an O-lineman at Eastern from 1982-84, and is a regular member of the family’s pregame and postgame activities for Eagles games.
Quite a history. Quite a family.
“My dad,” Jake Kupp said of his father, Jacob Otto Kupp who passed away last summer at age 97, “was the biggest sports fan you ever saw. He didn’t play football or sports because he had to work, but he came to all the games my brothers and I played, along with my mom.
“Then later in their lives they spent time going to museums and plays, things that she enjoyed doing. One night they’d been to a play at the Warehouse Theatre. They were visiting my wife and I afterward, and when my dad was talking about the intermission at the play, the way he put it was, ‘You should’ve seen who they had at halftime!’”