INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Craig and Karin Kupp flew down from Washington to California — again. They flew from the Pacific Northwest to Arizona the weekend before this last one. They aren’t about to miss Cooper, their oldest of four children, produce one of the best seasons by a wide receiver in NFL history.
“We’ve been to eight games already,” one-time NFL quarterback Craig said last week while on the telephone from the family’s home in Yakima.
That was before his and his wife’s latest flight to Los Angeles to see his son’s Rams (9-4) host the Seahawks (5-8) at SoFi Stadium on Sunday. Except, Cooper Kupp didn’t play on Sunday. Neither did his Rams or the Seahawks. An outbreak of COVID-19 among 29 Rams players last week led the NFL and its players’ union to postpone the game to 4 p.m. today.
Craig and Karin are both members of the PLU Athletics Hall of Fame. Karin was a soccer All-American for the Lutes in the late 1980s. That’s when Craig was setting NAIA Division II records as a PLU quarterback.
“It’s been fun every year just watching him improve and grow in his career,” Craig said. “But, yeah, this year has been super special to see the confidence, the relevance, the trust the Rams are showing in Coop.”
On Monday, the NFL revealed the first five players voted into the Pro Bowl now that balloting has ended. Kupp and All-World defensive tackle Aaron Donald are the two Rams already voted as Pro Bowl selections. The others are Tampa Bay Buccaneers champion quarterback Tom Brady, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and NFL rushing leader Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts. It’s the 28-year-old Kupp’s first Pro Bowl selection. It’s almost certainly not going to be his last.
This is a three-generation NFL success story, with roots crisscrossing Pierce County. Cooper Kupp’s grandfather, Craig’s dad Jake Kupp, played on two Rose Bowl teams for the University of Washington. He became a Pro Bowl guard for the New Orleans Saints into the 1970s. Jake is in the Saints Hall of Fame as one of the blockers for New Orleans icon Archie Manning, Peyton’s and Eli’s dad.
Craig went from PLU into the NFL as a backup quarterback with the Phoenix Cardinals and then behind Troy Aikman with the Dallas Cowboys. Kupp is keeping the family legacy going, from Davis High School in Yakima to Eastern Washington University to NFL superstardom with the Rams.
Kupp’s 113 catches, 1,489 yards receiving and 12 receiving touchdowns all lead the league. He’s four games away from winning the NFL receiving triple crown, something no one has done since Steve Smith in 2005. Kupp needs to average 119 yards over Los Angeles’ last four games to set the league’s all-time record for yards receiving in a season. Calvin Johnson’s 1,964 in 2012 for the Detroit Lions is the record.
What makes Kupp such a challenge for the Seahawks, in a game Seattle has to win Tuesday to keep its slim playoff hopes alive? It’s the crazy amount of ways the Rams employ him. Against the Cardinals Kupp became the first player since 2016 to have a reception from all seven pre-snap alignments an eligible receiver can have in a game, according to NFL NextGen Stats. The only other player to achieve that is Jerry Rice, the best and most-accomplished receiver, ever.
That actually fits Kupp more than you may think. While at Eastern Washington, Kupp won the 2013 Jerry Rice Award in college football, given to the top freshman player in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron was the Rams’ tight ends coach in 2017. Waldron said all the ways Rams coach Sean McVay is using Kupp this season is what he saw Kupp doing on the red turf at Eastern years ago.
“A little bit of everything,” Waldron said. “I’ll tell you what, he threw a lot of passes, I do remember that. The red field there and he’s throwing touchdown passes from a variety of different trick plays.
Craig said his son is playing now and being used like coach Rick Clark used him at Davis High School in Yakima through 2011. Cooper Kupp was called a “Swiss Army knife” at Davis, where he was an all-state receiver and defensive back.
Cooper talked to then-PLU coach Scott Westering about following his dad in playing for the Lutes, but Cooper sought to play at the highest college level possible. Craig and Jake tried to get UW and then-Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian’s staff interested in recruiting Cooper, to have him play where his grandfather played. They weren’t interested.
“That was too bad,” Craig said. “We tried everything we could. My dad was pretty disappointed. We just couldn’t get the light of day from them.”