Kupp Family: A Love Not Just for the Game but for The Lord
Story by Anakaren Garcia Photos by Zahn Schultz
From entering the 1964 NFL draft, going into the 9th round and being the 116th pick to being inducted into the New Orleans Saints 1991 Hall of Fame, Jake and Carla Kupp started a family legacy of being one of five families to have three generations of NFL football players consisting of, Jake Kupp (grandfather), Craig Kupp (father) and Cooper Kupp (son).
Not only that, but Jake and Carla have also passed down, to their son's and grandchildren, their strong faith in God's plan.
The Kupp family have always looked to their faith to know what their next step is in life.
The Start of it All
Born in Pasadena, Calif., 78-year-old husband, father and grandfather, Jake Kupp and his grandparents moved out to a farm in Sunnyside, Wash. in 1950, where Jake lived for the first year after the move.
Jake recalls this as “kind of an interesting experience for me.” He adds, “After a year of living with my grandparents, our family moved into town, but I remained real close with my grandparents and worked out in the farm quite a bit.”
Back in that time, he recalls, there weren’t any labor laws like this day and age. He jokes, “So, you could work at a pretty young age.”
Jake says his family attended Sunnyside Presbyterian Church and as kids, they were active in Sunday school. He explains that his grandparents “built our Christian foundation in our family, and it was just a good experience growing up and … getting that foundation.”
Carla Kupp, 76-year-old wife, mother and grandmother to the Kupp family was born and raised in Sunnyside, Wash., where her father was a small business owner and a very active member of the community. “They were really very loving parents. Everything was family-oriented,” she says, but adds, “They really didn’t have any faith.”
Recalling the moment she became a Christian, Carla says she felt fortunate to have the friends she did at the time because they took her to Sunday school and a different friend later invited her to a Christian camp, Camp Ghormley, when she was in the 7th grade.
“It was a very, very powerful experience of understanding life through the Bible. I had spent the week—really [the] first time in my life, ever—reading the Bible and about Jesus,” says Carla. “It really helped me as a 12-year-old, I think, to understand life—that if we were living the principles of Jesus and with his love that the world would be a different place.”
Jake and Carla began officially dating at the end of Jake’s senior year of high school and Carla’s sophomore year. Within the two years that Carla was finishing up high school and Jake was playing football at UW, she and Jake would only communicate through mail, because “long distance service was so expensive, we just couldn’t afford that.”
During those two years apart, Jake says that he would try to visit back home any time he could. Jake and Carla would become engaged at Carla’s high school graduation and marry the following summer.
Faith in Family
Since having children, Jake and Carla have passed down their faith and beliefs while still learning more about their own faith through life experiences.
Carla recalls back to when she, Jake and their family moved to Yakima in 1976. She and Jake wanted to allow a fresh start for their children and that included them growing up in freedom and a new environment.
“We also had time to be together at breakfast; I had a little container and I had the kids help select the verses they wanted to memorize and then every morning we would take a verse out and we’d repeat it,” says Carla. “So, over a period of time, that’s the way we memorized a scripture.”
As a mother, Carla was learning that teen years are “a time where you can’t tell your kids what to do. They need to decide that for themselves if they’re going to mature,” she says.
Jake mentions that in a household, it’s important for a man to also be a co-spiritual leader alongside his wife. “For man or for a woman, [they] can get wrapped up in career and what they’re doing,” he says, “and for some men, it’s easy to say to the wife, ‘You be the spiritual leader in our family,’” he says.
He continues, “What we try to do is develop a foundation in our home. God is kind of the center of our home and we felt like it was really important for us to attend church and for the kids to be a part of the Sunday school program and to be in charge of who goes to church camp.”
Craig Kupp, Jake and Carla’s son, says, “I was blessed to have two great parent role models. The presence of Jesus and God’s authority and love was just a part of my upbringing,” he says. “But I think it’s important to state that we are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination and fail many times.”
Craig and his wife, Karin Kupp, have also raised their family in faith and strong belief systems.
Ketner Kupp, a 22-year-old Eastern Washington University linebacker and son of Craig, says, “We grew up going to church, and so I have always considered myself a believer. The first time I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior was at vacation bible school when I was probably about seven years old.”
He adds, “Obviously, the older I got the more I started to realize the importance of my faith and the role it played in my life became more and more prioritized.”
Ketner remembers that when he was younger, he would worry about a lot of things and his mind would wander on him a lot, putting him in a not-so-easy place. “I think somewhere along the line I started to understand that God has a plan for me and that all I could do is strive to be the best me that I can be,” he says. “My faith has allowed me freedom to live and try to just glorify God through being the best me that I can be.”
losing a piece of the family puzzle
Losing a family member is never an easy task to go through, especially when that family member is your son or your brother. The Kupp family lost their beloved son, brother and uncle, Kyle back in June 2008 to cancer.
Carla’s spirit during this time, as she explains, was peaceful and full of hope. “The lord—his presence with us while Kyle was sick—was very present,” she says. “He gave us peace. We could sleep at night, we just had peace and ... hope.”
But the grieving process can’t be escaped. “Afterwards it was almost harder in a way, because you’re grieving. Your natural grieving process is there … [the lord] wasn’t there for us anymore,” Carla explains.
At the end of Kyle’s burial service, his wife came up to Jake and Carla and handed them a letter from Kyle, which he had written long before he was diagnosed with cancer.
According to Carla, the letter explained that if they were reading the letter, then Kyle had passed away at a young age, but assured them that everything was okay because he was with Jesus.
“Whenever I thought of him in heaven,” says Carla, “it brought peace to me and I knew it, deep within my soul, that that’s where he was.”
Jake’s experience during this time, he recalls, he was fortunate because he had recently retired from his career during the same time that Kyle was diagnosed. Which then gave him a chance to spend almost every day for the next four or five years with Kyle, as they kept a daily routine.
“I’d arrive to his house and we would kind of have quiet time and read some scripture and pray together and then we would do house work and then go out and do something fun and then we would go to the YMCA and work out,” Jake recalls. Adding, “it was just kind of a precious time because it was like, it was a spiritual time as well as a time for us to just be together and to just enjoy each other.”
As one could guess, losing a son is never easy, “when he died it was probably the most difficult time in my life that I’ve ever experienced, just the hurt and the pain or knowing that, you know we weren’t going to be together,” says Jake. “But then there was a reassurance that you know, we would be together again in the future.”
Jake explained that seeing how strong Kyle’s faith in God was, helped him really understand and give him a strong faith and hope.
“You know God promises us peace and joy and those kind of things and yet he never says that life is going to be easy, there’s always going to be those challenges but what he does promise is that he’ll always be with you and that’s what I think Kyle and I and Carla and our family experienced is that during that time that Jesus was a part of it,” Jake says.
“Wow, this was a really tough one for me. In all honesty it was a faith shaker. The whole process of watching Kyle’s body deteriorate, praying for healing but watching him literally die in front of you was crushing. I remember the brutal reality of the day Kyle passed away. The sadness of losing my brother and seeing his wife Kendra without her husband and two little kids, McKenna and Kyler without their father was absolutely brutal. It shook my faith,” explains Craig.
It wasn’t until after the fact that Craig realized he only really understood part of the overall picture. “I can’t see all that is going on behind the scenes. Hopefully someday I’ll be able to understand the purpose behind Kyle’s life and death,” he says. “However, I came to the realization that I’m not God, can you believe that?! And I’m not always going to be able to make sense of things…but God is in control and He is worthy of my trust in Him.”
2nd Corinthians 4:16: “Therefore because of who Christ is all we know about him, therefore we do not loose heart though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day, for our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far out ways all of our troubles. So, we fix our eyes on not what is seen but on what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal.”
Faith Family & Football
When it comes to football, it’s no secret Jake has a passion. But before the NFL came along, Jake went to two Rose Bowls with the University of Washington. But Jake knew he wasn’t just playing for himself.
“You know that God is giving you gifts and talents, and to be able to utilize those gifts and talents is to, in a sense, glorify him,” he says.
Jake compares his experience of playing to a line in the movie “Chariots of Fire,” where Eric Little said, “God made me fast and when I run, I feel his pleasure.”
“There’s just a pleasure in being on the field and performing and utilizing the gifts and the talents that God has given me,” says Jake.
Craig was signed into the 1990 NFL Draft in the 5th round, being the 135th pick. But before all of that, Craig recalls always relating to the whole football world. He especially remembers when, as a kid, he was able to walk out onto the field after a Saints vs. Rams game with his dad, Jake, by his side.
“As a little kid, to be holding hands with the guy that was just down on the field and playing, and [all the players are] their uniforms and everything,” says Craig, “And he’s my dad!”
Ketner says sports have been a part of his life since as far back as he can remember, but his biggest and first real memory of football was when his older brother, Cooper, was given his first pads for Grid-Kids, a local Yakima Valley football league for youth players.
“I think I was probably about seven or eight years old and we went out to our yard to play, and I knew I wanted to play football too from that point forward,” says Ketner.
Living in a family of NFL players has given Ketner nothing but motivation. “It’s something that I just think is super cool. It’s never overwhelmed me; it’s just been something that helped motivate me,” he says. “Knowing I had people in my family do exactly what my dream is and succeed doing it allows me so much as far as advice and belief go.”
During the first half of the Rams vs. Seahawks game in the 10th week of Cooper Kupp’s second season, Cooper tore his ACL and the Kupp family didn’t know what to expect.
“It was kind of a weird situation because when he injured his knee, it was away from the play and he actually wasn’t hit, he just kind of got tangled up a little bit with another back and he was down on the field,” Jake explains.
Fortunately for Jake and Carla, they were sitting close to Cooper’s agent and his agent was able to get them into the locker room to see how Cooper, his wife, Anna, and their son, June, were doing. “I was encouraged; I saw God’s hand on the fact that we were so close to [Cooper’s agent],” says Carla. “We could have never gone into the locker room without his agent doing that for us.”
When they got into the locker room, Jake recalls, “Cooper was sitting on the training table and June was kind of on his lap and Anna was standing to his left and the surgeon was on the other side of the training table ... explaining what the situation was.”
Craig, on the other hand, was watching the game on his TV when the injury occurred. “I saw there was very limited contact before he went down. We knew it wasn’t good,” he says. “The first thing that goes through your head is, ‘How bad is it? Will he be out a couple games? The rest of the season? Or is this a career-ending deal?’”
The family continued to look up, though. “Like any difficult situation, I need to fall back and realize God is in control,” he says. “His plan for Cooper and Anna is still good whatever the outcome. I just needed to rest in that place even though it is really hard as my mind, will and desires collide with God’s reality.”
a family moving forward
Ketner wasn’t selected to play for a team in this year’s NFL Draft, but he was invited to a San Francisco 49ers Minicamp to try out for them. “It was such a blessing,” he says. “I was just excited to get a chance to go play football again and enjoy the people around me.”
Craig, though, says, “I’m disappointed. I just know in my heart if he could just get a shot and people could just see who and what he’s about, they would love him and they would have trouble keeping him off the field.”
At this point in his life, Ketner says, any opportunity is a bonus. Ketner went off to L.A. to try out for the Rams on May 9 and if he doesn’t get an offer, he “may look into coaching or training,” he says. “I’d like to be around football for as long as I can; I feel like I have a lot left to give to the game.”
The love for the game never dies, especially when you’re living it through your family and their experiences.
“I certainly had a passion for it and to be able to continue … to kind of live out that passion through two of our sons [who] played football in college, and then Craig played professional football,” Jake says, “keeps us in the game and makes us really feel a part of it.”