Fred Cox kicked in a straight-ahead style, with a square-toed shoe, on grass fields in the glory days of the Vikings. His team-record 1,365 points might never be surpassed.
While playing, Cox helped create the Nerf football, an instant sensation that remains popular to this day, and which made him a wealthy man.
Cox, one of 11 players on the rosters of all four Vikings Super Bowl teams, died Wednesday night at age 80. He had been in hospice care at his home in Monticello, Minn., because of kidney failure.
A star fullback in college, Cox converted to full-time kicker as a pro, playing all 15 of his NFL seasons (1963-77) with the Vikings. At the time of his retirement, he was the second-leading scorer in NFL history, behind George Blanda.
He joined his former teammates on the field on Sept. 22 at U.S. Bank Stadium when the Vikings honored the team’s first Super Bowl entrant on its 50th anniversary.
In a statement, the Vikings called Cox “a respected teammate and friend. Fred’s football career as the Vikings’ all-time leading scorer set the stage for a life where he went on to achieve great things in business and in his community. Fred’s positive energy, strength in his faith and passion for life will be missed.”
Third all-time in games played for the Vikings with 210, Cox was an All-Pro in 1969 and made the Pro Bowl in 1970, leading the NFL in scoring both seasons. He became a licensed chiropractor in 1972, and worked at that job following his retirement.
Cox played in 18 postseason games, including Super Bowl losses to Kansas City, Miami, Pittsburgh and Oakland.
“All the players wanted to win,” Cox said in a 1992 story in the Star Tribune. “Yet it might have been easier for the players to accept what happened than the fans.
“The fans have never been able to live with the fact that we lost four times. But the bottom line is that for any team to get there four times is an amazing feat.”
A standout at the University of Pittsburgh, Cox was drafted as a fullback in the eighth round in 1961 by the Cleveland Browns but did not play because of a back injury. He honed his place-kicking skills under the legendary Lou “The Toe” Groza in Cleveland, and the Vikings traded for him in training camp in 1962. He was beaten out by Jim Christopherson but made the team in 1963. He also punted that first season.
Cox combined in 1971 with local entrepreneur John Mattox on the Nerf football, a foam rubber invention that quickly turned into a lucrative venture.
“It never dawned on me until they were selling 6 or 8 million a year exactly what had happened,” he told NFL Films last year. “They kept sending me checks. … They’re still paying me because there was no end to the contract.”
On the Vikings’ website, former coach Bud Grant remembered Cox.
“Fred was the ultimate team player for us,” Grant told vikings.com. “He took part in all of our scout teams, playing running back or whatever we asked of him. He was a great asset to our team, a true credit to the team and his community. If you saw those games, he always stood right next to me on the sideline because he was such a big part of what we were doing with field position and knew the game so well.”
Cox was born on Dec. 11, 1938, in Monongahela, Pa. He is survived by his wife, Bonnie, and four children.