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A legendary native of Monongahela and an NFL icon, Fred Cox, died Wednesday in Minnesota from complications due to kidney failure.
Cox, 80, had been in hospice care in his home in Monticello for some time before his death.
After his football career, with the help of Minnesota entrepreneur John Mattox, he invented in 1971 the Nerf football, a foam rubber toy which is still popular today. He got the idea while a playing for the Minnesota Vikings.
Cox grew up in Monongahela and was a star athlete at Monongahela High School before going on to play football at Pitt.
He played for the Vikings from 1962-77 and is the team’s career scoring leader. He had 1,365 points during his 15 seasons as a kicker and, at the time of his retirement following the 1977 season, was the second-leading scorer in NFL history behind Youngwood’s George Blanda.
He was named an All-Pro in 1969 and made the Pro Bowl in 1970, leading the NFL in scoring both seasons as a straight-ahead kicker.
Cox played in four Super Bowls, losing to Kansas City, Miami, Pittsburgh and Oakland.
After starring at Pitt following his graduation from Monongahela, 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 was also drafted by the New York Titans of the AFL.
He tutored as a placekicker under the legendary Lou “The Toe” Groza in Cleveland and the Vikings traded for him in training camp in 1962.
He didn’t make the team, but in 1963 he joined them as a kicker and, for one season, a punter.
A proud alumnus of Ringgold, Cox returned to the high school to see his NFL Golden Football presented. The gold ball was awarded to high schools whose alumni played in a Super Bowl.
Ringgold athletic director Laura Grimm, who said she was saddened to hear of Cox’s passing, remembers the day fondly.
“That day, his family brought us a bunch of memorabilia that we currently have on display outside my office. Despite his age at the time, I’ve never met someone with a more charismatic personality,” Grimm said. “His eyes lit up as he told stories of his playing days, breaking the scoring record with the Vikings and inventing the Nerf football.
“For someone who had accomplished so much, he was also very humble, crediting anyone and everyone who helped him along the way.”
Grimm said it was obvious how proud Cox was of his roots in the Mon Valley. Limited in terms of his mobility, Cox insisted on touring the entire school during his visit.
“He kept saying he didn’t know if he would make it back again and he wanted to take in as much as possible in his short visit,” Grimm recalled. “For someone I only had the pleasure of meeting once, he certainly left an impact that will not be forgotten. What a genuine human being.
“At Ringgold, we are lucky to have Fred as an alumnus and we will mourn such a great loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
Former Vikings coach Bud Grant remembered Cox, one of 11 players on the roster for all four Super Bowl teams.
“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.”
He also played middle linebacker on the scout-team defense and running back for the offense before lining up at center, which was appreciated by Grant, who described Cox as a great kicker and great athlete.
The Vikings organization called Cox “one of our proudest legends, 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.”
After his retirement from football, Cox had a successful career as a chiropractor. His parents operated Cox Market in Monongahela, which is still owned by the fourth generation of the family.
Cox was born on Dec. 11, 1938, in Monongahela. He is survived by his wife, Bonnie, and four adult children.