MONTICELLO, Minn. — Former all-pro kicker Fred Cox, the leading scorer in Vikings history, died Wednesday. He was 80.
Cox had been in hospice care at home in Monticello with heart and kidney issues. He talked about his health last Saturday, Nov. 16, in an interview at his home.
“My health is not good, obviously," he said. “I have kidneys that don’t work and a heart that doesn’t function, but other than that I’m great.
“Most people think hospice care, including me, is they send you home and you die the next day. … I don’t know. Whatever that means, I’m not going to be around a long time. I’ll be here until I’m gone, and I’m OK with that. ... Nobody’s going to live forever and nobody’s going to live more than I did."
Cox played with the Vikings from 1963-77 and appeared in four Super Bowls, all of them losses. When he retired, he was second in NFL history in scoring and with 282 field goals.
In 1972, he earned a chiropractic degree from Northwestern Health Sciences University and after retiring from the NFL ran a successful practice for 16 years.
Cox was one of the inventors of the Nerf football, an association that began when he signed a contract with Parker Brothers with no expiration date. Checks have continued to roll in annually from Hasbro, which purchased Parker Brothers in 1991. They used to be for more than $400,000 and are still worth more than $200,000.
Cox’s health had begun to decline in recent years. He was admitted Sept. 24 to Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, and stayed there for a week. He was readmitted on Nov. 1 and about a week later sent home for hospice care.
“In one respect, it was a surprise because I knew that I had a bad kidney and I knew I had a bad heart, but I’d had them for 25 years," Cox said last Saturday. “So, now all of a sudden for them to say, ‘Hey those things don’t function at all,’ that was a surprise."
Cox's wife, Bonnie, said last Saturday that not many teammates had known the severity of her husband’s condition. She said center Mick Tingelhoff and guard Milt Sunde had been among those to reach out.
A star running back and kicker at the University of Pittsburgh, Cox joined the Vikings in 1963 when Norm Van Brocklin was the head coach. Bud Grant arrived as coach in 1967, and Cox developed into one of the NFL’s top kickers. He was named all-pro in 1969 and to the Pro Bowl in 1970.
During the 1970s, Cox was regarded by some as a dinosaur because he employed a straight-on style when by then most NFL teams had soccer-style kickers.
“Fred was very consistent," Jeff Siemon, a Vikings linebacker from 1972-82, said on Tuesday. “He wasn’t the longest kicker in the world, and he lost some distance as the years went on, but he remained consistent, and Bud really respected that. So, that’s why he was able to hang on for so many years."
Cox is survived by Bonnie and four children from a previous marriage. They are Darryl, 56, Susan, 55, Fred, 53, and Kim, 50.