Former Vikings kicker Cox passes away at age 80

MINNEAPOLIS — Former Minnesota Vikings kicker Fred Cox, one of the last of the straight-on placekickers and a standout on several conference championship teams, has died. He was 80.

Cox’s wife, Bonnie, notified the Vikings’ alumni affairs office of his death. Cox had been in hospice care at his home in Monticello northwest of the Twin Cities because of kidney and heart problems.

“My health is not good, obviously,” Cox told the Pioneer Press on Saturday in an interview at his home. “I have kidneys that don’t work and a heart that doesn’t function, but other than that I’m great.”

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Cox, who also co-created the Nerf football, scored a Minnesota-record 1,365 points in his 15 seasons, often kicking in nasty conditions because the Vikings played outdoors during his career from 1963-77. When he retired, he was second in NFL history in scoring behind George Blanda — who also played quarterback — and had made 282 field goals.

Cox was one of 11 Vikings to play in all four of the team’s Super Bowls, all defeats. He kicked in 18 postseason games.

The Vikings 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.”

During his playing days he also got a chiropractor’s license.

An All-Pro in 1969, Cox twice led the league in scoring while using a square-toed shoe to do his kicking. On a team with several Hall of Famers, including Fran Tarkenton, Carl Eller, Alan Page and Paul Krause, Cox also was a standout.

But he never earned a Super Bowl victory, and once said:

“The fans have never been able to live with the fact that we lost four times,” Cox said. “But the bottom line is that for any team to get there four times is an amazing feat.”

Cox played fullback as well as kicked at Pitt. Drafted by the Browns in the eighth round in 1961, he sat out a year because of a back injury. But he learned about NFL kicking from another Hall of Famer, Cleveland’s Lou “The Toe” Groza, also a straight-on kicker.

Minnesota acquired Cox in 1962, but cut him. He made the Vikings the next year and stuck for 15 seasons.

Bud Grant, who coached those Vikings squads, told the team’s website that “Fred was the ultimate team player for us. 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 is survived by Bonnie and four children.