NFL Legend and Nerf Football Inventor Fred Cox Dies at 80


Legendary Minnesota Vikings kicker Fred Cox, who co-invented the Nerf football so that children could enjoy the game more safely, died Wednesday night at age 80, the team announced.

The former All-Pro had been dealing with serious heart and kidney issues, and in his last days of hospice care, appeared to know that the end was near.

“My health is not good, obviously,” Cox told the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Saturday.

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“Most people think hospice care, including me, is they send you home and you die the next day,” he said. “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 was chosen out of the University of Pittsburgh by the Cleveland Browns in the eighth round of the 1961 NFL draft.

He was drafted as a fullback, according to The Washington Post, but suffered a back injury and never played a down of regular season football until 1963 for the Vikings.

At that point, he had reinvented himself as a placekicker.

Cox was successful at his new position.

He never missed a game over the next 15 seasons and was named First-Team All-Pro following the 1969 season.

Cox accumulated a Vikings team record 1,365 points over his career and went to four Super Bowls, though the Vikings lost each one.

“The Vikings mourn the loss of Fred Cox, one of our proudest legends and a member of the 50 Greatest Vikings,” the team said in a statement.

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“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.”

Cox would become known for more than just his kicking prowess.

“Fred was the ultimate team player for us,” former Vikings head coach and Pro Football Hall of Famer Bud Grant said. “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 had a great brain and was a great thinker,” legendary Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton told

“He was an intellect that I spent every morning with before we played a game. I spent more time with him than any other player. Fred was a special, special human being who will be missed.”

His talents weren’t just confined to the football field, either.

In the 1970s, he and Minneapolis-area football coach John Mattox came up with the idea for an improved Nerf football that was light up enough for children to enjoy safely but heavy enough to work properly

“Their key innovation was to pour hot liquid foam into a mold, which not only created a denser product than the Nerf balls that existed at the time but which also left a skin on the ball once the product cooled,” The Post reported.

“The weight was right,” Cox previously told

“When you threw it, it flew like a football.”

Following his playing career, Cox worked as a chiropractor.

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Joe Setyon was a deputy managing editor for The Western Journal who had spent his entire professional career in editing and reporting. He previously worked in Washington, D.C., as an assistant editor/reporter for Reason magazine.
Joe Setyon was deputy managing editor for The Western Journal with several years of copy editing and reporting experience. He graduated with a degree in communication studies from Grove City College, where he served as managing editor of the student-run newspaper. Joe previously worked as an assistant editor/reporter for Reason magazine, a libertarian publication in Washington, D.C., where he covered politics and wrote about government waste and abuse.
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