Former Vikings Kicker Fred Cox, Who Co-Invented the Nerf Football, Dies at 80

Helen Murphy

Fred Cox, a former kicker for the Minnesota Vikings and the co-inventor of the Nerf football, died on Wednesday, the Vikings announced. He was 80.

The football team announced the news in a statement on Thursday, writing, “The Vikings mourn the loss of Fred Cox, one of our proudest legends and a member of the 50 Greatest Vikings. 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,” the statement added.

According to ESPN, Cox played 15 seasons for the Vikings from 1963 to 1977, never missing a single game. When he retired, he had scored 1,365 points — making him the second-highest scorer in National Football League history at the time. Cox remains the Vikings’ all-time leading scorer.

ESPN also reports that Cox helped the Vikings go to four Super Bowls, and his team won the final NFL Championship Game in 1969.

However, Cox’s career didn’t end when he left the Vikings.

According to the Washington Post, in 1971, six years before he retired from professional football, Cox and a Minneapolis-area football coach named John Mattox began working on a prototype for a lighter version of a football that they could use while playing with children.

The result was the iconic foam-based Nerf football toy. Mattox and Cox presented their invention to Parker Brothers, who had previously made round foam balls for kids, and later partnered with the company.

The athlete also worked as a chiropractor after his retirement from football, the Post reported. He is survived by his wife, Bonnie, and his four children.

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Cox recently told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that he was dealing with kidney and heart issues and was living in hospice care.

“Most people think hospice care, including me, is they send you home and you die the next day. … I don’t know,” he told the newspaper. “Whatever that means, I’m not going to be around a long time. I’ll be here until I’m gone, and I’m okay with that. … Nobody’s going to live forever and nobody’s going to live more than I did.”

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“He had a great brain and was a great thinker,” Cox’s former teammate Fran Tarkenton told Vikings.com. “Fred was a great businessman and invented the Nerf football. 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.”