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Fred Cox (1938–2019), Vikings kicker co-invented Nerf football

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Holds Vikings’ scoring record with 1,395 points

Fred Cox was a professional football player who played 15 seasons as kicker for the Minnesota Vikings. He set the franchise scoring record with 1,395 points having made 282 field goals and 519 extra points. He played for the Vikings from 1963 to 1977, playing in all four of their Super Bowl appearances during the 1970s.  

In 1971 he collaborated with John Mattox, a local football coach, to create a better football for a children’s kicking game he was developing. The two settled on injecting hot liquid foam into a mold, creating a soft, but weighty ball with a smooth skin. Parker Brothers marketed the new ball as the Nerf football. 

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Died: Wednesday, November 20, 2019 (Who else died on November 20?)  

Details of death: Died in Monticello, Minn. at the age of 80.


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“I want that ball:” Cox and Mattox took their backyard field-goal kicking game to Parker Brothers, who had recently started selling soft Nerf foam balls for indoor play. Halfway through their presentation the man from Parker Brothers shut down their pitch, telling them he didn’t want their game, but he wanted the ball.  

Notable quote: “They had been trying to make a Nerf football for three years. They were trying to make them the same way as their round balls, taking a block of foam and using a hot wire to cut balls out of the foam. Their footballs had holes in them. They had tried everything except for injection molding them,” he told Vikings.com several years ago.  

What people said about him: “He had a great brain and was a great thinker. 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.” —Fran Tarkenton, former Vikings quarterback and teammate  

Full obituary: The Washington Post  

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