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Ex-Vikings kicker Fred Cox, inventor of Nerf football, dies at 80

Kicker Fred Cox, the Minnesota Vikings' all-time leading scorer and the inventor of the Nerf football, died Wednesday at the age of 80, the team announced.

Cox never missed a game in 15 seasons for the Vikings from 1963-77. He finished his career with 1,365 points and led the Vikings in scoring for 11 consecutive seasons. In addition to winning the final NFL Championship Game in 1969, he also went to four Super Bowls with the Vikings -- all losses.

When he retired, he was second in NFL history in scoring behind George Blanda -- who also played quarterback -- and had made 282 field goals.

"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. "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."

In 1972, while still playing for the Vikings, Cox came up with the idea of a soft football to prevent leg injuries to kids. He and partner John Mattox, a local entrepreneur, took a mold of a full-sized football and injected it with soft foam rubber material. The result was the Nerf football.

"The weight was right," Cox told Vikings.com several years ago. "When you threw it, it flew like a football."

He and Mattox took their sample to Parker Brothers, which had produced the earlier round Nerf balls, and they loved it.

Cox was born on Dec. 11, 1938, in Monongahela, Pennsylvania. He went to Pitt and was drafted as a running back by the Cleveland Browns. Cox shifted to kicking because of a back injury and learned the trade under the legendary Lou Groza.

Cox, one of the league's last straight-on placekickers, was traded to the Vikings and joined the team in 1963. He often kicked in nasty conditions because the Vikings played outdoors.

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.

"He had a great brain and was a great thinker," Tarkenton told Vikings.com. "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."

After football, Cox became a chiropractor and settled in Minnesota.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.