July 14, 2011: Steve Cox
Steve Cox was only 8 years old at the time, but he remembers his father’s advice well.
“He said to me: ‘You know, I think kickers are going to become more and more important in football,’’’ Cox says. “He said that maybe it was time for us to start going outside so he could teach me to kick.”
Neither Cox nor his father could have dreamed at the time that those lessons eventually would lead to a Super Bowl ring.
Cox was born in May 1958 at Shreveport, but he grew up an Arkansan.
“Both of my parents were from the Shreveport area,” he says. “But my dad worked for Arkla, and the company decided to transfer him to the Fort Smith area. That’s how I got here.”
The family decided to live at Charleston.
In a 1986 Washington Post story, Christine Brennan wrote: “Cox learned his craft in the backyards and playing fields of Charleston, a town that had one street light until a truck knocked it down. The townspeople never put it back up.”
The town was famous for producing Dale Bumpers, who became governor and later a U.S. senator. It wouldn’t be long before Charleston was also famous for turning out one of the nation’s great punters and placekickers.
“My father traveled around the state for his job, but he would always get back home in time to work me out in the afternoon,” Cox told the newspaper. “One day he said: ‘See this Punt, Pass and Kick competition? Why don’t we enter it?’”
Cox, a 2004 Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee, always wore the uniform of the New Orleans Saints in those youth competitions.
“They were terrible, but I liked them,” the Louisiana native says of the Saints.
Though he would later play for the Cleveland Browns and the Washington Redskins, Cox remained a Saints fan.
Cox could punt and kick, but the passing part was a problem. Because of that, he never won a national title in his age group. He did, however, get to meet Tom Dempsey, who set an NFL record with a 63-yard field goal for the Saints. Like Dempsey, Cox was a straight-on kicker.
At age 11, Steve Cox already knew he wanted to be an NFL kicker.
He would go on to kick a 52-yard field goal for Charleston High School.
“By the time I came out of high school, Arkansas already had Steve Little as its kicker,” says Cox, who’s now a Jonesboro businessman. “The Arkansas coaches asked me to walk on, but I knew it would be two or three years before I got to kick there. In high school, I had attended a football camp at the University of Tulsa. I was really kicking well in camp. During a water break, their head coach (F.A. Dry) came over to me and said: ‘Son, would you like to kick for the University of Tulsa? I would like you to be on scholarship.’’’
Despite the fact he had grown up attending Razorback games in Fayetteville – his older sister had been a majorette there – Cox decided to be a Golden Hurricane. He knew the coaching staff from having attended football camp at Tulsa. It was not that far from Charleston. And he knew he might even kick as a freshman.
Indeed, he won the kicking job during preseason practices.
In the first game of the season, Tulsa defeated Richmond, 22-7. The Golden Hurricane lost 33-21 to Oklahoma State in the second game. They went to 2-1 on the season the following week with a 16-14 victory over Memphis.
On Sept. 25, 1976, Tulsa came into Fayetteville as a heavy underdog to a Razorback team that had won the Southwest Conference title and the Cotton Bowl the previous year. No one realized it at the time, but the Razorbacks were in their last year under Frank Broyles as coach.
Cox remembers that day well.
Little kicked a field goal of 61 yards but ended up missing several other attempts.
The freshman from Charleston, meanwhile, went three for three, and Tulsa stunned Arkansas, 9-3.
“The game really put me on the map,” Cox now says. “I had come back home and beat the home boys. People across the state noticed that this freshman had outkicked Steve Little.”
Having compiled a record of 28-16-1 the previous four seasons at Tulsa, Dry left following Cox’s freshman year to go to TCU as the head coach. He was replaced by John Cooper, who later would be the head coach at Arizona State and Ohio State. Tulsa struggled to a 3-8 record in Cooper’s first year at the helm, and Cox became unhappy.
“Coach Cooper had a different philosophy,” Cox says. “I went from trying something like 29 field goals my freshman year to only 13 tries my sophomore year. I also realized that the Southwest Conference was the kickers’ league. There was Steve Little at Arkansas, Tony Franklin at Texas A&M and Russell Erxleben at Texas. Coach Cooper initially refused to release me from my scholarship. I drove home at the end of the season, and then I drove up to Fayetteville the very next day. I talked to the coaches there about transferring. Bob Cope was the assistant who called Coach Cooper, and he later released me.”
Prior to last season’s Sugar Bowl game between Arkansas and Ohio State, Cox was walking down Bourbon Street in New Orleans when he saw Cooper.
“I started to speak to him, and then I didn’t do it,” Cox says. “I just didn’t know how he would react to seeing me after all these years. I later felt bad I hadn’t said anything. As luck would have it, I ran into him again two days later outside my hotel. This time I walked up to him, stuck out my hand and said, ‘You may not remember me, but I’m Steve Cox.’ He said, ‘Yeah, you left me.’ But then he added, ‘You did the right thing.’ That meant a lot to me.”
Cox enrolled at Arkansas and sat out the 1978 season. He had not punted at Tulsa, but Lou Holtz added punting duties at Arkansas in 1979.
“Ish Ordonez kicked the year I laid out, and Bruce Lahay was also in the mix when I got there,” Cox says. “When I came on the scene, I punted, kicked off and tried the long field goals.”
During his senior season in 1980, Cox led the nation in punting with a 46.5-yard-per-punt average.
Cox ended his college career as a two-time All-SWC choice. He was named to All-America teams by UPI, the Sporting News, College & Pro Football Newsweekly and the Football News.
Cox made the squad at Cleveland after being drafted in the fifth round and played for the Browns from 1981-84. He was a punter, a kickoff specialist and the long field goal kicker. On Oct. 21, 1984, Cox kicked a 60-yard field goal against Cincinnati. At the time, it was the second longest field goal in NFL history behind Dempsey’s kick. There have now been seven field goals of 60 yards or longer in NFL history, but Dempsey and Cox are the only straight-on kickers in that elite group.
In 1983, Cox had hit a 58-yard field goal for the Browns.
The Browns dismissed Cox on the final cut prior to the 1985 season. He returned to Jonesboro, his wife’s hometown, where he had been working in the banking business during previous offseasons. Having majored in finance in college, Cox went back to work at the bank.
Fate was kind to him.
“I remember how upset I was that the Browns had cut me,” he says. “It was late, and the rosters were set on the other teams. I was so angry. Now I look back and realize that if they had not cut me, I never would have had the chance to win a Super Bowl ring.”
Redskins punter Jeff Hayes was injured early in the 1985 season, and Cox got the call to punt for the Redskins. He attempted (and missed) only one field goal that season, a 48-yard attempt. By 1986, however, he was trying more long field goals for the Redskins. Veteran Mark Moseley, 10 years older than Cox, kicked field goals from 52 yards in, depending on conditions. Cox came in for the longer attempts. Ironically, Cox and Moseley were the final two straight-on kickers in the NFL.
“There’s no doubt in my mind we are the perfect tandem,” Cox said in that 1986 Washington Post story.
The Redskins won Super Bowl XXII in January 1988 against the Denver Broncos, 42-10. Cox punted four times and kicked off seven times in that game. He had his Super Bowl ring.
Following the 1988 season, he retired. He returned to Jonesboro and became heavily involved in hotel, banking and farming businesses.
His father’s hunch when Steve Cox was age 8 had paid off handsomely – Rex Nelson.