As an NFL player, Bryan Cox was a contrast in personality.
Off the field, he was affable, generous, kind, and a loving father and husband.
On the field, Cox was a Tasmanian Devil who cursed like a sailor, flipped off opposing crowds, and fed off aggression, hate, and rage.
A fifth-round pick of the Miami Dolphins out of Western Illinois, Cox wasn’t fast, not overly big, and a little doughy.
Instead of letting those characteristics define him, Cox turned his perceived negatives and used them as fuel.
Very cool that Bryan Cox's neck roll matches the Dolphins team colors. pic.twitter.com/uhvIoCu1jd
— FB_Helmet_Guy (@FB_Helmet_Guy) August 23, 2023
He bashed and smashed everything in his path and was a starter as a rookie.
Over the next decade, Cox played for five different teams and won a Super Bowl.
Along the way, he made Pro Bowls as well as enemies of opposing fans.
Since retiring, Cox has remained in the NFL as a coach.
This is the story of Bryan Cox.
East St. Louis
Bryan Keith Cox Sr. was born on February 17, 1968, in East St. Louis, Illinois.
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) February 17, 2023
He was prepared for the eventual brutality of the NFL as a youth growing up in East St. Louis.
Cox’s mother and stepfather were one of the few families in the area that made decent money from their jobs and didn’t need to rely on public assistance.
That wasn’t the case for many in their neighborhood.
Cox was the youngest of four, but he was well aware of the dangers of humanity as he saw it every day.
As he later told Sports Illustrated, one neighbor was a drug dealer and the residence across the street housed a local gang.
That same home was set ablaze one day by a rival gang trying to send a message.
Cox’s block was so tough that home invasion and robbery were commonplace, except for the Cox house, that is.
“People would break into every house on the block but ours, knowing that my brother Tony would fight them,” Cox said. “Tony wasn’t in a gang. He didn’t need to be.”
Tony Cox ended up with a bullet in his hip from battling drug goons, but he and Chris Cox (Bryan’s other older brother) made sure to steer Bryan away from the gang lifestyle.
Bob Shannon and the Flyers
Thankfully, Bryan Cox was also looked out for by his teachers as well as his East St. Louis High School football coach, Bob Shannon.
Shannon expected his players to excel in the classroom as well as on the field.
Heeding the life and football lessons taught by Shannon, Cox devoted himself to school, sports and work.
Greatest #HSFB Teams of All Time 🏈
7. 1985 East St. Louis High School
Location: East St. Louis, Illinois
Head Coach: Bob Shannon
⭐️ Player: LB Bryan Cox
— stadiumtalkcom (@stadiumtalkcom) November 18, 2022
He played football as well as baseball for the Flyers and made sure to be on time for his fast-food job.
“Bryan once had the bus stop on the way back from a high school baseball game so that he could phone and tell Taco Bell that he’d be late to work,” Cox’s former home ec teacher, Louise Bauer, said proudly in 1993.
When he was with his family and friends, Cox was jovial and enjoyed having a good time.
However, when he stepped foot on the gridiron, a switch flipped.
“In the ghetto,” said Cox years later, “if you want my respect, you have to respect me. If you’ve got a problem, you light your way out. If I hit you, you’re going to sleep.”
Cox and his teammates put a lot of opponents to sleep in the mid-1980s.
At the time, Coach Shannon’s Flyers were one of the best high school football programs in the country, let alone the state of Illinois.
On the way to the ‘85 state championship game, Cox and crew bagged three picks for touchdowns in a single quarter of a playoff game.
Furthermore, the Flyers teams from ‘83-’86 won 44 consecutive games before losing to rival Granite City to snap the streak.
The two schools met again in the playoffs and Cox got some payback when he knocked out four Granite City Warriors during the contest.
Western Illinois University
After high school graduation, Cox stayed near home to attend Western Illinois University and play football for the Leathernecks.
He played right away during his freshman year as a backup in the secondary and had 30 tackles.
In 1988, the Leathernecks won their first nine games before finishing the season 10-1 and losing to Western Kentucky in the First Round of the I-AA playoffs.
Cox didn’t start, but he saw enough snaps at linebacker to net 54 tackles, snag two interceptions, block three kicks, and forced four fumbles.
Finally a starter as a junior in 1989, Cox played his heart out and was named the team’s MVP, even though Western Illinois fell to 4-7.
All-Time #HSFootball GOATs From Every State 🐐
Illinois: Bryan Cox, Linebacker
High School: East St. Louis High (East St. Louis)
Graduation year: 1986
College: Western Illinoishttps://t.co/FX9z6tF5cy pic.twitter.com/VaJxUNpi6P
— stadiumtalkcom (@stadiumtalkcom) June 14, 2023
That same year, Cox visited the family of his future wife in South Chicago and came face to face with his own mortality.
It just so happened that Cox was wearing the color red and was in an area where that color was frowned upon.
A gang member wearing blue approached Cox with a pistol, pointed it at Cox, and was ready to take his life.
“I looked him in the eye and said, ‘If you’re going to shoot me, shoot me,’ ” Cox recalled. “Then I calmly walked to my car, got in and drove off. I didn’t panic. If I’d run, he would have plugged me.”
With that life-threatening experience behind him, Cox returned to Western Illinois for his senior year in 1990 and tried to win every game by himself.
The Leathernecks went 3-8, but Cox tackled, sacked, intercepted and hammered anyone who had a ball.
He led the team in tackles and interceptions and was named an All-American and first-team All-Gateway Conference.
Additionally, Cox was also selected as the Gateway Conference’s Defensive Player of the Decade.
He was inducted into WIU’s Hall of Fame in 2008.
Fifth Round Pick
As good as Cox was for Western Illinois, pro scouts wondered if his 5.0 seconds, 40-yard dash time would make him a tad slow in the NFL.
With pick 113 in the 1991 NFL Draft, the #Dolphins selected Bryan Cox, LB, Western Illinois.
He posted a very poor #RAS with good size, v.poor speed, poor explosiveness, at the LB position.
He went to three pro bowls in his career. pic.twitter.com/nXs9gKHcqL
— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) May 22, 2019
He was also six foot, four inches, but carried nearly 250 pounds on his frame, leading those same scouts to believe Cox couldn’t motor well enough to stop pro ballcarriers.
The Miami Dolphins liked him well enough that they selected Cox with the 113th overall pick in the fifth round of the 1991 NFL Draft.
Throwback Thursday With Some Bryan Cox Highlights. #Finsup
.#nfl #Miami #dolphins #fins4life #dolfans #reels #instagramreels #miamidolphins #highlights #sportsedits #football pic.twitter.com/V0nMCgC8hR
— Fins Bandits (@DolFanBandits) December 15, 2022
By the end of his first training camp, the Dolphins coaches realized they had snagged a gem.
Playing alongside veterans Hugh Green, David Griggs, and Cliff Odom, Cox started 13 games for the 8-8 Fins.
His new teammates quickly learned that Cox was intense on the field and they could rely on him to have their backs.
During a Week 15 contest against the Cincinnati Bengals, Cox was playing on the Miami kickoff team and noticed Dolphins kicker Pete Stoyanovich get hammered by a Bengals player.
Enraged, Cox sprinted over to the Cincinnati sideline and challenged the entire bench to a fight.
“I noticed that the linebacker who hit Pete was laughing,” said Cox. “So I suggested if he wanted to hit somebody bigger, he ought to go ahead and hit me. Well, he stopped laughing.”
After netting 61 tackles and two sacks in his rookie year, Cox led the team in 1992 with 127 tackles, 14 sacks, five forced fumbles, along with one interception, leading to his first of three career Pro Bowls.
— Pro Athlete Pic Page (@ProAthletePicPg) November 2, 2014
Miami went 11-5 and advanced to play the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship game before losing 29-10.
Cox Takes on Buffalo
In 1993, the Fins took a small step back with a 9-7 record and missed the playoffs.
Despite the setback, Cox kept playing at a high level and made enemies everywhere he went.
Dolphins standout LB, Bryan Cox (91-95) 3X ProBowl, 3X AllPro, Career year in 92', 14 sacks, 127 tackles, 1 INT, 5 FF. Flipped the Bills off pic.twitter.com/uvIKqRoyUL
— Miami Dolphins🐬🆙 (@AquaAndOrange13) May 27, 2017
Even to his coaches, it was obvious that Cox had talent, but he was a little unhinged.
“I love his aggressiveness,” said then-Miami head coach Don Shula. “But he’s got to be careful not to go too far and get thrown out of games.”
Unfortunately, that just wasn’t Cox’s style.
During a 1992 game against the Raiders, Cox and LA tight end Andrew Glover got into it during the middle of a play.
Cox didn’t like Glover’s attitude and proceeded to rip off his helmet then punch the tight end in the face several times.
When the Fins traveled to Buffalo to face the Bills near the beginning of the 1993 season, Cox took exception to the local fans and called them “a different breed of species.”
Bryan Cox somewhere out there HAPPY that MIAMI beat Buffalo 😂 pic.twitter.com/YF3f4CpzyD
— Tua 4 MVP (@LeftArmGod) September 25, 2022
Cox also took a moment to show the Buffalo crowd his middle digits.
The gestures resulted in a fine by the NFL and the ire of Bills fans.
Three seasons later, during Shula’s final year with the organization, the Dolphins went to Buffalo and Cox once again stirred the pot.
At one point during the contest, he picked a fight with Bills fullback Carwell Gardner, leading to his ejection from the game.
As he was leaving the field, Cox jawed with Bills fans and spat in their general direction.
Once again, he was fined by the league.
What was so vexing to those who knew him best was, away from the game, Cox was an angel.
“My job would be 20 times easier if I had 50 more like him,” said Fudge Browne, the Dolphins’ community relations director. “He’s polite, respectful, courteous and never thinks of putting himself ahead of anyone. My biggest problem is getting him out of these places. He signs every autograph, talks to the kids forever. He’s the best.”
For his part, Cox knew he was wrong for his on-field actions, but he couldn’t hide from his ugly side when he needed it most.
“The game I play is a violent, tough game,” said Cox. “It’s emotional. Sometimes you’re going to fly off the handle. That’s my personality.”
Cox Signs With Chicago
In 1994 and 1995, Cox was selected to the Pro Bowl both years after racking up a combined 219 tackles, 10.5 sacks, five forced fumbles and an interception.
That didn’t stop Miami from letting their star linebacker become a free agent.
Not long after his release, Cox was signed by the Chicago Bears.
During his two years with the club, the Bears won only 11 total games, but Cox brought the thunder.
— ChiFanDaddy ⚾️🥎⚽️🎸 (@ChiFanDaddy) September 3, 2018
Sports Illustrated interviewed Cox early in the 1996 season and he revealed why he got so emotional during games.
“I make up things, like the guy I’m playing against has just done something evil to my wife or my kids or my mom. If somebody has just kidnapped your kids, what are you going to do? You’re going to try to kill his ass,” Cox said.
His thought process brought more fights and more fines for Cox in Chicago.
Even worse, Cox’s wife and mother were aghast with his behavior.
My Dad and I loved watching Bryan Cox play LB on the Jets & Pats with that crazy necj padding sticking out behind him! Here's a great pic 🖕 pic.twitter.com/rKFZAw6BBO
— Max Margulis (@MaxsAllStars) January 23, 2017
It baffled them that the man they loved so much, who donated hours and money to good causes, could be such a lunatic.
“Man, I was just struggling with it,” Cox said in 1997. “I was thinking, Damn, is my wife going to divorce me? And, Damn, I got my mom crying about me. And all these fines, and the world’s looking down on me and saying I’m a crazy idiot. And I’m sitting there wondering, Why do I do this stuff?”
Cox was beloved in the Chicago locker room, but even his Bears teammates saw his dark side.
“This guy is always happy. It’s just that, when it comes close to game time, he’s got this switch,” Bears defensive tackle Paul Grasmanis said.
Cox is a Jet
Cox played two years in the Windy City and was on the move again in 1998, this time to the New York Jets.
Then-Jets head coach Bill Parcells was excited to get a player of Cox’s caliber, even with his raw emotion.
“I know Bryan and have been coaching against him for a number of years,” Parcells said. “I’ve been lucky with veterans like this, O.J. Anderson, Everson Walls, and nobody was more outspoken than Everson was. They just want to know what you want. If you get that squared away, it’s okay. We need somebody with a little fire around here. It might help.”
The year before Cox arrived in the Big Apple, the Jets went 9-7.
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) May 23, 2021
With their new linebacker starting 10 times in ‘98 alongside veterans Pepper Johnson, Mo Lewis, and James Farrior, New York won 12 games and met the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game before losing, 23-10.
In 1999, Cox scored his second NFL touchdown on a 27-yard interception return while the Jets went 8-8 in Pacells’ final year with the organization.
Then, after a 2000 season in which he had 81 tackles, six sacks, five passes defended, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries, Cox was released.
New England and a Super Bowl
Although he had played a decade in the NFL, Cox wasn’t quite ready to hang up his cleats.
Bryan Cox more days until Patriots football! pic.twitter.com/oBQa1YBPYG
— Boston Cream 🍩 (@itsbostoncream) September 8, 2019
Second-year New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick knew Cox well and signed him in early August of 2001.
“I’m a run-stopper and a pass-rusher, that’s what I am,” Cox said after signing with New England. “If you look at my history, I’ve been a leader wherever I’ve been. I still think I can play … I’m not a player that you can build a team around any more, but I am very capable of doing what is asked of me.”
Not much was expected of Cox or the Patriots in ‘01.
The team looked like it was headed for a mediocre season when franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe went down with a season-ending injury in the second week and little-known backup Tom Brady took over.
July 31, 2001
LB Bryan Cox is signed to a free agent contract by the Patriots
Cox’s hit on the Colts Jerome Pathon in Tom Brady’s first start has been given credit for igniting the 2001 Patriots teampic.twitter.com/XxUYEIDxUd
— Boston Sports Info (@bostonsportsinf) July 30, 2023
After splitting the next two games, the Pats and Brady caught fire, winning nine of the next 11 games.
Cox started seven games and was surrounded by a linebacker group that included Teddy Bruschi, Larry Izzo, Ted Johnson, Roman Phifer, and Mike Vrabel.
With their 11-5 record, New England beat the Raiders and Steelers in the playoffs before taking on the high-flying St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
The Rams were favored by two touchdowns before the contest, but the Pats proved to be better than advertised.
At the final whistle, Cox had his first Super Bowl ring after New England upset St. Louis, 20-17.
Cox is a Saint
Not long after the Super Bowl, Cox was not re-signed by New England and he became a free agent again.
In March 2002, he was picked up by the New Orleans Saints who viewed the volatile linebacker as a leader.
“We’re young in some areas, and what Bryan will bring is leadership,” said Saints general manager Randy Mueller. “His dedication to the game and his toughness tends to rub off on those around him, and that’s what we need.”
During the Saints 9-7 season, Cox started one game and had just four tackles and one pass defended.
Once the regular season ended, so did Cox’s career as he decided 12 years was long enough.
During his career, Cox won a Super Bowl and was a three-time Pro Bowler.
He accumulated 939 total tackles, 51.5 sacks, 15 fumble recoveries including one for a score, 22 forced fumbles, 10 passes defended, and four interceptions with one pick-six.
Cox Becomes a Coach
For a few years after his retirement, Cox worked for TVG Network and Fox Sports Radio as a football analyst.
Wanting more, he then got into coaching in 2006 and returned to the Jets as an assistant defensive line coach for three years.
Cox then spent two seasons with the Cleveland Browns before one year with the Dolphins as a pass rush specialist.
During the 2011 season, Cox helped Miami rushers get 41 sacks, landing the team in the top 10 in total sacks.
In 2012 and 2013, Cox worked with Gerald McCoy and others in Tampa Bay as defensive line coach.
McCoy used Cox’s tutoring and netted 14 total sacks and 36 quarterback hits in two years, which led to his first Pro Bowl in 2012.
Cox moved on to the Atlanta Falcons in 2014 and was on staff as defensive line coach when the organization advanced to Super Bowl LI against New England after the 2016 season.
— History of Sports (@BeforeFamePics) December 2, 2015
He was then out of football for a few years before returning to coach with the New York Giants in 2022.
Cox is still with the franchise today.
One of Cox’s five children, Bryan Jr., played college football as a defensive end at Florida and then spent five years in the NFL before signing with Saskatchewan of the CFL in 2022.
Coincidently, one of the teams Cox Jr. played for was the Buffalo Bills from 2021-2021.
Letting bygones be bygones, Bills Mafia forgave his father’s actions against them in the ’90s and embraced Cox’s son with open arms.