Watching sports got us through the winter in Edina, Minnesota. My dad was a Sports Fan. Our family of five had four season tickets for every Minnesota sports team. We had tickets to the Minnesota Kicks before anyone in Edina knew what soccer was.
But my Dad’s true love was the Vikings.
These were the Fran Tarkenton years; the Bud Grant dynasty, and we didn’t miss a home game. Dad would have us loaded into the car for the short ride to the Met Stadium an hour and a half before the game so we could watch warm ups. Whoever was sitting out the game, went to a friend’s house to watch on TV. But usually, my mom offered to stay home.
Our seats were in the middle of the Vikings’ office staff seats. This was a rowdy group, who talked and cheered the entire time. Being a kid, I didn’t listen to the gossip from the office. It must have been priceless. I do remember the sound of the massive down snowmobiling mittens the man in back of me wore. When the other team had the ball, he would start a slow, steady clap with these mittens that would incite the entire Met Stadium to start clapping along and screaming “DEFENSE!”
By November, I understood why my Mom stayed home. Winter games, it seemed, were better on TV. Trekking up the ramps to our seats was like walking up Everest. We carried “stadium bags” that most likely were purchased from some government Antarctica expedition catalog. Even the steam and the smell of the boiling brats couldn’t keep us warm. At home, before being rounded up into the car, we developed “Stall Techniques” to keep us out of the cold for as long as possible.
My older brother, Martin, was good at walking slow. He’d meander out of his room while the rest of us waited, sweating profusely in woolens inside the Riviera, breathing in the exhaust fumes inside the garage. My younger brother, Paul, would hum the Mission Impossible theme song. Dad would pull out and start down the block when Paul would say he forgot the binoculars. We’d drive back and pull into the garage. I’d say I had to use the bathroom about the time we’d get to the entrance to the Hiway.
The warmer games were great, even if we had to watch through binoculars to get a good look at the boy’s gym teacher, Mr. Fisher, who had a weekend job as a line ref.
Then something wonderful happened in Edina. Fred Cox, the Vikings’ kicker, moved in across the street.
At the time, he had three young kids and I was just at babysitting age. I had a job. I suppose I watched those kids while the Cox’s went to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with Alan Page, or maybe when they dined at Perkins with Gene Washington. The boys I knew at Southview Junior High were more than envious.
I remember the youngest Cox, little Freddy, had a passion for taking off his clothes and running out of the house and down the street. I would chase after that cute little naked toddler for what seemed like all night. Eventually, I lost the job to my neighbor, Sue Trussel. Sue would take the Cox kids up to the Valley View Drug Store and let them pick out any candy they wanted.
One day Mrs. Cox called me over and asked if I would like to do Fred’s fan mail for him. I was paid three cents a letter. I’d “autograph” the 8X10 of Freddy the Foot, put it in a big manila envelope and address the letter to the fan. Sue Trussel might have been an entrepreneur, but I was a budding writer. I would read letters that Fred Cox received from fans and I couldn’t help write back. It seemed I was a sucker for a kid’s scrawling, misspelled print and story.
Some kids would send football plays drawn out in crayon, complete with X’s, arrows, and lines. There were detailed instructions for Mick Tingelhoff and Lonnie Warwick and for Fred to play out.
“Great idea!!,” I’d write back, “I will show this to Bud.” (Thinking that Fred Cox probably was on first name basis with Bud Grant.)
One kid wrote that there was a mean kid at his school. He said that this mean kid told him “Fred Cox could care less about you. He’ll never write you back.” I sent him two autographed pictures (one for the bully) and told him to tell the kid that he was wrong.
On vacation one summer in El Paso, Texas, I saw the autographed photo “Fred” had sent to my little cousin, Timmy. It was framed and on his bedroom wall.
The years went by and I kept that job and my secret. But the highlight of having the Viking’s all time leading scorer across the street from us came one late August day when I was outside playing football on the street with my brothers and a couple of their friends. It was a typical game for the only girl in the neighborhood in the 70’s. No one was throwing to me. And then, out came Fred. Everyone froze and muttered shy “hi’s.”
He asked, “Can I play?”
Someone screamed, “You bet!!”
He said, “I’m on Maggie’s team. The rest of you over there.” And he pointed to the other side.
“We kick off," he said. Everyone lined up and I went up to the ball. He signaled for me to throw it to him. I passed it underhand and Fred Cox kicked. The ball rocketed over the boy’s heads. In slow motion, television style, it sailed down the block past three houses and the intersection. The boys laughed and turned to chase it. It took a bounce at the end of our street, Ashcroft Avenue, and headed down the steep hill on 62nd street.
As I lost sight of the boys running down 62nd, I turned and looked at Fred. He smiled, nodded, and walked back into his house.