Cox went from Plant City High School’s gridiron to spend nine years in the NFL, but he never forgot the people he came up with. He left behind a legacy of toughness on the football field and one of kindness off of it.
If all you knew about Arthur Cox came from reading newspapers’ sports sections in the 1980s and early 1990s, you might be shocked to learn that that guy was more than just the enforcer, the very last person on the football field you’d want to be mad at you.
Cox himself would have preferred you didn’t take sportswriters’ word for it, either. They wrote plenty about him and hardly any of it was flattering. If he had the choice, he refused to talk to anyone with a recorder or a notepad for many years. Why would he have? There was always something negative to lob at him in a few column inches, something that either made him look like a villain or a replaceable part in a machine.
So you have talk to anyone else who knew him — literally anyone else — to know what Cox was really like.
“He was just an all-around beautiful person,” Lisa King, his significant other, said. “I thank God for the love that he gave me. And I was happy to be a part of his world, his life, his family.”
“The Beast,” “The Big Beer Truck,” “King Arthur” or whatever football fans near and far wanted to call him was, to hear friends and family tell it, a gentle giant who got more out of taking care of people in his life than he did out of throwing ferocious blocks on NFL legends like Jack Youngblood. Cox gave back to those who raised him, those who grew up with him and those who stuck with him through thick and thin. He loved dancing and cooking and doing whatever he could to put a smile on someone’s face.
Cox and his nine siblings grew up in Plant City. His father died when he was young, leaving mom Minnie Lee Cox to raise them all in a role as, Cox once told the Los Angeles Times, “a mom and a dad.” The kids teamed up to help with chores and did pretty much everything else together. Cox’s brother, Thomas Hudson, said he was a good kid who avoided conflict off the field whenever possible.
“Everything was good with him,” Hudson said. “He didn’t like arguing, fussing, no kind of misunderstanding. He would get up and leave, wouldn’t involve himself with that. On the field, he was different. He was ‘The Beast.’ He’s mean. He was king.”
There were several great athletes in his family, but Cox was the standout. He played tight end at Plant City High School and used his size to his advantage, becoming an excellent blocker and eventually getting his name and picture in the local news on a regular basis.
“They used to say he’d run around most of the time with his helmet off because he knocked it off running down that field,” King said. “He was just that big. To be as big and agile as he was, it was unreal. He could do a handstand, as big as he is.”
Cox went on to play college ball at Texas Southern University in Houston, which is also the alma mater of New York Giants legend Michael Strahan, and won over his new teammates with his intensity and dedication.
“He was awesome and everything he did, he wanted to be the best at it,” teammate Bruce Green said. “Shooting pool, running, catching, the whole nine — he was very determined to be the best that he could be from the start. That’s one of the things I talked to him about a few weeks before he passed. I let him know, ‘The thing I love the most about you, Cox, after your injury in college you fought back so hard through all of the adversity and then you actually made it.’ That grit, that determination, that focus was one of the most important things I ever got from him.”
Though Cox was not selected in the 1983 NFL Draft, he signed with the Atlanta Falcons and quickly worked his way into the starting role at tight end. He played there until 1987, then with the San Diego Chargers from 1988 to 1991.
During that time, Cox established himself as a man not to be messed with. Billy Joe Tolliver, his quarterback in San Diego from 1989 to 1990, once told the LA Times “Arthur Cox is tougher than a wood hauler’s ass.” Though his tough-guy persona defined the narrative about Cox in print, he gained the love and respect of many teammates and coaches just as he had done in Plant City and Houston. Many former NFL teammates even made the trek to Plant City for the July 25 graveside service and kept in touch with King.
“He was a very meek and kind man,” King said. “I can tell from all the people from the NFL that have displayed their kindness and love upon me since this happened. Some of them, I’d never met before. But they knew of me because he said to them, ‘Whatever happens, take care of my baby Lisa.’”
The Chargers waived Cox during the 1991 season and he finished that year playing in two games with the Miami Dolphins and in three with the Cleveland Browns. He retired that year at age 30 with 137 games played and 170 catches for 1,758 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Cox eventually returned to Florida and settled back down in Plant City. Though he just spent nine seasons in the NFL and made good money in the process, those around him said he was still the same guy they grew up with.
“He went through every level and he was still the same person,” Jeff Brown said. “Never changed. I never saw a bad vibe in his body. He gave whatever he could give.”
Giving became a major part of Cox’s life after the NFL. Receiving saved it. Cox battled kidney troubles for many years and got a much-needed transplant to get off of dialysis. Life with a new kidney also showed people what Cox was made of. Most people who get a living donor kidney get 10 to 12 years out of it, according to the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center of Boston. Cox got 16 years.
“He was a very neat and clean person because he knew what he had to do to stay healthy,” Hudson said.
True to form, he had volunteered in the past to be an organ donor in the event of his death.
Cox was close with many of his teammates, particularly a group of his fellow TSU Tigers including Green, Kellye Kelley and Elvis Jones. They called him “P.C.,” short for Plant City, and either lived as roommates in the TSU dormitories or were around enough to be like honorary roommates. Whatever you’d call it, they consider it a brotherhood that never tapered off, even when Cox went pro. He never forgot about those guys.
“If he had it, it was just like it was yours,” Kelley said. “That’s just the type of guy he was. He liked to see people happy. That was the most important thing to him, making people happy and making them smile.”
That dorm was also a great place to be for anyone who wanted a real meal, thanks to a competitive streak between Cox and Jones that also never ended.
“He thought he could cook and I thought I could cook, so we would have cooking competitions,” Jones said. “Even to this day, last time he was at my house he cooked a case of oxtails. I did some hot wings. Forty years later. Cooking in college, we had hot plates… everybody in the whole dormitory would be knocking on the door. You had to be VIP to get in.”
Cox loved to mentor young athletes, especially on the football field, and enjoyed visiting schools to interact with the kids.
“He used to say ‘If you make good grades, I’ll come out to your school,’” King said. “He did that with one of his nephews who was in the fifth grade, and the nephew didn’t think he was gonna show up. To this day, that nephew still has that poster.”
Cox had two daughters, Ebonee Miller and Artesha Cox. Both remember him fondly as a gentle giant.
“My dad was always bubbly, smiling, happy, cool,” Miller said. “He was a good dad. He was always a great provider for me in everything I had to do going on. I couldn’t even imagine a lot of stuff without my dad being around… we went to Disney World and I had these shoes that rubbed up against the back and gave me blisters. He would carry me through the park because I was being so dramatic, I would act like I could not walk or do anything. He carried me through the park and I was a little princess at Disney World.”
Artesha didn’t grow up with her father physically around for much of her life, but said it was all love when they finally got together.
“On simple rides to the store, I’d sit there singing and hear someone else singing, I’d look over and it was like looking in a mirror,” she said. “He showed me old videos of him dancing on the field and I just remembered growing up, my grandma would always tell me I danced and looked just like him. Once I finally saw him, it was like looking in a mirror.”
And when Artesha introduced her dad to her daughter, she said Cox was as happy about being a grandpa as anyone could ever be.
“Coming to Florida and introducing my daughter to him… the amount of love that we felt was through the roof,” she said. “I’ve never felt that before. The love he gave my daughter, the attention, their bond — I couldn’t have asked for anything better. My daughter loves football because of him. She liked sports anyway but listening to him tell her everything, she definitely grasped everything he said. We went to Chuck E. Cheese and there were the claw machines. She saw this little plastic football she had to get for my dad. We spent $15 trying to get it. He would toss that football all around the house.”
Cox, born Feb. 5, 1961, died on July 12 at age 59. His viewing and wake were held at St. Luke Independent Church, his home church, on July 24. The graveside service was held at Garden of Peace Cemetery on July 25.