In honor of the NFL season opener tonight, here's a great story from our files about former Vikings great Fred Cox, when he moved to Edina next door to Maggie Smith (now Stewart). If you have a great story to tell, submit yours by Oct. 1 to the Edina Reads writing contest, which is part of the official events for the city's Quasquicentennial, marking Edina's 125th year.
By Maggie Smith Stewart
Watching sports got us through the winter in Edina. 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. My mom always 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!”
Maggie Smith and her two brothers.
By November, my brothers and I started offering to stay home with a friend. 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.”
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 France Avenue.
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. Apparently 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 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.
The glasses, without the story, are worth about a buck. Purchased in bulk from Oriental Trading Company, they're the cheap plastic kind you wear for a costume party if you want to look like Buddy Holly or Clark Kent.
Or Art Downey.
If you don't know who Art Downey is, where have you been for the past 55 years? Apparently not in Edina. For more than half a century, Mr. Downey has coached the Hornets swimming and diving teams. As you can see in one of his earliest yearbook photos above, Art Downey wore that same style of spectacles when he first came to Edina. He's still wearing the same kind of frames today.
"Art has been an icon, and his glasses have been an icon. He has not changed glasses from when he started coaching," said Rick Ringeisen, the head coach for the Lakeville South Swimming and Diving team, in an interview with KARE 11 news (see video below).
Indeed, Ringeisen passed out 150 pairs of black, horn-rimmed style glasses to people at the meet -- all to honor Art Downey. "Art has literally won every honor that you can win as a coach, and many of them multiple times. He's in eight different hall of fames. So we thought what's the highest form of flattery but imitation," Ringeisen said.
The human interest feature received great media coverage, from television, the Minnesota State High School League (see page 21 of Spring 2011 publication) and local online newspaper Edina Patch. In the past, we might have saved newspaper clippings and filed them in our biography archives under "Downey, Art." As more media becomes digital, we now have to think about how to preserve the new media.
Edina Patch graciously honored our request to get copies of the photos they ran on their web site.
We also hunted down the glasses.
Or, I should say, John Soma, Assistant Principal and Activities Director at Edina High School, did on our behalf. The party-favor style glasses will join our collection of objects that tell the story of Edina -- right there with police officer George Weber's gun, badge and whistle, a crazy quilt sewn by pioneer women in the Grimes family, a scale used at Gregg's Pharmacy, and thousands of other items.
The glasses aren't worth much now, I know. Moreover, when I imagine an "Antiques Roadshow" type appraisal in 100 years, I don't think the value will rise much over time.
Without the story, the glasses are still black plastic frames with no lenses sold in bulk. However, with the story, they're priceless. That's why we are happy to have them in our collection.
(Note: Like other collectors, I have a hard time calling a collection complete. As I was doing research for the Art Downey file, I saw a bobble head of the coach on the team's Facebook page. I would love to add one to our collection.... anyone?)
Please contact me if you would like to donate an object with a great Edina story.
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Jennifer Adam is the Executive Director of the Edina Historical Society. She welcomes your contributions. Comment on a post or send an email (see below). Traditional mail, of course, can also be sent to:
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