He has fought some nasty battles with the National Football
League, he has a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against a Miami
radio station, and he feels like he's at war with the good
people of Buffalo. But sometimes Bryan Cox cannot believe his
good fortune. "I'm slow, I'm kind of fat, and I'm probably the
weakest linebacker in the weight room," says the highest-paid
player in Chicago Bears history. "But I do play the game the way
it was meant to be played."
This is an article from the Aug. 1, 1996 issue
The Bears pulled the first upset of the free-agency season by
signing the game's most controversial linebacker for four years
and $13.2 million, keeping him from visiting four teams that
badly wanted him. Coach Dave Wannstedt had seen the rage in the
6'4", 250-pound native of East St. Louis, Ill., on frequent
display during Cox's five seasons with the Dolphins. And he had
to weigh whether he could handle Cox's four or five on-field
tantrums a year. "The bottom line," Wannstedt says, "is his
production, his intangibles and his leadership. He wants to win
awfully bad. All that other stuff? Not even an issue with me."
In a recent interview the 28-year-old Cox gave SI senior writer
Peter King an earful on what fuels his anger, the state of NFL
race relations and the out-of-control '95 Dolphins.
SI: Five teams--Chicago, Denver, Green Bay, San Diego and St.
Louis--were very serious about you as a free agent, and you had
tickets to visit each place after Chicago. Yet you came to
Chicago, did the deal and never gave the other teams a shot at
BC: The day free agency started, Coach Wannstedt called me at my
home and said, "Bryan, we're excited. We want you. We don't want
you to leave when you come and visit." My agent [Cliff Brady]
said, "Bryan, the money's going to be there wherever you go." I
didn't want to be in a bidding war. I wanted to be in a
situation where football is taken seriously and fans are
knowledgeable. I'm not saying they're not in those other places,
but here in Chicago there is a seven-year waiting list to get
season tickets. When it gets cold outside, the stadium's still
SI: But don't you wonder what it would have been like to get a
sales pitch from Mike Holmgren in Green Bay or from Bobby Ross
in San Diego?
BC: No, not at all. Because each of those people had an
opportunity to call me. Dave Wannstedt left 10 or 12 messages
with my agent. My wife and I decided that, football-wise, if
things were what I wanted once I got here as far as the
defensive scheme, then this is where I would be.
SI: Let's talk about that. You'll be the middle linebacker on
first and second downs, the right end--the key pass rusher--on
third down. You'll be dropping into coverage less here than in
Miami. Is that a good role?
BC: It takes advantage of my strengths. They're going to
showcase my talent, and that's getting after the quarterback.
They're going to hide my weakness. My man-to-man coverage isn't
the greatest, but it's something I never had the opportunity to
work on a lot in Miami.
SI: You're a $3-million-a-year player. How does that sound?
BC: Man, I ain't worth no damn $3 million. I don't think no one
is. I don't view myself as being good. When you talk about the
great [middle] linebackers [today], I don't mention my name with
SI: Who are they?
BC: I like Pepper Johnson as the best in the game. Byron Evans
is real good. Those two would be my picks.
SI: The word describing the Dolphins in recent years always
seems to be underachieving. Why didn't the team go further?
BC: Anytime you have a guy like Dan Marino and you don't make it
really far, you're always going to be underachievers. Last year
everybody was talking about the  No. 1 draft picks we had on
the roster. But they were No. 1 draft picks from teams that
didn't want 'em. Why did we fail? We weren't good enough. All
our coaches took abuse, but the bottom line is, it was the
players who ultimately failed as a team. The professional
attitude wasn't there. Guys would get up out of meetings and go
get haircuts. They would be in an offensive meeting, putting in
the game plan, and the guy they were putting the play in for
would be in the back, in the bathroom, getting his hair cut. And
they'd be like, "Where the hell is this guy? He's the second or
the third option. He might have to catch the ball." Guys would
come out of meetings, go use the rest room and stay in there 20
minutes. Guys were supposed to be lifting weights, and they
would be in there on the telephone. There was no way Coach [Don]
Shula could know about those things, because he would be
upstairs, or if he was in the offensive meeting, he'd sit up at
the very front. He'd never know what was going on behind him. It
was dark in the room. Unless they called out a player's name, he
wouldn't know whether he was there or not. It was that kind of
stuff that was ruining us.
There was so much bickering going on offensively, about not
getting the ball. And on defense, "Well, I'm better than this
guy. I should be the nickelback." And that's when we were 4-0.
It just got progressively worse. Then you'd have a situation
where some members of the team were going to the media saying
things about other players because they weren't making as much
money as they thought they should be. It just turned into a damn
zoo. One guy took the articles into a team meeting and said,
"Who is the sorry son of a bitch that said these things about
me? Why don't you attach your name to it and be a man, so we can
fight like men?" And nobody stood up. [Laughs.] So you know it
had to be a low-life coward that said those things.
SI: Why do you get so emotionally agitated on the field?
BC: As a professional football player, you have to be out of
your mind, first of all, to ram your body into somebody else's
body 60-some plays a game. So you have me, the slowest
linebacker in the league, the weakest linebacker in the league,
playing against guys that outweigh me by 60 or so pounds. The
only way that I can compete is to make up things in my mind. So
I make up things about a guy, that he is trying to do something
to my wife or my kids or my mom, and I make it personal, to
where I hate that guy. So if you say that somebody's trying to
kidnap your kids, and you see that guy, what are you gonna try
to do? You're gonna try to kill his ass. That's why I'm always
on the edge, and that's why I lose it sometimes, because I make
myself think that this guy either tried to break into my house
and kill my wife and kids, or he tried to rob my mom, knocked
her down and took her purse. That's why you see me so emotional.
SI: When do you work yourself into this fever pitch?
BC: Five minutes before the game, that's all it takes. And when
I see that guy, I'm trying to kill him: "You son of a bitch. You
raped my wife, and I'm killing your ass today."
SI: What do these guys say to you?
BC: "You're f------ crazy, Cox." [Laughs.] Sometimes, honest to
god's truth, I would have a guy in front of me, an offensive
lineman, say, "That son of a bitch is crazy." 'Cause I would be
kicking him and punching him and saying, "M-----f-----, I'm
killing you. You should've never did that to my family." And
this guy was like, "Is he on drugs or something?"
SI: Did anyone ever tell you that you might be crazy?
BC: [Laughs.] That's what people don't understand. You're crazy
for playing this game anyway. You're taking years off your life,
but I'll take years off my life in order to make sure that my
kids have a better life, and that my wife can live the lifestyle
that she wants, and my mom can live the lifestyle that she
wants. You know, when they tested me, they asked, "How strong is
this kid?" Not very strong. "How fast?" Well, he's the slowest
piece of s--- I've ever seen. I've got 19 percent body fat. I
don't look like an athlete. So you have to play it with the
mind. And this is a violent game. People in society say, "Oh,
this is just grown men playing a kids' sport." This is a
$2-billion-a-year industry, and this is how I feed my family. So
you play games with yourself, and when the game is over, you go
back to being dad and husband, and you don't look back.
SI: Can you shake hands with a left tackle after a game?
BC: Not unless I know him. Most times no. I don't want to,
because I want to keep that hate. It's hard to hate a friend,
and if you become friends with too many people, you'll be like,
"Man, this is a hell of a guy."
SI: How do you feel when you see yourself going nuts on a TV
BC: You get embarrassed by it. But during the game you can't
say, "Man, I'm going to look bad on TV." You're saying, "Man,
I'm going to get this m-----f-----." I'm not paid to be some
kid's daddy or the biggest role model. I'm paid to be a football
player. And I have to be the meanest, craziest hard-nosed player
that I can be in order to compete. Otherwise I'm just an average
linebacker--maybe just a special teams player.
SI: You're suing the Dolphins' flagship station, WIOD. Why?
BC: Over the course of two or three years they would get on the
air and say, "We have Bryan Cox coming into the studio for the
Bryan Cox Show." They would have this impersonator on for like
half an hour. And he would--I would--say obnoxious things like,
"Shula's a dumb coach. Marino's a horrible quarterback. I'm
going to kill him and put him in my trunk, and I'm going to
drive him and Shula way out, and then I'm going to coach and
quarterback the team." They would take shots at me, Marino,
[Dolphins owner Wayne] Huizenga, Shula. Then they got focused on
Bryan Cox because I was blowing up and all those things. So we
go out to San Diego last year, and Jim Mandich, a good friend of
mine [and a sportscaster for WIOD], said, "Bryan, can I get you
on? You've declined me all year." He gets me on and says, "O.K.,
we have Bryan Cox." So I say, "Yeah, this is Bryan Cox, and
before we get started I'd like to tell the management of WIOD to
suck my d---." So the next day they do this little skit in which
[their impersonator] says I'm gay. I'm coming out of the closet.
My wife's a lesbian, I married a man. They had people believing
it. My daughter [Lavonda] came home that day from school and she
was crying because people were teasing her. I had to sit her
down and say, "Baby, it's not true." After about a week or so
she started to laugh about it. But my wife would take my
daughter [Brittani] to day care, and people would say, "Is your
husband gay?" It became a big spectacle. And I said, "O.K., the
way I [can hurt them] is hit 'em in the pocket." I want no
apologies. I want cash. And I want some people fired.
SI: How much are you asking for?
BC: Eighteen million. [Laughs.]
SI: Do you regret giving Buffalo fans the finger in '93?
BC: The only regret I have was that kids throughout the country
got to see me in a light that wasn't very godlike. But when
you're in that frame of mind, you don't realize the things
you're doing. And when you're playing in a hostile environment,
which I like playing in, you tell yourself that it's me against
all these people. They might get me, but I'm going to get some
of these sons of bitches. It's freaky, man. I'm Dr. Jekyll and
I can remember being distracted a little bit by the phone calls
I got in my hotel room saying, "Nigger, you ain't gonna make it
out of this city alive." I got a lot of hate mail. The batteries
being thrown. The little boy with a black man hung on a string,
labeled COX 51. All those things.
SI: You were unhappy about the NFL fining you $10,000 for that
incident, and you claimed that the NFL is a racist organization.
BC: I still feel that way.
BC: I still don't like the people that run this league. I don't
respect 'em, and I'm gonna always have that opinion. The
publicity they get the game is great. But to hire all these
people that know nothing about the game, that have never played
the game, to levy fines....The people that have never played the
game are the ones regulating the game.
I can understand trying to keep a quarterback healthy, but how
many times have you seen, through a chop block or a cut block, a
defensive player get his knee blown out? But you'd better not
touch that damn quarterback, 'cause the quarterback is the what?
The most commercialized entity in the game. But a defensive
lineman? "Ah, kill him. We can get another piece of meat in
here." So we are pieces of meat in the locker room. And they've
cut us up a little bit. We're just starting to bleed. We're
hanging on that meat hook.
SI: What about the racist stuff?
BC: Well, we black athletes play this game, but when it comes to
hiring people....You mean to tell me Joe Greene has not been a
candidate for a head coaching position? You mean to tell me that
all these guys that have proven they can't win anywhere are the
answers whenever a job opening comes up--"Oh, this is our top
candidate. We want to win right now." And this guy ain't won
s--- in his whole life? I look at it this way: [Black athletes]
have always been able to jump out of the gym. We've always been
strong. I'm the slowest linebacker, I'm the weakest, I have no
athletic ability, but what am I? "Oh, he's a great athlete." How
am I a great athlete if I can't do any of that? I can think.
That's what keeps me in this league. People don't give me credit
for that--like many other blacks in this game. You hear people
on TV say, "What a great athlete. This guy can move and has
great pass-rushing ability." But when they're talking about a
white linebacker, for instance, Chris Spielman, they say, "He's
intelligent." You mean to tell me he doesn't have any ability?
He doesn't have just as much as I do? He probably could outrun
me. He probably could outlift me. Then you talk about who are
the highest-paid players in the game--who are the highest-paid
players in the game?
BC: Who happen to be...
SI: White. But you have to admit that if you don't have a good
quarterback, you don't have a team.
BC: I'm not saying anything bad about those guys. They do a damn
good job. But because of the marketability of those guys, they
don't want those guys to take hits. [San Diego linebacker]
Junior Seau can't be as marketable as those guys? [Pittsburgh
linebacker] Greg Lloyd can't be as marketable as those guys?
You've got all these black players in this league doing all the
grunt work, but when you go to market the league, who do you
use? All the white guys.
SI: Do you think black players around the league are angry about
BC: No, because black players in this league are suckers. They
don't know how to be accountable and stand up and be a man about
nothing. The thing this league can always use to keep athletes,
especially black athletes, in check is to talk about fining
them. "Oh, I ain't losing no money," they say. As opposed to
standing up for something they believe in. There're not enough
guys that do that. If I believe in something, you can take my
whole paycheck, because I'm going to fight you tooth and nail.
SI: Do you think black players have an obligation to give back
to the communities they come from?
BC: You've got so many black athletes that become successful and
turn their backs on the community. I believe I have a role in
the black community. I have a free football camp. We also put on
a basketball game. We donate money to East St. Louis High School
for them to buy new uniforms and things in the athletic
department. I go back and spend about a month and a half during
SI: Brett Favre went into rehab for a dependence on painkillers.
How widespread is this problem in the NFL?
BC: He's not the only one. This is a grueling game. You're
talking about five weeks of training camp, four preseason games,
16 regular-season games, then the playoffs. This is a meat
locker. This is high-priced prostitution. I respect him for
saying, "I need help." A lot of times you're getting s--- shoved
at you, and you don't know what the hell you're taking.
SI: If you were making an educated guess, what percentage of NFL
players do you think take significant doses of painkillers?
BC: S---. [Laughs.] Over 50. There is no way they can expect you
to play in all those practices and all those games and just take
nothing, because football is the most difficult sport there is.
That's why you only play it once a week, because you can't take
the physical pounding.
SI: The Bears have a great linebacker tradition. Mike Singletary
was number 50, Dick Butkus 51, and now you're 52. How do you
BC: That would be total disrespect to mention me in the
same breath as those guys. Butkus was the first guy that was
crazy anyway, and Singletary was such a student of the game, a
very intelligent player who controlled everything across the
board. He was a soft-spoken, quiet guy, but when he believed in
something, he would die for that cause. If I can do half as good
a job as those guys did, I'll be happy. I don't put any pressure
on myself. The one thing I tell myself every year as I prepare
to play a season is that my goals are just to play every down as
hard as I can. Whatever happens, I can live with. If I give my
best, I can't do any more. And that's my goal. Play each down
like it's my last.