GAME OF SURVIVAL
"Believe me," Bryan Cox says, "I am truly blessed." You don't have to probe too deeply into Cox's life story to realize that he speaks with conviction. A second-year linebacker for the Dolphins, Cox grew up in one of America's worst pockets of poverty, East St. Louis, Ill., where, beginning as a teenager, he says, "carrying a gun was just like carrying a credit card—you didn't leave home without it."
Bryan's father, Ronald, whom his mother divorced soon after Bryan was born, died in the off-season of a heart attack after having spent a year in jail for dealing drugs. Bryan's older brother Tony also dealt drugs, but he avoided prison; he was only shot twice. As a youth Bryan was always getting into fights, and once, he says, he nearly beat another kid to death.
"Guys took shots at me, and I could hear the bullets go by my head," he says. "I'd just laugh about it. Most of my friends are drug dealers or in jail or dead. There's no hope there, and now it's worse than ever. The only way out is through sports."
When Cox was six, his mother, Nancy Williams, bought him some baseball equipment and dropped him off at a playing field every day. That started him on the right path, and later on Robert Shannon, his football coach at East St. Louis Senior High, made sure he kept to it. Cox played tight end and defensive end on three state 6A championship teams.
The 6'3", 235-pound Cox has been one of the biggest surprises of the season for the equally surprising Dolphins (6-1). He's fifth in the league in sacks, with eight, and has brought some of his street toughness to a defense sorely in need of aggressive players. "That's one of the things we've been trying to upgrade around here through the draft," says Miami coach Don Shula. In one game last season Cox thought the Bengals had taken a cheap shot at Dolphin kicker Pete Stoyanovich, and he ran to the Cincinnati sideline and challenged any Bengal to a fight. No one took him up on the offer.
A fifth-round draft pick out of Western Illinois, Cox started at right outside linebacker as a rookie, but he had only two sacks. He gives a large part of the credit for his improvement this season to the pass-rushing technique that he learned from former Steeler great Joe Greene, Miami's new defensive line coach. Cox had two-sack games in consecutive weeks against the Rams, the Seahawks and the Bills. What's more, just before half-time of the Seattle game, with Miami trailing 10-6, Cox fell back into man-to-man coverage on Seahawk running back John L. Williams and plucked Kelly Stouffer's pass out of Williams's outstretched arms for an interception in the end zone.
"He really hasn't been that much of a surprise to us," says Shula. "We're doing more with him this year, like sending him in after the quarterback more. He has that intense, driven spirit that I really like in a player."
"I go out every week," says Cox, "and fight hard to keep us from losing." He's winning the fight.
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