Chip Cox has already proven he’s a man of his word. So I have to believe him when he claims he didn’t know he was leading CFL in tackles or that he’s on a record-setting Alouettes and Canadian Football League pace.
“The only stat I know is 3-5,” he insisted on the eve of his 9 tackle performance leading the Als to a 20-9 upset win over the first-place Argos. “I know we’re not in first.”
At age 5 Cox told his parents he’d be a pro football player. At age 7 he told his 2nd Grade teacher, “you know, I really don’t need school, because I’m going to play football for a living.”
“Then my junior year in college one of my teachers said ‘what are you going to do for a living?’,” the former Ohio Bobcat recalls. “I said ‘Well, I’m going to play football...I just have to worry about what I’m going to do AFTER football.’”
True to his word, at age 30 he’s not just making a living.
Cox is proving worthy of mid-season Most Outstanding Defensive Player consideration. Not bad for a former college corner the NFL’s Lions worked out at safety, then debuted in Canada as a defensive halfback followed by mid-career switch to SAM linebacker.
“My family. My wife and kids, I have a really strong passion for them. Nothing’s more important than them. That’s why I go home at least a couple of times a month and they’re up here a few times a month. Family is first."
- Montreal Alouettes LB Chip Cox
“At the beginning of the year we knew what coach (defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe) wanted, now we’re starting to understand WHY he wants it,” Cox explains. “When you’re able to understand what he wants, why he wants it, it allows you to play a lot freer with a lot less thinking.”
Not that Cox has a problem with being the thinking man’s tackler. His powers of play recognition and anticipation leave teammates and coaches raving.
“His willingness to pursue the football...his motor always runs high,” praises Thorpe. “He takes pride in performance.”
“It’s like he has a photographic memory and at film study he sits in front of the class. Chip knows who he is and what he is.”
That may not be entirely true. Overheard on a recent road trip, Cox earnestly debated the merits of movie and comic book superheroes with teammates.
“I just tell everybody I’m a superhero, but I’m human...I’m the closest to a superhero you can get.”
If he’s got “Spidey senses” that tingle, and sticks to ball-carriers in the open field or to receivers in coverage, and let’s precious few QBs out of his web-like grasp, I suggest his secret identity: Spiderman.
“I think Superman’s better than Spiderman,” Cox insists.
This unwilling Peter Parker does have another power that helps him cut through opponents. Growing up, he discovered a love of martial arts.
“I have a 2nd degree black in tae kwon do.”
His 5’9, 185 disguises his remarkable hand and forearm strength. Sideline-to-sideline he may as well be spinning a web any size.
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The voice of the Als on CJAD, Rick Moffat has sideline-to-sideline coverage of the Montreal Alouettes all season long here on CFL.ca.
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Linebacker coach Mark Nelson says: “Chip comes to practice with one speed and its fast. He’s very competitive. It’s in his nature.”
“He can cover like a corner and hit like a linebacker.”
The man who brought Cox to Montreal after writing the scouting reports himself, Jim Popp, recalls that Cox was leery of the switch to SAM at first.
“Then he learned the impact he could have,” says Popp. “We let a good player go to move him in there”. (TJ Hill of the Esks, one of his top competitors on the tackle list to this day).
“It wasn’t so much the move for me, it hurt me more to see my teammate TJ leave,” reveals Cox. “The change wasn’t that big of a deal. At the time it was like ‘wow, it sucked for TJ’ because he was an all-star the year before. To see him go was sad.”
“I have the utmost faith in Jim because he’s always doing what’s best for the team, not individuals.”
The weakness that will prevent this hero from threatening the all-time CFL tackle record is also his strength.
“My family. My wife and kids, I have a really strong passion for them. Nothing’s more important than them. That’s why I go home at least a couple of times a month and they’re up here a few times a month. Family is first.
“My parents have been at most of my home games, in fact this is the first year my Dad has missed a home game and my Mom hasn’t made it up to a game yet. They never missed a college or high school game.”
Cox was a weekly game captain under Dan Hawkins and Coach Popp says letting Cox keep ‘the C’ was as “easy a decision” as he’s had.
“Chip sees blocks coming, anticipates so well, he just sees where a play is going and gets there. Barron Miles had that instinct. Chip has it and closes so fast. He’s a great open field tackler.”
“My Dad always told me ‘if you’re around the ball, you’ll have a job,” Cox says matter-of-factly.
Does the self-professed superhero “hit man” have the power of longevity? He should surpass 600 career tackles this season, halfway to the all-time record (1,241 by Willie Pless).
“I don’t think my wife could see that,” he chuckles at the prospect. “I’m not going to play another 8 years, I know that.
“I miss my family and I miss spending time with my kids and my wife.”
His oldest will be four next month, the youngest is two-and-a-half.
“We always knew we wanted to name our first child Caylin. It was her sister’s name who...(his voice trails off for a moment) passed. “
“We all have adversity and I’d like to keep that personal. I never had adversity in my life until a year-and-a-half ago. It’s something that hit me pretty hard. I wasn’t a very happy guy last year. I’ve been able to come through that, lean on my wife and kids to keep me sane and happy.”
And hitting like never before.
Rick Moffat is the Voice of the Montreal Alouettes on CJAD 800. He works alongside former CFL Dave Mudge. Moffat's first attended Grey Cup was as a fan in '77 - the infamous Tony Proudfoot "Staple Game". Rick is proud to say he had his first beer at an Als' game during the Marv Levy Era. Follow Rick on Twitter @RickMoffat.