If you asked Phil and Jeanette Cox 10 years ago if they thought they’d be in Australia celebrating their son’s 100th AFL match, they would have laughed at the thought.
In fact, they still do a little to this day as they look back on their son’s, Mason Cox, journey from giving a Combine in California a go to preparing to wear the black and white stripes for the 100th time.
But that’s exactly where the family have found themselves. On Sunday, Mason will run out for the Collingwood Football Club in one of two major milestones the Magpies will celebrate against North Melbourne. The other being club veteran, Steele Sidebottom, who celebrates his 300th game.
“We thought Mason was done with sports in 2009. Then he wound up playing basketball, which was a big thrill for us because we loved to go watch basketball games,” Phil told The Inner Sanctum.
“Once that [basketball season] was about to wrap up, he had this fun little weekend out in California to go to the Combine for AFL.
“We thought, ‘oh yeah, maybe he’ll have some fun in California for the weekend’, and that was about all we thought of it. Next thing you know, they were kind of serious about him.”
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Phil and Jeanette were so convinced California would be just a “fun weekend” they figured Mason would continue with the engineering job he had lined up back in the U.S at the time.
They said they “hadn’t given a second thought to the idea that Mason would continue playing sports”.
“I’m pretty sure he’d be an engineer today if it wasn’t for the chance he had through the Combine,” Phil said.
“He might be playing with the company league or something, or in the city’s local basketball but he definitely would have had a regular job in the office.”
Nine years after the Combine, Phil and Jeanette have made yet another trip over to cheer on Mason from the stands.
The couple had originally booked their flights to Melbourne for April. Mason was anticipating playing the milestone match on Anzac Day, but a haematoma and ruptured spleensustained in Round 2 delayed those plans.
For Phil and Jeanette, that meant quick rescheduling of their travel plans.
“So, we had already booked the flight to go out and be there for Anzac Day. It was such a big milestone for the family as well because we were all together for that debut game too,” Jeanette said.
“The other boys (referring to Mason’s brothers, Nolan and Austin), didn’t make their reservations early, they really only made them for this trip last week,” Jeanette added in laughter.
This weekend, the Cox family will be joined by about 15 other guests Mason invited to the match, including many of his close friends and those who he crossed paths with in his footy career.
Phil said the likes of Derek Hine and Anthony Rocca were among Mason’s list of guests.
The couple said no matter how things play out for Mason on Sunday, one thing for sure in their minds is that Marvel Stadium will echo with chants of “U.S.A”.
Not only is it something they love to be a part, but Phil described the support as a sense of “pride”.
“I don’t know how to describe it other than it brings a lot of thoughts of pride,” he said.
“It’s such a big event and for all of them to know who he is, and you’ve got some even waving the American flag… it’s just a real fun environment.
“I’ll tell you what, we just soak it in. We know it’s not going to be there forever so we’re just enjoying every minute we can. It’s a pretty neat deal.”
What’s ahead for Mason?
So, what’s next for the AFL’s U.S giant? Phil and Jeanette sometimes ponder the thought but said they’re here to just enjoy the present and what Mason is achieving in the AFL today.
“Well, another milestone would be 150, it’d be a pretty big stretch because we’re here at 100 and that took nine years,” Phil admitted with more laughter.
“If you do the math you’d have to play for a while to get to 150, but it’s possible I suppose.
“We’re not going to look ahead because there’s so many things that can happen along the way. It’s a rough sport.
“We’d love to see it, but we’re not going to count on anything like that.”
For Mason, 2023 has been one of his better seasons to date despite the injury setback.
He said earlier this week that Collingwood coach Craig McRae was one of the first people he met when arriving in Australia.
At the time, McRae was the development coach at the club, spending a lot of time with Mason to help him acquire a better understanding of the game.
Phil praised McRae for the relationship not only between Mason and his coach, but what he’s helped Collingwood achieve in his short stint so far at the helm.
“I think Mason just feels comfortable with ‘Fly’ and I feel that extends to the entire team feeling comfortable with what they’re doing,” he said.
“They all seem to really like each other the chemistry is just perfect and that’s just from us looking at it from the outside.
“It’s kind of like a perfect storm coming together so far in the first half of the season and we hope it continues.”