You don't know what you've got until it's gone.
For Perrish Cox, that's more than a cliché usually attached to romance.
Forced to sit out the 2011 NFL season due to legal issues, Cox is embracing a second opportunity with the San Francisco 49ers, who host the Green Bay Packers on Saturday night in an NFC divisional game.
“Being away from football, it was tough watching it on TV knowing I could have been out there,” Cox said in a phone interview with The Oklahoman. “It was the toughest thing anyone could ever go through. Looking back, it's something that will always stick with me.”
The former Oklahoma State star cornerback is playing a backup role for the 'Niners. Cox simply is grateful to be playing. Last year, Cox was forced to watch games from his home while awaiting trial in Colorado.
A fifth-round pick by Denver in 2010, Cox played in 15 games, starting nine.
The Waco, Texas, native lost his job in September 2011 after he was accused of sexually assaulting a woman who allegedly passed out in his apartment. The Broncos said they released Cox because of his performance on the field.
It was a drawn out ordeal. The incident occurred on Labor Day weekend. The trial started nearly six months later. Cox said he never had sex with the woman.
“When I look in the mirror, I look at where I was in my life,” Cox said. “I never want to go back down that road. It motivates me to be a better person on and off the field. It's helped me how I treat my family and know who my true friends are, who I want to keep around me.”
Last March, a jury in Castle Rock, Colo., acquitted Cox. Two weeks later, the 49ers signed him to a two-year $1.02 million deal.
Cox had a similarly star-crossed career at OSU, where he was a difference-maker on the field and a finalist for the Thorpe Award. But he also had issues off the field, including sitting out the Cotton Bowl after twice missing curfew.
Less than a year later with the Broncos, he was out of a job.
The 49ers gave him a second chance.
“As an organization, from ownership on down, we've done our due diligence and are confident that Perrish will be a positive contributor to the 49ers as well as our community,” general manager Trent Baalke told Bay Area media when Cox signed in mid-March.
Cox has recorded 20 tackles and two passes defended. In addition to playing in the dime package, Cox plays on nearly every special teams unit. He said it's a blessing to sign with a team that was a muffed kick away from last year's Super Bowl, a team that this season owns wins over fellow championship contenders New England and Green Bay.
“Everyone here is on the same page. They play with a lot of energy,” Cox said. “They're trying not to live in the past. But you hear them talk about how much fun they had, flying around, winning, going deep into the playoffs. Me being part of that, I just try to add what I can add.”
A year ago, San Francisco had the No. 1 defense. This season, the 'Niners were third behind Pittsburgh and Denver.
San Francisco has eight players in the Pro Bowl, including four on defense. Defensive lineman Justin Smith, linebacker Patrick Willis and cornerback Carlos Rogers were named starters. Safety Dashon Goldson is a reserve. The biggest impact player is ultra talented Aldon Smith.
“None of these guys let it go to their head,” Cox said. “They want to go out every week and prove it, that's all they talk about.”
San Francisco's offense, under first-year starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick, will be a hot storyline. But how the 'Niners defense plays will be a pivotal matchup against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
In the first meeting, during the opening week of the season, San Francisco won 30-22 at Lambeau Field. The rematch is at Candlestick Park. But a lot has changed since the two NFC powers played nearly four months ago.
“That was great for our confidence. It was a great start,” Cox said. “Green Bay has a high-powered offense. They have one of the game's greatest quarterbacks. It gave us a lot of confidence as a team.”
Cox's father, Perrish Cox Sr., served as his son's trainer in Waco during the year he was out of football. Perrish Cox Sr. visited his son the weekend of the regular season finale in San Francisco, a win over Arizona that clinched the No. 2 seed.
“Last year was very hard on him, me and our family because we didn't have the money to really help him,” said Cox's father. “He's blessed to be back. It's a joy and a relief for me that he's back out there able to do his thing. It's still hard for me to talk about. I don't have words to describe it.”
Cox Jr. said having former OSU teammate, running back Kendall Hunter, on the team has assisted his transition after going through his off-the-field saga.
“I still can't explain exactly what happened,” Cox said. “For me to go through it and be back where I'm at now, I think I can help a lot of people by giving them words of advice, letting them know the road I traveled, try to help them see what I've been through.”
So what is Cox's advice for young players drawn to the glitzy night-life scene?
“Everything that looks good ain't always good,” Cox said. “Think it over twice before you do it. Watch every step and everybody around you. Focus on yourself, be positive. Put your family first. Just keep pushing forward in a positive way.”