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Flashback: Bragg Made His Mark

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For Mike Bragg, having the opportunity to don the burgundy and gold for 12 seasons was simply a dream come true.

Bragg, Washington's punter from 1968-79, was a diehard Redskins fan while growing up in the Richmond area. He recalls taking the train in the late-1950s with his family from Richmond to D.C., to see his first game at Griffith Stadium, the Redskins' home prior to RFK.

He later moved to Northern Virginia and attended J.E.B. Stuart High in Falls Church, Va., before punting and placekicking for three seasons at the University of Richmond.

Then the Redskins came knocking.

"It was wonderful, what a great thing to have grown up in the area, and then to get drafted and come and play," he said. "I was in awe of everything. I was always a fan, then I became a Redskin. So how lucky and blessed am I?

"And I've gone full circle. I've been retired from the game for 25 years, and I'm still a fan."

He added: "One year I'm going to a Redskins game (1967), and I'm watching Jerry Smith, Bobby Mitchell, Sonny Jurgensen, Charley Taylor, and then less than a year later in July I'm in training camp. I'm like, 'This is so strange because these guys are now my teammates.'"

Bragg wasn't just any punter. Next to Sammy Baugh, who set all-time NFL punting records, he's the greatest Redskin to ever play the position. He punted 896 times for Washington, a team record that may never be broken. (Matt Turk is next with 388.)

Remarkably, the 5-11, 190-pounder never missed a game in his career, playing in 188. He was named to the 70 Greatest Redskins team announced in honor of the franchise's 70th anniversary in 2002.

In 1968, the Redskins invested a fifth-round pick on Bragg, who had averaged 41.9 yards punting in three seasons at Richmond, including the nation's third-best mark in 1966 at 42.8. (He once boomed a school-record 72-yarder.) He received honorable mention All-American honors and played in a college all-star game.

He also made 33 of 38 extra points and five field goals as a straight-on placekicker. But the Redskins had a proven kicker at the time in Charlie Gogolak, so No. 4 focused on punting.

Bragg evolved into a master at pinning NFL offenses deep in their own territory. He was adept at angling the ball out of bounds into the "coffin corner," always aiming between the 10- and 5-yard line. He thinks today's punters fail to execute the "coffin corner" kick like they should.

"Anytime we got around midfield, I was starting to think sideline," he said. "I'd tell everybody in the huddle I'm going left, so everybody knew they wanted to cover the left side of the field more, so when they got downfield they'd try to beat the guy who's trying to block them to that side. If I didn't get it out of bounds and it bounced, they were over there to down it."

Bragg was also superb at launching "pooch kicks" that were downed near the goal line. The goal posts were on the goal line in his first six seasons, and he says he used them as a visual guide to place the ball. He compared the art to chipping a golf ball from the fairway onto the green.

"It's like instead of hitting a nine-iron, I'm going to hit a gap wedge and just drop it in there and hope to get a good bounce," he said.

In the 1977 season, he tallied a league-high 29 punts that were downed inside the 20, an average of more than two per game.

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Unlike other punters of his era, such as Oakland Raiders great Ray Guy, Bragg often refrained from booming the ball downfield so as not to outkick his coverage team.

He understood the criticality of shorter punts with excellent hang time that allow cover men to reach the punt returner faster, and averaged a modest 39.8 yards in his career.

Bragg's Redskins head coach of seven seasons, special teams pioneer George Allen, stressed to him the importance of posting a solid net average: punt distance minus return yardage.

"He'd say the best punter in the league doesn't always lead the league in gross average, but he will lead the league in net average and in downing the ball inside the 10," said Bragg, who aimed for up to 5.1 seconds of hang time and a 35-yard net average.

He added: "So that brought more of the team aspect into it because net average wasn't just purely kicking the ball. Somebody had to go down and make the tackle. You knew if you hit a frozen rope out there, 50 to 60 yards, it was going to come back 20 or 30 or all the way. So we worked a lot as a team coordinating coverage."

In addition to his proficiency at placing punts, Bragg had only 10 blocked in his career, once recording a string of 365 that weren't touched. He attributes such success mostly to quickness, saying he and his center worked to launch the punt in about two seconds and noting that anything above 2.2 put it at risk of being blocked.

He says proper eye-hand-foot coordination was also essential.

"In punting, every time you get a good drop, your chances of getting a good punt are a lot better," he said. "It's a complete deal. You just don't have to have the leg and accuracy. You've got to catch the ball from the center.

"I've known guys with great legs who could punt and placekick, (teammate and former Redskins kicker) Curt Knight being one of them. But he had a tough time handling the ball from center. He couldn't catch it and get it on his foot."

After 12 years in D.C., during which Bragg was a weapon on Redskin teams that made the playoffs five times under Allen, with an appearance in Super Bowl VII, he played his final season, 1980, for the old Baltimore Colts.

He says it's much more unlikely that a punter will stay with one team for a dozen years in today's NFL primarily because of free agency.

"Find a punter that stays in one place now," Bragg said. "You're either going to get cut, or you're going to find that big bonus with another team. (Punters) don't need a playbook and don't have to learn a bunch of new plays. It's as long as you can catch the ball from center and punt it. They've got agents, and it's so much more lucrative for the players because of the system."

Added Bragg: "My only advice to young punters is, don't listen to too many people and don't overkick during practice and wear your leg out. You don't have to punt 100 balls a day. Know what your magic number is. Once you get into a groove, then stop.

"I always had the tendency of one more, one more. All of a sudden, you're tired by the end of the year. It's like a baseball pitcher. When his arm goes dead at the end of August, how do you come back? You need six months off."


Michael Richman is the author of The Redskins Encyclopedia, a 432-page book that spans the 75-year history of the storied franchise. His web site is *www.redskinshistorian.com.*

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