The office staff at Redskin Park, for secretaries to assistant general managers, wore T-shirts imprinted "I Hate The Cowboys" yesterday. A bumper sticker on the front door of the suburban Virginia complex reads, "Scalp Dallas."
This is Dallas Week. Mike Bragg, in his 12th season as a Redskin, can remember when this week was pretty much like any other. He also can remember when nobody cared very much about his specialty -- punting.
Now the special teams are highly scrutinized and much of Washington is concerned about Bragg's punting, including Bragg.
"It's not very good," he said. "Too many short kicks, like 35 yards and under. It's not what I set out to do in the beginning of the year. What I wanted to do was kick every ball between 35 and 45 yards and it would end up being a great year.
"But I've had too many kicks under that (20 of 54) and it's just a result of concentration more than anything else, I guess."
Bragg ranks 13th among the 14 regular punters in the NFC with a 38-yard average. His 33.4-yard net average ranks him in the middle of the pack. However, statistics, said Seymour Siwoff, the guru of NFL statistics, can be misleading.
"It's cruel to indict a guy off sheer numbers," Siwoff said from his New York office of the Elias Sports Service. "You've got to get an expert."
Well, Jack Pardee?
"Our prime goal all the time, the biggest thing we're interested in, is the net figures," the Redskin coach said. "We're not leading the league. But in the key thing -- the return yardage given up -- we're by far No. 1 on that and on average return.
"Our punting's good now and if we had two more yards a kick with the same coverage, it would be in the superior category."
Bragg, however, is not your everyday boot-the-hell-out-of-the-ball punter. Never has been. Never will be. Never wanted to be. In fact, he is the personification of the team player.A 65-yard punt may get raves from the fans and the television announcers, but it may also be returned for a touchdown.
"I'd really like to kick them all between 40 and 45 yards," Bragg said. "If you could do that, you wouldn't be spectacular in the eyes of the public or the eyes of a lot of people around the league, because they like to see people like Ray Guy or Dave Jennings bust that 60- or 65-yard punt.
"But look at the average that is leading the league now -- 45 yards. And if you could kick every punt between 40-45 yards, then your average would be 42.5. How much more consistent could you be than that? Your coverage team would be so much more effective. The difference between covering a 35-yard punt and covering a 55-yard punt is 20 yards. That's a lot of difference."
One reason Bragg's net average is so low is that he has not been as accurate in coffin-corner kicks this season. A touchback counts 20 yards against net average. Bragg has had eight touchbacks. His other 46 punts have been returned a total of 86 yards.
In assessing his technique, Bragg, a tennis pro in the offseason, relates his difficulties to those of a golfer.
"I fell that I'm concentrating totally, but it's a matter of when I get the ball -- what am I doing with it, how am I getting it off my foot?" he said. "And it may be I'm thinking about too many things at one time. You've got to just think about making contact with the ball.
"You have to relate it to golf more than anything else. You get in slumps and you go to the driving range. Or I go to practice and I hit balls and hit balls and hit balls, and they go great. And you feel the groove. Like you're in good concentration, swinging good and tempo's good. Then you get in a game and it doesn't go as planned.
"You might be thinking about too many things. You've got to keep it simple. You can't worry about where you're dropping the ball. It's gotta just happen."
Bragg also has another theory about his problem. Last year, he punted 103 times (in 16 games). The two previous seasons, he punted 91 and 90 times (1n 14 games). This season, through 11 games, he has punted only 54 times, as the offense has surpassed its goal of five punts or less per game.
"The better you play, the fewer times you have to strike the (golf) ball," Bragg said. "And, I think, really, the fewer times I have to punt. And, I think, also the more times you punt, the better you should be because you get into the games more, and you get the feeling of being in the game.
"A lot of times, let's say the game starts and you're warmed up and got your rhythm and you've got everything going for you mentally, and let's say you don't punt until the fourth quarter. That happened to me in Atlanta. You're out of it a little bit. You shouldn't be, but you're out of it."
In that game, Bragg punted twice. Each was a touchback and his net average for the two was 22 yards.
Asked if he felt he could punt "forever," Bragg replied:
"Physically, you're bound to lose it sooner or later. You watch a great tennis player like Ilie Nastase. Well, he's not a good as he used to be because he's lost his legs. He can't run like he used to. Sooner or later, it's bound to wear out.
"The last two years, I've had some back problems. I have to watch the kind of exercises I can do. I've given up weights as far as any heavy weight-lifting. It hasn't bothered me to the point I couldn't kick.It's one of those nagging things, like a hangnail."
But fans and coaches now care about those hangnails.
"I know when I was a rookie," the former Gonzaga High School and Richmond Star said, "nobody ever worked on special teams because nobody cared. On Saturday morning, you went out and made sure you lined up at the right position on the punt team and you blocked the guy over you. It wasn't sophisticated at all."
When George Allen came here in 1971, he changed all that. And made Dallas Week what it is.
Employes of the warehouses across the street from Redskin Park had "Go Redskins/Scalp Dallas" banners posted yesterday on their buildings . . . Tackle Terry Hermeling (dislocated elbow) is listed as questionable, but he participated in most of yesterday's drills . . . The "I Hate The Cowboys" T-shirts were the brainchild of Charlie Taylor, the team's assistant publicist. He ordered them during training camp . . . The "Scalp Dallas" bumper stickers are being distributed by a music store in Falls Church . . . Versatility department: Fred Mortensen, the third-string quarterback who doubles as a wide receiver, got some action yesterday at free safety, and Joe Theismann, the No. 1 quarterback and kick holder, snapped a few so Mark Moseley could practice while Teddy Fritsch worked with the offense. The holder: Bragg.