Mark Mosley has this photograph hanging in his den, blown up to 18 by 20. A ball he kicked -- not this year, of course -- frozen forever at the precise moment it split the raised arms of the goalpost. A cathedral to Moseley's artistry. He says he "likes to go by and just look at it, just to see the positive picture." Sometimes he'll even conjure it in his mind's eye, just to see how perfection looks again, because this year they're taking different photos of his kicks, photos that freeze forever kicks that are short, or wide right, or wide left. A symbol of a season on the verge of bankruptcy.
His numbers are cold and hard, three of 12.
Numb-ers. No question.
Here's a man who was 25 of 33 last year, all-pro, Mr. Automatic, Field Goal Inc., and now he's three of 12, all of a sudden mostly wide left and taking gas. Here's a straight-up guy who straight up says that his job "is to walk onto that field, kick the field goal and walk off," and by anyone's definition he's not doing his job. So you wouldn't have to know how to correctly pronounce Jung to assume that, inside, Moseley was four kinds of ugly and hemorrhaging. If you can believe, as kickers insist, that kicking is such a mental thing, you'd have to think that by now Mosley was something of a mental case. You might even guess that somewhere in the night he'd be asking himself, 'Have I lost it?"
"Anytime a guy has that much talent," Pat Summerall said, "you just don't go sour that quickly. How old is he?"
"Hmmm, I could tell the difference in distance when I was 31. I knew it was time to quit."
"No, no, no, Lord, no," George Blanda said. "I didn't lose it at 48. You just go through streaks. How's he kicking in practice?"
"Well, then, he's probably doing something in the heat of battle he hasn't realized he's doing. The game's different. Practice doesn't mean a thing. All he needs now is one or two. The kick in Denver was a beauty.It just missed. In his own mind he probably feels he's back. He'll probably kick four in a row on Sunday. How's his confidence?"
Says it's way up there.
"Doesn't make sense does it, after three of 12," Summerall said. "Kicking is such a mental thing. You start missing so you lose confidence, and pretty soon you don't even want to go out there. You find yourself praying that the team makes a first down so you don't have to."
"Nah," Blanda said. "I've talked to all the great kickers. Some may feel like that, but I assure you Moseley would like to kick in the last three seconds of every game. That's the kind of person he is."
Say goodnight, Shana. Say goodnight, Jack.
"I feel like a vulture . . ."
Mark Moseley, sitting on a bench at Redskin Park earlier this week, his back literally up against the wall, appreciated the discomfort in asking for the interview and immediately sought to relieve it.
"Hey," Moseley said, a what-you-see-is-what-you-get smile seasoning his face, "it's not your fault I'm missing all these field goals."
He spoke for an hour in a voice as level as a pool table. You had the feeling he'd said these things many times before. Not that they were rehearsed, but that he was comfortable with their sound; not that you didn't believe him but you'd assumed there would be more if you got past the line and ran to daylight with his subconscious.
So, for an hour, you got outtakes from Norman Vincent Peale, which, under the circumstances, seemed the only way for Moseley to go, and which bear repeating: "Im like a baseball player who struck out three times in a row, then gets up in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded, two out and his team down by three. He hits one to the wall, but the fielder stretches, reaches up and pulls it down, pulls it back from over the wall -- I'm that close now . . . I have no technical explanation. It's just one of those things. They're just not falling through, but I know I'll be back, and they'll all go through the middle. I guarantee you that when you look back at my stats at the end of the season I will be back on top . . . I've missed five in a row. I don't think you'll ever see that happen again. This week I guarantee you that when we play the Cardinals, when I go out there, they're gonna be shakin' in their boots because they know chances are I'm gonna make it."
He neither offered, nor took any excuses.
New snapper? Eight of 12 attempts from the 45 and beyond? The last one, the one with 13 seconds left and going for the tie against Denver, from 52?
"That's baloney," Moseley said. "My job is to kick field goals, that's what they pay me for. The Monday situation is the kind I love. I'll take it every time I can get it. I expect to make it. I expect to make 55s and 58s. I can do it. I do it out here in practice. I can do it in games. I never go out there thinking anything other than I can make it."
How about the more personal things? Your best friend, your business partner, Eddie Brown, out of football and out of a job? Your best friend on the team, Mike Bragg, cut in camp? Your good friend and former snapper, Ted Fritsch, cut and out of a job (before getting hired on as special teams coach)? And, far more personal than these, your sister raped and murdered last year? Your wife undergoing a hysterectomy this summer to (successfully) cut out cervical cancer?
Not even a wince. Straight up.
"I've looked and I've searched, and I've asked myself that question, is all this stuff affecting me? I don't think it has. I don't think it has anything to do with it. I'm not saying I'm not human, but I've been brought up to believe that regardless of what happens, you've got to keep going.God's been good to me. Why complain?"
Which is not to say that Moseley hasn't sought advice from various corners of the material and spiritual worlds. He has spoken to Don Cockroft, the Cleveland kicker, and Dave Jennings, the Giant punter, to the Redskin coaches and even the Redskin chaplain.They have all said pretty much the same thing -- Keep the faith and keep kicking, it will come. Moseley, a deeply religious man who "strongly believes that whatever happens is God's will," can accept that advice on all levels and still maintain a healthy sense of humor relative to his slump. When asked what he'd say to a sports talk-show about this Moseley guy, Moseley laughed and said, "I'd probably be getting all over his rear by now."
Every kicker says it.
The whole ball game is confidence.
You get it by connecting. You lose it by missing. It has no loyalty. It's here and then it's gone.
"You ever destroy his confidence, no matter how good a kicker he is," Moseley says, "and you've destroyed him."
The Redskins have approached him cautiously, tactfully, carefully not to undermine what confidence Moseley has left. In turn, he has worked hard. Studying films. Kicking hundreds of balls in practice. Trying to get that feeling again. Last year, on a scale of one to 100, his confidence had to be off the charts. "When I walked onto the field," he said, "the other coach cringed because I walked out there with such confidence, down some bit." But he admits a slackening of confidence, down somewhat, to "90 or 95." He said he would be "shocked" if he turned around and found himself gone, cut. "The coaches here know," Moseley said, "that they're not gonna go out on the street and find someone who can do it better. It'd have to last the whole year for them to think that, and I guarantee it won't."
But he has noticed a slight change in his personality that disturbs him.
Again, straight up.
"I'm a lot more edgy than normal. I've always been so patient with my kids, and I find myself getting on edge in the house, and I have to tell myself -- Be patient. Relax. I don't want to think I'm pressing, but maybe a little. I'll tell you, I was sick to my stomach after missing three in the Seattle game. But after Denver I was able to shake it off. I was able to say, 'Okay, that's over, go get 'em the next time.'"
Other than going to the foul line with no time left, or needing a 12-footer on the 18th to win, what in sports can be as relentlessly naked and pressured as going out to kick a field goal with seconds left and the game on the line? Time all but stops. Every eye in the place focuses on you. Sudden elation or sudden gloom hangs in the mist like a Brian DePalma ending.
Moseley works here.
"I love it," he says.
Then again, they say all kickers are crazy.
You can find him adjusting to his isolation in practice, separate and distant from the others not because he wants to be, because concentration is so much of it and concentration is an interior discipline, the willing away of thought. Alone again, naturally.
"Just fooling around" he calls it. From the 40, off a tee, making 10 of 14, hardly even bothering to look up.
Never changing expressions. Keeping his game face on, a longshoreman's stare and opposum fists. Kicking the balls, retrieving the balls, arranging the balls, then kicking the balls again. Mostly good, never missing by much.
"You see, if I was shanking the ball, I'd feel worse about it," Moseley says. "When you shank them, that comes from the old rope getting tight around your neck."
He made the classic choke sign, hands on Adam's apple, and gurgled.
"But I'm always so close."
"He's just inches away," said a Redskin coach. "He's just barely missing.
It's just another part of what's happened to us thus far. But we haven't lost any faith at all. Hell, we sent him in to kick a 52-yarder against Denver. Not a guy on this team doesn't feel Moseley's still the best in the business. It'll come."
It was after practice now, on a beautiful Indian summer's day with the leaves turning and the smell of change in the air, and Moseley was on the field, taking snaps from Jeff Bostic, taking holds from Joe Theismann and kicking field goals from 32,37,42 and 47 yard. Boomers, clearing the bar with huge patches of grass to spare. Twenty of 23 down the middle, and there would be just this one more.
Bostic, hands over the ball, suddenly said, "Eight seconds to go, 21-19," then snapped it to Theismann, who placed it down for Moseley.
His aim was true, and the three of them walked off the field sharing a smile and a hope.