Will somebody pa-LEASE pull the plug on this Mark Moseley-Tony Zendejas torture? Call it off. Sooner than immediately. Declare a winner and let the loser limp off to reshape his life somewhere else in the NFL.

Cruel and unusual punishment, even by pro sports standards, is what this 40 Yards War has become. By being fair, the Redskins are doing neither man any favors -- and themselves possible harm.

Right now, two exceptional place-kickers might have trouble booting a tire in a used-car lot. Just a guess, but the pressure the Redskins hope will make the winner wonderful during the regular season might be muddling both beyond repair.

It long has been established that the most important part of a kicker's anatomy is not his foot but his head. There are hundreds of men who, from great distances, can pop a pig's bladder between some contorted plumbing.

The trick is to be able to do it in front of 60,000 people, with the game in the balance, with foul weather in your face, foul language from across the line of scrimmage in your ears and your livelihood on the line.

In ordinary times, the choke threshold for a kicker must be enormous; this kickoff is getting unbearable.

"It's more pressure than they'll feel, even in the Super Bowl," said the holder, Joe Theismann. "It's one of the cruelest things about this business."

But necessary to the bitter end, or after the final preseason game, according to the Redskins.

"I'm not worried about tender psyches," said the special teams coach, Wayne Sevier. "I'm not worried about the process (leaving permanent scars) and I think the winner will do a job in the Dallas game."

With two exhibitions before that Sept. 9 opener, Zendejas has missed all three field-goal chances (from 43, 47 and 39 yards); Moseley is one for three.

This makes Moseley the clear leader.

All the Redskins need to know about Zendejas is what remains a mystery: his ability to be long and accurate in adversity.

If both men were flawless instead of flawed after three kicks each, the younger (by 12 years) Zendejas would be far ahead.

How Zendejas reacts to being uncommonly erratic is critical. The Redskins already know how Moseley regards such a slump: he figures his next 75 will be good.

"Mark's missed his inside the 40 (where he usually is automatic)," Sevier said, "and they've not been particularly good kicks. He's put a little more heat on Zendejas, but Mark still can't be happy.

"Also, there's a new factor, Mark's health. He came into camp kicking well. Then he developed a sore leg. Now he's gone to the trainer with a bad back. I guess it's not serious (he seemed strong in practice yesterday), but you still have to worry.

"A sore leg and a sore back."

For reasons nobody seems able to comprehend fully, many successful place-kickers of late were flops early in their careers.

The fellow whose consecutive field goal record Moseley broke in 1982, Miami's Garo Yepremian, was all but laughed out of Detroit. Moseley was cut twice his first three years in the NFL, by the Eagles and Oilers, and was out of football entirely in 1973.

So the dangers of tampering with a kicker's mind are obvious.

"Tony's had a storybook career," said Sevier, referring to Zendejas' hitting 70 field goals and scoring 300 points in college and converting 24 of 27 field-goal tries inside 50 yards in the USFL last season. "He's not used to struggling.

"I think he's a fierce competitor; I think he'll respond. I know Mark is a fierce competitor; I know how he's responded (with 15 game-winners for the Redskins in the final two minutes)."

Sympathy for Moseley and Zendejas among the players is real but also limited. Many are involved in territorial fights as fierce, though far less publicized.

Still, there are more chances to excel in those other job battles. Equal time in games among linemen, for instance, might involve 50 blocks or 15 tackles each.

The kickers might get only one or two chances in the final preseason games, against the Patriots at home and Tampa Bay on the road.

"Zendejas still will be given every chance," one player said. "With that extra rope, he'll either climb the wall or hang himself."

Blunt but true.

Also, Moseley's contract is structured so that it would be almost impossible to get anything in trade. Free to sell his services if Zendejas suddenly became unerring, Moseley surely would be attractive to a major Redskins opponent, the Cardinals.

"The great ones go through turmoil and cope," Sevier said. "I hope this ends up positive, with both of 'em grooved. Yes, each might be performing better now without the competition. But after this, kicking in the regular season will be easy."


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