The tube that runs from Steve Cox's brain to a cavity near his stomach bulges like a big vein inside his neck.

You wouldn't give it a second thought unless you heard about the three weeks of headaches in 1983, about the blurred vision the day before a preseason game, about the brain surgery two years ago, about coming back to be a better punter than before.

On Monday night, in his first game with the Washington Redskins after four seasons in Cleveland, Cox punted four times for a 47.2-yard average and kicked off four times. He did "a great job," the coaches said.

But on Monday afternoon, when he was talking to the Redskins team doctors in a routine examination, he told them about the blockage between two ventricles in his brain that prevented spinal fluid from passing through and necessitated a 30-minute operation on Aug. 31, 1983.

The news shocked the doctors. The Redskins medical staff apparently didn't know about the operation and now want Cox, the replacement for injured Jeff Hayes, to see Dr. Bruce Ammerman, a neurologist, this week. They also have asked the prestigious Cleveland Clinic to send Cox's medical records so they can be examined.

"We've got to get him cleared before he can play Sunday," said one of the doctors, who asked that his name not be used.

The doctors expect Ammerman will give the same clearance Cox received from his doctors in Cleveland, and emphasized this is normal procedure considering Cox's medical history.

As far as Cox, 27, is concerned, emphasis should be put on the last word: history.

"It sounds scary, I know, but it really wasn't, once I found out what it was," Cox said yesterday before practice at Redskin Park.

"I guess any time someone cuts into your head, it's serious. But it happened two years ago now, and I really don't even think about it. I'm a better person for it, but it really doesn't matter anymore."

If he were a running back or a linebacker, things would be different, he said. In fact, he likely is playing the one position that allows him to stay in the game.

"How many times do I hit somebody?" he asked. "A couple times a year? And when I do make a tackle, it's with my arms, not my head. That has never been a problem.

"If I were a boxer, or something like that, taking all kinds of blows to my head and wearing no head gear, it would be a problem. But I wear head gear and I'm a kicker, which means I basically have no contact."

He said he never has been told by a doctor not to make a tackle with his head, but it's obvious he avoids those situations. He doesn't wear any special equipment, nor does he receive any special attention from the Redskins, most of whom do not know about his operation.

"I never even was concerned about it," said Coach Joe Gibbs. "I think checking him out is just a routine thing."

Cox kicked a 58-yard field goal against Denver a little more than three months after the operation, and had his best punting year (43.4-yard average) and a 60-yard field goal last season.

But the decision to allow him to return to football was not an easy one to make at the time, said his former coach, Sam Rutigliano.

"I took extra time before making that decision," Rutigliano said by phone yesterday from his home in Cleveland. "It took a lot of courage on his part to come back. Kickers do get hit. I know some people might say, 'Why would you want to play football again?' but he was okay, so why not?

"The way I look at it is this: Here's a story that has a happy ending."

During the 1983 preseason, Cox began having headaches, "the dull ones, like sinus headaches, behind my eyes," he said. He didn't think much about them until the day before the final exhibition game, against the Los Angeles Raiders.

His vision blurred for 15-20 minutes.

"That scared me," he said. "I knew something was wrong."

He played anyway and punted nine times for a 42.8-yard average in a 20-17 Browns' victory. The next day he went in for tests, and, four days after that, he was in surgery.

"The thing I remember most was before he knew what it was, he thought it might be a tumor, and he was very concerned," Rutigliano said. "He had a chance to reflect on what it would mean if it was really serious, and, you know, it was a great opportunity for him to do that, so young in life.

"Very few of us in life get a chance to get out of the left lane and stop for a while."

The official name for Cox's condition is internal hydrocephalus, a blockage in the ventricles, which are the air spaces through which fluid passes to keep the brain moist. The operation to insert the shunt (tube) is not considered a particularly dangerous procedure, and often occurs in babies who have water on the brain.

Although Cox missed the first nine games of the season, he said he was ready to practice two weeks after the surgery and had to worry more about his impatience with not playing than his medical recovery.

He also had one other concern. "I tell you, through the whole ordeal, the worst thing was they shaved half of my head," he said.

When he got out of the hospital, he went to a barber to even things out, but it took the whole season, he said, for him to look normal.

Now, it's as if nothing ever happened, he said.

"I hope no one wonders 'Why is this guy playing football?' because I certainly don't," Cox said.

"I'm here to kick. My head doesn't have anything to do with it."

Guard Ken Huff (broken bone in left big toe) and cornerback Vernon Dean (fluid on knee) did not practice.