The Washington Redskins had gone through eight punters in about a 12-month stretch when Ralf Mojsiejenko arrived at the end of training camp in 1989.
They gave the San Diego Chargers a seventh-round draft choice to get him, but thought it would finally settle one of their least settled positions. They were even more certain of that last season when Mojsiejenko's 43-yard average was the best for a Redskins punter in two decades.
No other punters were even invited to training camp because the Redskins felt so good about what they had. But yesterday, after watching Mojsiejenko struggle the entire season, the Redskins cut him and signed free agent Kelly Goodburn.
Goodburn, 28, spent three-plus seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs before getting the ax after Week 3. He has a 40.2-yard average in four pro seasons, and in three games this season averaged 38.4. He's considered an excellent placement punter who gets good hang time but doesn't kick the ball much past 40 yards.
He replaces a former Pro Bowl punter, who'd never averaged less than 42 yards a season until this year -- which, for Mojsiejenko, has been a nightmare. His 43 punts are the fewest in the NFC, and he punted only once over a three-week stretch early this season. He has had extraordinary success, dropping 17 punts inside the 20-yard line and seven inside the 5, and he's the only NFL punter without a touchback.
But when the Redskins needed a boomer, he didn't come through. His 39.2-yard average is 19th in the 28-team NFL, and in three games he shanked low, line-drive punts that could have hurt the Redskins.
"It was a tough, tough decision," special teams coach Wayne Sevier said. "Mojo is one of the most likeable guys in the world. He's good-hearted and will do anything in the world to please you. But this wasn't a one- or two-game deal. We kept waiting and waiting for him to come out of it and he never turned the corner. We're in the crunch time of the season and if we lose a game because of a bad punt, it could keep us from the playoffs."
Mojsiejenko played a position where a player's performance -- good or bad -- is obvious, and there's not much flexibility or patience with regard to roster moves.
"It's not like any other position," Redskins General Manager Charley Casserly said. "You either have to play a guy or release him. Mojo is a good guy and hopefully down the road he'll pull himself out of this. But he got off to a slow start and never came out of it. There were a couple of critical punts that could have cost us games."
What puzzled the Redskins and Mojsiejenko is that he has hit the ball spectacularly during the week in practice and in pregame warmups. During games, he had problems.
"I've never had a slump like this so I don't know how to explain it," Mojsiejenko said. "This is my sixth year, and I've never averaged under 42. All of a sudden, I've got this problem and I have no answers. It must be mental right now. I never could get into the groove I wanted to get into."
Mojsiejenko said the season had been a strange one. A lack of work was one factor. Then after Chip Lohmiller missed four field goals against the Philadelphia Eagles, Mojsiejenko was benched as his holder and replaced by Jeff Rutledge. Mojsiejenko didn't complain publicly, but he clearly was hurt by the move and felt that, in the end, it didn't help his punting.
"I don't feel right," he said. "Wayne told me I could concentrate all my energies on punting, but I never felt that way. I used to go out and hold a couple of balls and start to feel relaxed and get into the flow of the game. If I get another chance, I'd like to kick off, hold and punt. That's what I did in San Diego."
Was he a scapegoat for Lohmiller's misses? "I don't know," he said. "I had nothing to do with Chip missing those field goals. At the same time, a change might have been the right thing for his mental framework. It frustrated me, but I couldn't do anything about that."
The Redskins began bringing in free-agent punters, including Goodburn, two weeks ago. Mojsiejenko knew that but apparently still was surprised yesterday morning when he arrived at Redskin Park to work out and ran into Goodburn getting dressed for a tryout.
"I don't want to go out like this," Mojsiejenko said, "and I hope I get a chance with another team. If I don't play another game, I'll be happy. I played six years, and that's more than most people ever get. I know I can punt a lot better than what I'm doing."
Goodburn has spent the last nine weeks working out in Kansas City, hoping for a chance. He got tryouts with the 49ers, Bills and Redskins.
"I'm very excited," he said. "Washington is rich in tradition and in the thick of the playoff race. I'm hoping to produce and stay around a long time."
He said the last few weeks it has been "tough to keep a positive attitude. I still had confidence in my ability, but you wonder when you're going to get a chance. This kind of thing comes with the territory."
He and Bryan Barker had dueled for the Kansas City job in training camp. Goodburn won, then was cut after three games. The Chiefs were apparently split on which punter to keep and settled on the younger one -- Barker.
"I was pretty disappointed," Goodburn said. "It was one of those deals and hard to explain. It's a shock. You put all your time and energy into it, you're dedicated to the Kansas City Chiefs and boom, you're gone. Then again, you learn from those things. You pick yourself up and go on."