HERNDON, Va. KELLY JOE GOODBURN is going to marry Sara Dickey on March 2. He should. He will not likely find a more willing helpmate.
The kids at Bishop Miege High in Kansas City, Mo., shagged Goodburn's punts as he practiced and practiced during his nine weeks of unemployment, but a punter needs a long snapper.
"First she tried throwing it overhand," Goodburn said, "but that gave it the wrong spin. Then she tried this (a sort of softball delivery) and it worked OK."
Five days a week it worked, but now Sara can relax. Goodburn practiced as a Washington Redskin yesterday and he'll be punting against the Chicago Bears in RFK Stadium on Sunday.
He replaces Ralf Mojsiejenko, whose "slump" lasted one game too long. His Redskins' career ended for all purposes with a 36-yard line drive in the sixth minute of the game against the Dolphins Sunday.
In the "crunch" for a playoff position, special teams coach Wayne Sevier said the Redskins couldn't give Mojo another chance.
Mojsiejenko, 27, left with an average of 34.2 yards net, 1.8 yards short of Sevier's 36-yard ideal. Goodburn had a 32.7 net for all the Kansas City Chiefs' games the past three seasons.
"But there must have been some big returns against him," Sevier said. "Those Kansas City teams weren't too good."
"It was a changing group, never the same," Goodburn said. "The first two years we won only a few games [8-22-1]. We weren't on the same page. Plus I was young.
"They [Redskins management) have done their homework. They know my strong points: I'm good inside the 20 and I've never had a punt blocked."
Goodburn's practice with Sara and the kids began in late September, when the Chiefs cut him after three games. In those three games, Redskins general manager Charley Casserly pointed out, 12 of his 17 punts settled inside the enemy 20.
Goodburn had 25 punts inside the 20 last year. "From only 67 kicks," he said, "I had the best [least] return average in the league."
Why, then, did the Chiefs cut him in favor of Bryan Barker, who has netted 35.1 since then? "I didn't get off to a real good start," Goodburn said. "The second game was OK. Then we played in Green Bay on a real windy day. I wasn't good, but I averaged 42 and their guy had 29."
There was a Green Bay-ish wind over Redskin Park as Goodburn went out to practice yesterday. A reporter had the ill grace to tell Woodburn the story of Garey Waiters. The young man was signed as a punter in a "crunch" two years ago, put two balls over the fence in his first practice and was gone.
"Oh, [coach Joe] Gibbs told me that one, too," Goodburn said after practice. "I got off a good [punt] and he came over and said, 'You know, we had a punter here once . . . ' "
The "bad" day in Green Bay made Goodburn an ex-Chief. "Some coaches have a short fuse for punters," he said. "But you learn from these things."
Mojsiejenko, too, will be better for the experience, Sevier told him. "He is a great guy and he's been a good punter," Sevier said. "He will get [conquer] this thing, or it will get him. I'd bet on Mojo."
" 'This is Ralf,' " says the answering machine at the Mojsiejenkos'. " 'And Mary, and Allie [Alexandra, going on 3].' "
"It was a little bit of a shock," Mojsiejenko said. "I didn't expect to see Kelly getting dressed to practice when I came in to work out yesterday morning. Then Wayne called me at home later.
"It's tough, too late in the season to get another job, and it sure kills my bargaining power. But I've had a lot of support from friends.
"Rolf Benirschke called," Mojsiejenko said of the failed "Wheel of Fortune" host who was finishing his place-kicking career with San Diego during Mojo's first two seasons. "I held for him. He was encouraging. He said I'd get another job. I probably will. The problem is just to stay in shape now."
While his wife Mary was packing for the trip home to St. Joseph, Mich., Mojsiejenko was figuring. There were some incentives with his $225,000 contract.
"Punts inside the 20," he said. There were 17 of them, from 43 punts. "And no touchbacks. That's about as successful as you can get." Mojsiejenko was the only punter in the NFL with no touchbacks.
"I'll still [without the last three weeks' pay] make more money than I did last year," he concluded. Next year, if he were still a Redskin, the base would be $250,000.
The last words on Mojsiejenko's answering machine are from Allie: "Have a nice day."
It was a cold, windy, sunny day at Redskin Park, a rather nice one. Mojo's No. 2 uniform was the first one on the field. But Kelly Goodburn was in it.
* What expression might transform the classically stoical face of Bud Grant when he's informed that the Vikings of the past two years are 15-2 indoors, 1-11 outdoors?
Grant, who coached the Vikings for 18 years and led them to four Super Bowls, bestrode the sidelines in shirt sleeves, scowling his players out of gloves, hand-warmers and heaters.