"Redskins Past To Present" is a new series for The Redskins Blog during the offseason that catches up with Redskins alumni – some famous, some forgotten – that have spent time, long and short, in the Redskins organization.
With their time removed from the game, we hope to highlight the many former players and coaches that once wore the burgundy and gold -- we'll talk about their memories, their experiences and what they're up to today, in no particular order, to give a snapshot of their lives as ex-football players.
Mike Bragg played from 1968-1979 with the Redskins and was a part of the 1972 NFC Championship season. He currently holds the record for most punts in a season (103) and landed a team-record 29 punts inside the 20-yard line. Today he lives in Alexandria, Va. Working in money management with non-profits.
You said previously that the 1972 championship game was the defining moment of your career. Does that still hold true?
Yeah, definitely. I think if you ask most of the guys that were around then and played in that game, they'll say the same thing.
Obviously beating the Cowboys is a big deal. Was there anything special about that game for you individually?**
Not really for me. I had a decent game. We were hitting on all cylinders. The defense was playing great, the offense played great. I remember a couple of plays at the end of the game. I remember Roger Staubach scrambling in the end zone trying to avoid a safety. Another great play was when Brig Owens intercepted a pass and took it in for a touchdown. A lot of it runs together when you talk about the Cowboys because of the great rivalry. One thing I remember the week before, we were intense. The practices were great and we realized what was at stake. We were very fortunate to be able to play the game at RFK in front of our home fans. The fans were electric. They were so into it. From our point of view, you look across to the Cowboys bench and behind the bench were the portable stands and they were steel. Steel gives and bends. The whole sideline was jumping up and down and it looked like they were on some kind of springboard or trampoline. When the game was over, we won, the town just erupted.
How would you describe that feeling in the city?
Well, it was a great time to be a Redskin, a great time to be in Washington. And the whole time George Allen was my coach, seven out of my 12 years with the Redskins, so five out of those seven years we made the playoffs. And this was the most memorable year because we had a chance to go to the Super Bowl and we were favored in the Super Bowl.
Did you get pretty nervous being in the Super Bowl?
Yeah, I had to tone myself down because everybody was getting up emotionally. Their job was blocking and tackling and running after punts. My job, the ball was coming back and I had to catch it, handle it and punt it in two seconds. It was delicate. Something can go wrong. I really tried to focus. It took me a while to learn this but [I] really had to focus on calming myself down in the midst of all this pandemonium.
When did you start punting? Did a high school coach find you on the soccer field?
No, I never played soccer. I was a wanna-be quarterback and halfback in college and I think I maybe punted one game in high school. I knew I could punt but my coach would never let me punt because I couldn't punt it quick enough. We had a 19-game losing streak [at the University of Richmond] from my freshman year to my junior year so I punted a lot – seven, eight times a game. It added up, and you were putting in a game, not on the sideline. That's how I learned.
So how did you transition into punting?**
You know, I don't even know. I think it was more baseball than anything [I was interested in]. I ended up playing one year of baseball and that was it. Everything else fell into place. It morphed itself. They tried me in a lot of different positions. It ended up that we needed a punter and so my junior and senior year, when I had enough experience, I ended up just punting.
From your perspective as a punter in the NFL, has the game changed for that position?
In the kicking game, yeah, punting in particular, the athletes are better. It's the same thing fundamentally – you've got to get the ball on your foot in the proper place. I think the guys that are punting today in the NFL know more about themselves and what they have to do and are better athletes. Now, the centers are incredible, the guys that make the snap like Nick Sundberg. That is a skillset in itself.
So you didn't have the benefit of that as much is what you're saying?
Well, it's very important to have that. We went through different people and Coach Allen went out and traded for a guy and brought him and said "All you have to do is snap. That's all we want you to do." And then he snaps and walked off the field and never covered. It's like trying to cover a punt with one less guy. Well, he lasted one game. I was lucky, he was left-handed and he had this ball that would come up and nose over. So the guys that could snap the ball and the nose came up the right way it was great.
You also played under head coach Vince Lombardi for his one year in Washington. What do you remember about that time?
The training camp was tough. I missed part of the training camp because I was in the army. I'm lucky. I'm coming out of basic training, I had been sleeping on the ground for a month or two, and training camp was still tough. He put a lot of emotional pressure on you during the week, during training camp. He pushed everybody emotionally and psychologically, because he knew if you could perform under his pressure you could perform on Sunday in game pressure.
Did he treat you the same as the rest of the team? Were you doing a lot of the drills as a punter?
Yeah he used to make me go in with the defensive backs in the pre-practice workouts.
Did everyone buy into his philosophy or did some push back?
Yeah, but they didn't last long. He weeded people out. If you weren't buying into the program, you were gone. You were cut down the road. But most people were excited to play for him because of his reputation. Sam Huff came out of retirement. It was a great experience. We went from 6-8 the previous year and we were 7-5-2, we had a winning record. We didn't go to the playoffs for some reason.
What was the big difference between Lombardi and George Allen?
Well, they both had this incredible desire to win and this fear of losing. I don't know if they hated losing more than they loved winning but they were going to do whatever it takes to win. And Coach Allen was all about details. He was going to find the people that he needed and bring them in without a lot of having developed "this guy." And I think Coach Lombardi on the other hand was, "Ok, we're going to take people and develop them." He would see something, like Larry Brown, and say "That kid's tough, we're going to work with him. I'm going to get in his head and mold him" into the type of player that he ultimately became. If you ask Larry, Lombardi had a great influence on him, not only as a football player but him as a person. We all kind of feel that way.
What is Mike Bragg up to today?
I'm in Old Town [Alexandria, Va.] and I was going to retire, in fact I did. I was moving to Florida until January. Then I got to talking to some of my old colleagues about what they were doing and it sounded pretty exciting. I said, you know what, I don't want the retirement lifestyle yet. I can still work. I don't have to kill myself. My role within the group is network marketing, using people that I know, that I can gain access to in my [money management] business.
But you'll get to Florida at some point…
Well, the things I like to do, I like the water and ocean. I was looking at some places on the gulf side that were just absolutely perfect. I could get on the bike and ride to the beach, take a long walk on the beach, swim in that gorgeous water. We'll see how things go in the next couple of years. I'm not thinking too far ahead.
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