FULLERTON — If Jeff Buffaloe fails to beat out Don Bracken, he doesn't make $100,000 this season as the Rams' punter and he returns home to Memphis, Tenn., to work part-time with UPS.
If Bracken, who earned $145,000 last season, falls to Buffaloe, he's back in Birmingham, Ala., painting houses or trying to sell real estate.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday August 6, 1993 Orange County Edition Sports Part C Page 6 Column 1 Sports Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Ram pictures--On photos that ran with a feature story in some editions of Thursday's Orange County Times, name lines identifying Ram punters Jeff Buffaloe and Don Bracken were transposed.
Two players, one job and a lot of money at stake. So picture the fierce training camp competition, the cut-throat antics and the knock-down, drag-out fights that must be taking place at Cal State Fullerton.
Bracken: "I don't know about that. I want to win the job fair and square, but not because the other guy is doing bad. I mean Jeff's a nice guy, and I don't want him to do poorly."
Buffaloe: "You kind of become friends because there's only two of you here, and it's just sad that you can't keep more than one punter."
Some battle: Pollyanna versus Mary Poppins.
Bracken is the veteran, the aging gunfighter if these guys could bring themselves to make this duel compelling. Buffaloe is the eighth-round draft pick, the new foot in town who might find a home if only he'd holster the cliches.
"You just got to go out and do what you can do," Buffaloe said. "And whatever happens happens."
OK, so Buffaloe has what it takes to become a Ram spokesman, but can he kick Bracken out of town?
"Buffaloe probably has the stronger leg and the advantage in practice so far in hang time," said Howard Tippett, Ram special teams coach. "Bracken's got the edge in get-off times and experience.
"I'd say the competition is even right now going into the preseason games, and I'm completely open-minded about the situation. But the young turk has got to knock out Bracken. It's like a heavyweight fight, the challenger has got to knock him out."
Buffaloe, who was the 206th player taken in the draft, finished his senior season at Memphis State averaging 44.6 yards a kick. He also kicked off for the Tigers, and while the Rams are locked on Tony Zendejas as their place kicker, they prefer someone better than Zendejas on kickoffs.
Bracken began kicking with the Packers in 1985 and worked with Tippett, who was Green Bay's special teams coach from 1988 through 1991. But in 1991, Bracken got the boot from the Packers at the conclusion of exhibition play, although the team had no other punter on its roster.
"When I got released in Green Bay I don't think it was Coach Tippett's decision," Bracken said. "They were going to make a change regardless of how I did. I punted well in '90, but I finished 26th in the league because we had a bunch of bad-weather games. I averaged 38 yards, but our opponents only averaged 34.
"But the fans got down on me, the press was building a big thing up and it got out of control. The first time I went out to punt in the preseason I got booed like crazy."
Bracken spent 1991 auditioning for jobs that were never offered, and then last season rejoined Tippett, who had moved to the Rams. Bracken averaged 41.1 yards for the Rams, which placed him 22nd in the league.
"The thing about Bracken that has always impressed me is that he has had a challenge every year and he's reacted to it very well," Tippett said. "He's a competitor.
"That's what I also liked about Buffaloe. I talked to his coaches and saw film and he had his best games against the better teams."
Two tough guys, and yet it appears they have approached this tussle for full-time NFL employment with the kind of emotion expected for a chess match.
"They can be very good friends," Tippett said, "but in the heat of competition there might be that thing in the back of their mind: 'Well, I hope he doesn't punt too good this game.' I mean that's only human."
The supercalifragilisticexpialidocious twins?
Bracken: "I'm not out there every day hoping he does bad. I don't think that way."
Buffaloe: "To tell you the truth I try to block out what he's doing. I don't wish him any bad luck; I just try to kick the ball as best I can."