Acquisition of Gossett Is a Net Gain : Raiders: Punter leaves inflated averages to others. He is interested in pinning L.A. opponents deep in their territory.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Raider punter Jeff Gossett, whose taste in music covers the spectrum from country to western, offers Nashville this lyric: "Someone kicked me when I was down, but I can't remember who or when."

Gossett has lasted 10 years in the NFL. He couldn't tell you how.

Ten years of hard knocks haven't detoured him. Ten years of heartaches, waiting out the waiver wire, punting for his next meal. Ten years with stopovers in Dallas, San Diego, Cleveland, Chicago, Portland, back to Cleveland, Houston and Los Angeles.

Gossett had a hundred reasons to get out of the game. He can't think of one, now that he is in the midst of his finest season. Gossett leads the AFC with a 39-yard net average, the only yardstick that counts for a punter, he says.

Gross averages are for publicity hounds, Pro Bowl wanna-bes, selfish ingrates.

Gossett, 34, has saved best for last in his career, although he does not credit fortitude for his recent success. Rather, he claims to be the real Mr. Short-Term Memory Loss.

Gossett tends to forget all the bumps on the road.

"My wife can vouch for it," he said. "We went back to Hawaii two years after our honeymoon and I didn't remember anything. The only thing I remembered was the golf course I played one day. I do have a short memory.

"It hurt me in school. But in this profession, it's good."

Each time Gossett gets cut, traded, or misled, he slings the same old ball bag over his shoulder and moves on. The Raiders acquired him in a 1988 trade with Houston, the terms he describes as involving "a cold cup of coffee and a stale doughnut."

Gossett has been the best Raider punter since Ray Guy, another lover of country music and possibly the best punter ever.

"He was the best," Gossett said. "By far. He had a better hang time than anyone else, ever. I don't compare myself to him. I don't have near the leg. I'm more of a finesse punter. If I was a baseball player, I'd probably be Burt Hooton or Charlie Hough, throwing knuckleballs."

Gossett wants to become the first NFL punter ever to average 40 net yards for a season. The NFL record book lists only gross averages, the distance of a punt without considering the return.

It is a major difference. If a punter has one go 50 yards into the end zone, for instance, he gets credit for a 50-yard gross but, since the ball comes out to the 20, with only a 30-yard net. If the same punter does his job correctly and kicks the ball out of bounds at the 10, he gets credit for a 40-yard punt, thus helping his team, but hurting his gross average.

"It gets you to the Pro Bowl," Gossett said of gross averages. "That's the way a lot of punters I've met feel. Kick it as far as they can and average as much as they can. To me that's a selfish player who's just trying to help himself. I've never been a selfish punter. I never want to kick it in the end zone. If I kick it out at the 18, it's still better than kicking it in the end zone."

Net average is a team statistic, not a personal one. In 1989, Gossett lost 1 1/2 yards from his net average in the last game against the New York Giants on a 75-yard punt return by Dave Meggett.

Gossett has nine kicks inside the 20-yard line this season. Under the supervision of special teams coach Steve Ortmayer, Gossett has become a master of control punting. The Raiders never punt straight down the field, angling the ball to one side of the field or the other.

Had Gossett had the same control with a ball in baseball, he might have ended up in the major leagues instead of the NFL. He was a fourth-round pick of the New York Mets in 1978 as a third baseman. After two years in the minors, the Mets wanted Gossett to become a pitcher. Gossett decided not to, and finally quit baseball.

He drove from Florida back home to Charleston, Ill., figuring he would give punting another shot. He had kicked two seasons at Eastern Illinois.

Gossett was kicking at his old high school when his sister came racing onto the field, screaming that a scout for the Dallas Cowboys was in town looking for him.

"I don't know how they found me," Gossett recalled. "Or how they knew I quit baseball. I couldn't believe it, I mean, what were they doing here?"

The Cowboys signed Gossett as a free agent in 1980, kicking off a 10-year adventure.

Dallas wanted Gossett to assume punting duties for Danny White, who was taking over at quarterback for Roger Staubach. Gossett beat out four others for the job, but Dallas decided in the end to save a roster spot and let White punt.

"They gave me dozen balls and a bag and told me to keep kicking, in case Danny got hurt," Gossett. "I still have the bag. I still use it."

Gossett tried out for the San Diego Chargers in 1981, but was cut after four exhibitions. He moved on to the Kansas City Chiefs and had the job until 1983, when John Mackovic arrived and drafted punter Jim Arnold in the third round.

Gossett was released in training camp, then was picked up by the Cleveland Browns because their punter, Steve Cox, had undergone brain surgery.

In 1984, Gossett jumped to the United States Football League, playing for the Chicago Blitz and Portland Breakers in two seasons. He didn't get his final four paychecks in Portland and had to sue to collect 35 cents on the dollar.

Gossett went back to Cleveland in 1985 and stayed until he was cut by Coach Marty Schottenheimer in 1987, and that's one cut he hasn't forgotten.

He signed with the Houston Oilers, but was traded to the Raiders in 1988.

Last Monday night, Gossett thought he had gained a measure of revenge against Schottenheimer, now coaching in Kansas City, when Gossett's fake punt and pass to Elvis Patterson in the fourth quarter gained 34 yards and seemed to clinch a Raider victory. Instead, the Chiefs rallied and won, 24-21.

"There was only one other game that was harder to take," Gossett said, "That was 'the Drive,' when (John) Elway went 90 yards to beat us (Cleveland) and go to the Super Bowl. This one was just as bad, because of Coach Schottenheimer. The way he treated me in Cleveland, I didn't think was fair.

"It's just another thing I've got to forget. And I'm sure I will with my memory. Another week and it will be gone."

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