Excellence in jockery concerns a dedicated nucleus of football fans and I have rather enjoyed their heroic moans of late. And a kid could learn much from the National Football League strike that would keep him from making mistakes in life.

If a guy makes a touchdown, having retrieved the ball through five fumbles, it suits me just fine (this is how life works) but it upsets your well-cured connoisseur of pig hide who goes through the ceiling at the inelegance of it all.

What the connoisseur forgets is that pro football does not have to have the very best. For most fans it suffices if the guys get out there and bang into each other at specified intervals, and a replacement team is adequate for that. Another big feature of pro football is winning the game, and as even the most obtuse must have noticed, the Redskins replacement team did that the first time out.

Thus we see the two main requirements handsomely fulfilled by players nobody ever heard of, to illustrate today's first moral:

Virtually anybody can replace virtually anybody else, as long as there is an institutional framework to support the enterprise. The presidency, the Senate, the great law firms, the schools, the main newspapers, the captains of industry -- all of these could perfectly well be staffed (and sometimes are) by the first guy blowing in from the west.

Connoisseurs would always detect slight differences. Some people can actually spot, within three lines -- half a line -- the difference between Shakespeare and some farm team kid like Neil Simon, but as long as the stage (in the case of playwrights) is peopled with competent actors moving right along, and as long as the lights work and (nowadays) the sound system, you will hear few complaints that the A team is no longer with us.

For most people there is no great difference between supremacy in the craft and a semi-okay competence. Except, and here we get to the second great moral, in the field that the individual knows something about.

I learned this once in my youth from a plumber. As far as I knew, a plumber was the guy you called when the big rubber glopper failed to unglop the john. Little did I know, being a dumb kid, that a plumber takes his work most seriously, and will run up your bill handsomely while he makes a perfect joint down in the basement instead of just soldering it any which way.

I also ran into a debutante who set tiles for a living. Anybody can set tiles. Smear the goo above the tub and ram the square home. She carried on as if the Star of India were settling into a diadem, but it was just tiles over the tub.

The second lesson, then, is that whatever a creature does for a living will be taken as a high calling, as if it made some difference. It is important to be aware of this quirk in people as one goes through the world.

Yet another grand lesson from all this is that when one plumber makes more elegant joints than another, he is likely to think himself two cuts above the one who spends most of the day looking for a wrench. He cannot imagine he can be replaced. Heh-heh-heh. Excellence as judged by a connoisseur makes no difference in the world at large, but only to select elitist groups such as, say, sportswriters who get in a snit when the B team comes on. To everybody else, the guys on the field are movable meat racks.

Coming now to the next and possibly penultimate moral, the enlightened mortal gets over his dismay at the world by the age of 17, 83 at the latest.

Judge Bork, for example, is not likely to go off his feed because the high court has had dozens of relatively mediocre justices while he himself is rejected. You do not get to his level without understanding that just as severe ignorance is a bar to advancement, so is an unusual level of expertise.

Once any field is thrown open to the judgment of those who know nothing about that field, the best are not likely to be chosen.

Which is why sane people attach such importance to their wives, much tried in various fiery furnaces over the years, and close friends whose love and judgment are beyond suspicion of gamesmanship. Their opinion means something. The world's does not.

And this brings us to an ultimate point -- what's the role of elitism in the world and in one life? Well, an elite corps can remind us a ballplayer is more than a meat rack, and in individual life the excelsior itch can keep one from swallowing flattery. One knows how far the heights are and how short the time. This is better than reflecting that one could probably be worse. Like that nerd Granville (or whoever the competition is).

Vork is life, O'Sullivan used to say, as he hungered and chilled through the world. A superb teacher of the old days, when teachers were sometimes on limited diets and their houses cold. He never learned to pronounce "work" right. Always said vork, like cork, maybe to remind us he had been trained to a fare-thee-well in Berlin. He was an old codger when I was a boy, and now long dead; probably harrying angels who do not fly smooth or whose vork on the harp is rough.

When one of the good poets spoke of the dearest freshness deep down things, he meant he had seen in people this odd surging up from nothing, to the point that 85 baskets out of 100 is not good enough. Like the baker who by God wanted better bread than is made with wheat, or the carpenter who sneered at nails when the mortise was called for, or the ballplayer who wanted more than a hot-dog eater's praise and kind of hoped for Pindar's. None of whom gave a fried fandango that to the world they were just movable and transient meat racks. This is what the elite dream does for a judge, a ballplayer or anybody else, and it's just about enough to get them through the world. Garlanded, sort of.