THE TELEVISION LIGHTS WERE still burning bright in a shed at Redskin Park on a balmy evening last November when I got myself into trouble again.

I was standing outside the shed, waiting to ask Jay Schroeder a couple of questions about his midseason slump. Three minutes earlier, Schroeder had been sitting between Sonny Jurgensen and Glenn Brenner, making his weekly appearance for Channel 9. He gets paid lots of money to be there. I had expected him to tell viewers what was wrong. He didn't say much.

Now, he was standing by himself. He knew I was there, but refused to look at me. I don't think Schroeder likes me. He had seen me out of the corner of his eye before the cameras started rolling. He had shaken his head, looked at Jurgensen and muttered an expletive.

I smiled at Jay. I started out kindly, almost apologetically.

"Jay, do you have a few minutes to talk now?"

He glared at me. "I said everything I want to say."

"Well, as a matter of fact, Joe Gibbs mentioned a couple of things you didn't talk about, that your shoulder injury and the strike may be affecting you. What do you think about that?"

"I'll have to talk to Joe about that."

"You mean you can't talk to me first?" I said.

"I'll talk to Joe first."

"Okay, could you come up to the public relations office to find me after you talk to him?"

"I don't know," he said. He gave me an icy cold stare. I wished he had been giving me answers instead.

I stood there for another moment, staring at Jay. I couldn't understand this. He didn't have a minute to explain why he wasn't playing well? Inside of me, sarcasm was welling. I had seen the jovial Jay, happily jabbering on about this and that on a contractual TV appearance. I now saw the sullen Mr. Schroeder, and I was upset.

And so, I opened my mouth and asked one more question.

"Would it help if I paid you to talk to me?"

That did it. Schroeder yelped, "That doesn't have anything to do with it," motioning toward the Channel 9 set. Then he set his formidable jaw, turned on his heel and scowled into the night. I stalked away.

End of interview. End of discussion. And, although Schroeder was persuaded by a PR man to wander into the office 45 minutes later to take reporters' questions, it was the end of any semblance of a relationship between a very important Redskin and the reporter who covers the team for The Washington Post.

My friends were shocked when I told them I had gotten angry with Schroeder. I must admit that wasn't like me. I have never thought of myself as a troublemaker. I try to be nice. I smile a lot. I like to be liked. I'm from Toledo, for heaven's sake.

THREE YEARS AGO, MY EDITORS AT THE Post asked me to cover the Redskins. I said yes. I was thrilled. It was not that I was a fan of the team; I'm not. And if I had been a fan, I would have quickly severed my allegiance when I took over the beat. Being a fan and being a reporter don't mix, as I think you'll see.

No, I simply thought it was a great assignment. As a journalist, I would root for the story. This was the best sports beat in town. I was glad to have it.

So in 1985, I enthusiastically walked into the lives -- and locker room -- of the players, coaches and management of the Washington Redskins. I was then and still am the only woman who has ever covered the Redskins. To do my job, I spent practically every day from July to January with the team: training camp, practices, home and away games.

Some on the team and in the media thought this was a big deal, but, to me, there was no reason to fuss. I had been a sportswriter for nearly four years at The Miami Herald before coming to The Post in 1984. I covered the University of Miami during its first national championship season. I covered the Dolphins off and on and was one of the first women in their locker room. I covered four consecutive college national championship games. I watched Bernie Kosar, Jim Kelly and Vinny Testaverde practice together. I had been in men's locker rooms about 50 times. Dealing with the unusual demands of being a woman in a man's world was no particular problem for me.

I even had the cocktail-party stories down pat. The two most-asked questions of a woman sportswriter:

1. Do you get into the locker room?

2. What do you see?

Yes.

Not a whole lot.

Now 29, I have been playing or watching sports for as long as I can remember. I grew up with a Tony Cloninger mitt on my left hand, a baseball -- not a softball -- in my right hand, and a bunch of baseball cards stuffed into the front pocket of my pedal pushers. I was bigger than many of the boys in my neighborhood. (At 5-11, I still am. I'm taller than six Redskins and can see eye-to-eye with nine others.)

I spent hours playing catch in the backyard with my father. I never threw like a girl. I recently tossed a 15-yard spiral toward Redskin assistant coach Dan Henning, who had thrown the ball to me. I must have surprised him. He dropped the pass.

I was a great fan, too. I kept score of all the Toledo Mud Hens games off radio broadcasts in 1968. I was 10. Three years later, for Christmas, my parents gave me a trip to the Tangerine Bowl to watch the University of Toledo Rockets play Richmond. I couldn't think of a greater gift.

I went to Northwestern to become a journalist. I got my bachelor's and master's degrees and soon headed into sports, the so-called toy department of newspapers. I realized I got paid to do what most people pay to do -- go to sporting events. This wasn't work. It was a joy.

But I soon found out that sports isn't all fun and games when you're holding a notebook in one hand and a pen in the other. I had to ask players why they were playing poorly. I had to write about controversial injuries. I had to report why someone was about to be traded. I had to ask nasty questions about drugs and financial problems and personality clashes and divorces. I didn't always like doing this, but I did it.

It turns out many of the Redskins didn't like my doing it, either. What I didn't realize as a sports fan, but now know quite well as a sportswriter, is that to simply inform fans about their team can cause all sorts of problems for the person doing the informing. And, sometimes, I never fully understood why.

Perhaps my troubles began because I am a woman. Perhaps they started because I ask a lot of questions. Perhaps it's because I work at The Post, a newspaper that is not exactly universally loved by the men and women who work at Redskin Park.

You see, I thought I was just doing my job when I asked the owner of the Redskins if the team was considering trading a key player. I didn't expect such a simple question would cause me to be declared persona non grata by one of the world's richest men for three months.

I thought I was well within my rights to write about the contract that the team's general manager was about to sign. I didn't expect him to get angry and refuse to give me a private interview for nearly two years.

And I figured if a former star player on the management staff said something on television, I could report it in the sports pages of my newspaper, right? Wrong. I did that and it ended a fine working relationship I had with that good man -- just like that.

Now, three seasons later, I'm leaving the Redskins, moving on to cover the Winter and Summer Olympics. I've come through my stint on the beat in one piece. I enjoyed it -- mostly. I'm unscathed. I still think I have the greatest job in the world. But I'll tell you this: The past three years, I ran into the strangest occupational hazards.

FOR A WHILE, UNBEKNOWNST TO ME, I was the alibi for a player who was cheating on his wife. One of the player's buddies on the team stopped me one day and said that if the player's wife ever asked, I had called their house to interview him.

I didn't get it.

"You see, {Madame X} called one night and {Player X} told his wife it was you."

"Oh, great," I said.

Another time, a player told me word was out in the locker room I was having an affair with a local sportscaster who is married. I wasn't, but that didn't stop players from giggling every time they saw the unsuspecting announcer talking to me. I later told my TV friend. He told his wife. I told a guy I was dating. I think we had the last laugh.

Another player asked me once to stop talking to him as I passed by his locker at Redskin Park.

"The players are gossiping," he said.

This was my first year on the job, so I asked him why this was happening.

"Remember, we're talking about football players," he said. "They have nothing better to talk about."

I probably had a dozen players ask me out. Some were married, some weren't. Maybe I should have expected this. I didn't, at first. Politely, I said no. The tendency was to tell some of them to take a hike. I didn't. What if I had to interview them the next day?

One night, right on deadline, I was typing on my portable computer in my Redskin Park cubicle when I looked up and saw a married member of the Redskin organization (I'm not saying whether it was a player, coach or team official) staring down at me, smiling.

"Do you stay at the same hotel as the team?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Would you like to get together this weekend?"

"No thanks," I said.

He pressed the issue. I politely stood my ground. Within a few seconds, he turned to go.

Then he swung back toward me.

"Would it be okay if I kissed you?"

"No!" I said, startled.

He walked away. I looked back at my computer screen. I'm pretty good at blocking out the strange and bizarre, but this was just too strange and too bizarre. I stared at the screen. I couldn't focus. I had trouble concentrating for a couple of minutes.

The phone rang. It was one of my editors.

"What's taking so long?"

"If you only knew," I told him.

Sometimes, my job got outrageous. Three-hundred-pound defensive tackle Dave Butz laughingly told me if I insisted on interviewing him while he was naked, I should be naked, too. Actually, I avoided naked football players at all costs. I prefer it when the people I interview have their clothes on. A woman in the locker room is a hot topic for some, but consider this: I spent only about four hours out of my 60-hour work week in the Redskins' locker room at practice and after games. (Male reporters had the same time limits.)

In the locker room, I tried to act nonchalant. I maintained eye contact. I made beelines to lockers. I carried large notebooks that conveniently blocked my view of certain areas, should I look down.

But you can't plan for everything. The players knew to expect reporters from noon to 1 p.m. before practice. A few minutes after noon one day, I opened the large, red locker room door and stepped right in.

Whoa!

It was Mark Moseley. Barechested. Pulling on his football pants. Mooning me. (He didn't mean it.)

"Sorry, Mark," I said, turning away.

"We're going to have to put a cowbell around your neck," he said.

It seemed as if we were always dealing with clothes -- or the lack thereof. Never had I received so much attention. Some of the players critiqued my outfits, my coat, my silly off-white winter hat, my fur-lined gray winter boots.

"Is it snowing out?" offensive tackle Joe Jacoby wondered when he saw the boots on my feet on a 45-degree day.

He teased me out of wearing them for a few days, until the temperature dropped below freezing.

"The boots are back!" guard R.C. Thielemann exclaimed later. I've got to hand it to R.C. He's observant. Every day I wore the boots, he noticed and said something.

Butz noticed me, too.

"No women in the locker room!" he said 586 times in the three seasons I was in the locker room.

I hated Butz, I loved Butz. He actually had a rule that he wouldn't speak to me in the locker room. He doesn't believe women belong there.

Yet he willingly came to Redskin Park on a day off and spent an hour with me for a feature story I was doing on him. I can't think of another player who would do that.

This season, Butz wanted so badly to play against the New York Jets in the first game after the strike that he checked himself out of the hospital Sunday morning before the game. He still was suffering with the flu, but he played very well. Unbelievably well, considering he had lost 20 pounds that week, according to Gibbs.

After the game, I wanted to check that figure with Butz, so, despite his rule, I went up to his locker and asked my question.

"Dave, did you lose 20 pounds this week?"

"I don't talk to you in the locker room," he reminded me.

"Well, I'd like to get this right, Dave, with your help."

He shook his head.

I looked around and saw Frank Herzog from Channel 7 approaching Butz.

"Frank, will you do me a favor and ask Dave if he lost 20 pounds this week?"

Herzog: "Dave, did you lose 20 pounds this week?"

Butz: "I lost about 21."

I nodded at Frank, nodded at Butz and walked away. I had my answer.

I never could get too furious with Butz. In my first year, he was concerned that someone was hassling me in the locker room with sexual jokes. Defensive end Dexter Manley had beckoned me over to his locker once, yelling, "Come here, I've got something to show you."

Yeah, right, Dexter.

So, a few days later, after a Redskin victory, Butz called me to his locker for a rare conversation.

"Is anyone bothering you in here?"

"No," I said, stifling an inclination to say, "Yes, you."

"Well, if anyone ever gives you a hard time in here, you just let me know, and I'll take care of them."

I looked up at Butz in disbelief. He was serious. I thanked him and walked away.

More than a year later, over the phone, I finally asked why he did that.

"Because, even if I don't like it that you're in there, you should be treated right when you're there," he said.

It was nice to talk that out. But, sometimes, I was doing too much talking.

I probably had more shouting matches with Joe Theismann than his ex-wife Shari did. I'd say a dozen players wouldn't speak to me at various times because of stories I wrote about them. In the heat of one argument, cornerback Darrell Green, who is very religious, told me my God couldn't possibly be his God. And we had started out discussing a story about his being the NFL's fastest man. Others, like former free safety Curtis Jordan, never said what had angered them. They just stayed mad.

Theismann, to his credit, always told me why he was upset. Or called a press conference to tell the world. At last count, he and I weren't speaking on three separate occasions. I think we're speaking now, although I'm not certain of that. The good thing was that Joe and I always held 30-minute conversations discussing why we weren't going to talk before we stopped talking.

Once, by the practice field, on his crutches with his broken right leg in a cast, Joe screamed at me for telling People magazine the team felt the switch to Schroeder was a change for the better. Finished with me, he hobbled toward the practice field. I was in my first few months on the beat. I was shaken. I stuck by my statement, because it was true. But I quickly found offensive tackle Mark May, Theismann's best friend, and asked him to ask Theismann to calm down and give me another chance. I sure didn't want Theismann that upset with me that early.

But before May had a chance to talk to him, Theismann slowly came back toward me. Oh no, more screaming, I thought.

As Theismann got closer, I realized he was smiling.

"Grrrrrr," he said.

He broke into laughter. So did I. All was well -- for a while.

The following summer, I wrote that Theismann had a $1.4 million Lloyd's of London insurance policy for a career-ending injury. This was an intriguing story. Everywhere I went, people were asking whether Theismann would come back for 1986. If he didn't, he might get all that money. Joe didn't think it was such an intriguing story. He called me at the office one afternoon. I knew it was him by the sound of the scream. He thought his insurance policy was private and none of my business. Half an hour later, we were not speaking again. Thank heaven. I don't think I could have taken much more. I shrugged it off as another spat between us. Plus, I was going on vacation in a few days. I could worry about this when I returned to Washington.

I flew into the tiny Traverse City, Mich., airport to meet the rest of my family for a week at a lake. I walked into the terminal.

I looked to my right.

I saw my parents.

I looked to my left.

I saw Joe Theismann.

He had played in a golf tournament there and was headed home. He looked at me in disbelief.

"No, I'm not following you," I said.

Joe said a curt hello. I introduced my parents to him. At least he didn't yell at them.

As we walked to the parking lot, my parents told me they had noticed the handsome, tanned man come into the airport with his golf clubs. Until I introduced them to him, they had no idea who he was. Perhaps that's what was missing. A healthy dose of perspective.

THE REDSKINS ARE ADORED IN THIS town. Probably 95 percent of the 600 or so stories I wrote about the team were positive and complimentary. But there were times when "negative" questions and stories were warranted -- and necessary. So I asked those questions and wrote those stories, much to the Redskins' chagrin.

On a mild late-December day in 1986, the Redskins were playing their first playoff game in two years, against the Los Angeles Rams. That morning, I had received a tip from a good friend in the media that general manager Bobby Beathard had said the team might be interested in trading Manley. This certainly was plausible, considering the big defensive end had just pulled another of his infamous stunts, going AWOL the day after Christmas and missing practice and meetings.

With my editor, George Solomon, I wandered into Jack Kent Cooke's box overhanging the field at RFK Stadium. This was common for me; I had a standing invitation from Cooke to drop by, and I always enjoyed his pre-game parties. For almost two full seasons, Cooke liked me a lot. Perhaps too much. He never forgot to mention me as reporters gathered around him on the lush playing fields at training camp in Carlisle, Pa.

"Miss Brennan," he would say, "what do you think?"

He complimented me. He asked about my clothes. He mentioned my hair.

I was uncomfortable. I smiled and tried to ignore it. I shifted my feet. I swallowed hard and charged right in and asked my questions. Cooke laughed and answered half of them.

Twice, Cooke kissed me. Handshakes all around for the guys; a kiss for the girl. Both times, I was able to turn my head and take it on the cheek. I squeaked something about trying to be professional. Perhaps Cooke heard me, because my last two years, I simply got firm handshakes.

Cooke would always take my calls, at home or at the office. He was in charge every time I phoned, usually chastising me for a question or statement. Once, he said someone was a "supernumerary." I didn't know what the word meant. I told Cooke so. He told me to put down the phone and go to a dictionary and look it up. He would wait. I did as instructed and learned a new word. (It means extra, additional.)

So back to that fateful day when I went to the owner's box before the Rams game, found Cooke and asked my question: "Are you considering trading Dexter?"

Cooke's eyes bulged. He asked where I got such an idea. I told him word was out that Beathard, who had stopped speaking to me in a snit that March, was saying it. Knowing Beathard, I figured it was true. He loves to tell stories out of school to almost anyone who will listen -- anyone except me.

Cooke told us he would check it out and let me know. George and I left.

In the second quarter, as the Redskins built a 13-0 lead on the way to a 19-7 victory, we were summoned by a security guard to return to the owner's box at half time.

As we walked in, Cooke's guests walked out: George Will, Lesley Stahl, Bobby Beathard.

Alone with us, Cooke was direct.

"You lied to me! You said we're trading Dexter, and you said Bobby is saying it. That's not true. Miss Brennan, I'm not sure I can ever trust you again."

I managed a "What?" before Cooke turned toward George to continue the tirade. Outside the open-air box, the band was playing a happy half-time tune. Fans were cheering. Christmas still was in the air. And I was in shock.

Cooke took a breath. This was my chance. I said that I hadn't said they were trading Manley, but had asked if they were considering it. That didn't matter. Cooke was irate. He wasn't in the mood for listening.

I laughed to myself (I thought), shaking my head and rolling my eyes.

Cooke noticed.

He pointed his finger and shook it in rage.

"I'm thinking less and less of you every minute, young lady," he said. "And don't ever come back to any parties I have in here."

I probably should have been shaking as we walked out the door onto the catwalk over the stadium seats. But Cooke's five-minute tirade had been so absolutely absurd that I just could not take it seriously.

I asked myself what I would have done differently. Nothing. I had to check out a trade rumor involving Manley. I thought Cooke would have understood that. Cooke is involved in journalism; he owns the Los Angeles Daily News. He certainly would want his reporters to ask the kinds of questions I asked him.

And I had not practiced particularly intrepid journalism. The very next day, the Manley issue was mentioned in The Washington Times. A story included references to team management's wanting to possibly shop Manley around. It had become clear to me that the Redskins had one set of rules for some reporters and another set for me.

I don't think that it was because I am a woman, although I know that bothered some people in the organization -- Beathard especially. An easygoing Californian, he doesn't seem bothered by anything. But a month or so after I started covering the team in 1985, Beathard and I were sitting in his office, when, quite disarmingly, he said, "It messes up everything that they're sending you out here." He was concerned about the locker room.

I said I had no problems with it. It's part of the job. It's not fun or sensual or exciting. It's cramped and steamy and messy.

"I know you're a nice girl and I know you don't really want to go in there," he replied.

I again said it was not an issue. I don't think Beathard was listening to me.

I know Joe Gibbs doesn't like having women in his locker room after games, but he handled it very well and simply followed NFL rules, which say all teams must give equal access to male and female reporters. Gibbs and I never discussed the issue. Ever. He handled the situation matter-of-factly. Without hysteria. Just like he handles almost everything.

No, perhaps the problem was this: I honestly think I understood the Redskins' jobs. I just don't believe they fully understood mine.

The blowup with Cooke was, in his mind, the final straw in a series of problems he and the team had been having with me. The trouble had begun late in the 1986 season when the team put rookie kicker Max Zendejas, who was performing poorly, on injured reserve with a groin pull. I called Zendejas' agent in Phoenix to ask what was wrong with his client. Nothing, the agent said. "He is not injured."

So I quoted him. And I quoted the Redskins.

Well, this made it look like the Redskins were stashing Zendejas for next season rather than letting him go so another team could sign him. That's illegal in the NFL. All teams do it, but even a hint of it worried Gibbs.

Meanwhile, Zendejas was being bashed in the media. Television replays showed his bad field goals and extra points sailing wide left again and again. Teammates were being unkind to Zendejas, who was born in Mexico: "If this had been a big game, he probably would have been running out of here to get the first plane south of the border to save his life," said Curtis Jordan after Zendejas missed three kicks in one game.

"No mas," said Dexter Manley.

I tried to reach Zendejas all the next week to offer him a chance to defend himself. Eight days after his last game, he finally spoke with me over the phone. He fought back, saying he didn't "appreciate" the ethnic comments and wondered why his teammates would treat him that way.

My story appeared the day after the final regular-season game. The Redskins were headed to the playoffs, and when Gibbs opened his morning paper, Zendejas' comments stared him in the face. Gibbs hates distractions. He must have been upset. Cooke was. He told me he disliked the story, calling it "unfair" to Zendejas and the Redskins.

"That's something I would expect from a supermarket tabloid," Cooke said.

I told him I was pleased with the story. Our conversations were getting shorter and more pointed. Trouble was brewing.

Running back Kelvin Bryant bruised his ribs at Philadelphia in the last game before the playoffs. At Gibbs' news conference the next day, I asked how Bryant was. Gibbs said he thought he'd be okay. There was no hint of a problem. The word "hospital" never entered the conversation.

But, in fact, that's exactly where Bryant was. I got a tip about it and called the team doctor to find out if that was true. It was, so I interviewed him from a restaurant phone at our office Christmas party and dictated the story to an editor back at The Post, saying Bryant had been admitted for observation when blood was discovered in his urine.

The next day, phones were ringing off the hook at Redskin Park. The headline -- "Redskins' Bryant in Hospital" -- shocked fans. By not releasing the information to the media, by in fact hiding it, the team had created its own nightmare. Meanwhile, I had a nice scoop. And who did the Redskins blame for this mess?

You guessed it. Me.

A public relations man was whining about the headline.

"It's sensational."

"How else do you suggest we say that Bryant is in the hospital except to say 'Bryant in Hospital'?" I asked.

An hour or two later, I called Bryant in his hospital room and interviewed him. He told me he still wasn't feeling great, he continued to have "a little bit" of blood in his urine, and he didn't know if he could play Sunday against the Rams. I jotted this down in my notebook and called to ask for comment from the Redskins.

The PR staff was rushing to put out a news release on Bryant's condition. I soon received it over our telecopier at The Post. It said Bryant was better and would be released the next day, no longer had blood in his urine and would play Sunday.

Can't these guys get anything right? I asked myself. Faced with these discrepancies, I called the PR staff to tell them and suggested they tell head trainer Bubba Tyer about this. Then I called Tyer myself, got no answer and left a message. I tried Tyer at home after dinner. I never got him. He never called me. I called the PR staff again. No help there. I checked in with Bryant again. He told me what he had told me before.

So, with nowhere else to turn, I filed my story, writing that Bryant said one thing and the Redskins said another. Point, counterpoint. I knew this made the Redskins look foolish. That night, I left The Post satisfied with my effort and my story -- and completely dissatisfied with the Redskins' public relations performance. I also left with the knowledge that, somehow, this all would become my fault.

This story appeared Christmas Eve. I'm sure it was a present Joe Gibbs could have done without. After practice that rainy afternoon, Gibbs said he wanted to see me. Just as I expected, he complained.

"It seems like the last few weeks, you've been taking the low road, trying to pull us down," Gibbs said.

I explained the reason for each story. We clearly disagreed. I couldn't get it in my head why Gibbs was blaming me for problems he and the Redskins staff had created. Gibbs told me I shouldn't even have called Bryant. I said I should have and was glad I did. He told me he thought I was picking at insignificant details. I told him I don't have the luxury of working for a magazine, that I write for a paper that must present a daily, changeable picture.

"Well, I said what I think," Gibbs said. "Now we'll go on. And make sure to let me know if you ever disagree with anything else I do."

That was nice, but it wasn't the end. The organization had someone prepare a memo on my "negative reporting." There were about 20 examples of my terrible undermining of the team, including the Zendejas and Bryant stories. I found out about the memo when a source, who obtained one of the few copies, read it to me over the phone. There was no knowing the depths of Redskin paranoia.

Then came Cooke's outburst on the Manley question, and I was finally, thoroughly, exasperated. I had dealt with problems before. Many of them. But none had been as inexplicable, as ridiculous or as avoidable as this one. The team was going great guns, heading for the NFC championship game at Giants Stadium, and I wasn't enjoying it at all. I didn't blame the players and the coaches. Just the whole monolithic structure that is the Redskins.

Many times, people marveled that I was "so fortunate" to have such a great job. I'm sure they thought only of the games, the personalities, the travel. They were right. That is great. But, just as in play at the line of scrimmage, few people see what really happens in the trenches between some reporters and the teams they cover.

I calmed down quickly after the Cooke outburst, had no trouble at the playoff game in Chicago and actually would have liked to see the Redskins beat the Giants. I was rooting for the story. I had covered the last four Super Bowls, and, in spite of the mountains of work I would have had, it would have been an experience I never would have forgotten.

I also remembered something Miami Herald sports editor Edwin Pope told me. When I was having some troubles with coach Howard Schnellenberger at the University of Miami, Pope paid a visit to the coach's office on my behalf. He told Schnellenberger if a reporter is doing his or her job correctly, and a coach is doing his correctly, it's inevitable there will be antagonism between the two.

That kind of tension often came when I least expected it and with a person I never dreamed would turn on me. One night this season, assistant general manager Bobby Mitchell made some controversial remarks on local cable television about the team's quarterback situation. I found out and wrote a story about it. Mitchell got into hot water with Gibbs, then I got into hot water with Mitchell, and he hasn't spoken with me since.

This may sound strange, but I took professional pride in the fact so many people were grumbling about me at Redskin Park. I wasn't looking for trouble, but if it came my way, I didn't avoid it.

Once, a friend of some of the players sat beside me on a bench by the practice field.

"You don't have many friends here, do you?"

"No," I said. "But I'm not out here looking for friends."

I did meet some awfully enjoyable players along the way. Dealing with Babe Laufenberg, Doug Williams or Jeff Bostic, for example, was a joy. I'd put Mel Kaufman, Neal Olkewicz, Charles Mann, Keith Griffin, Clint Didier, George Rogers, Pete Cronan, R.C. Thielemann, Russ Grimm and Mark May on my all-nice-guy team. All the offensive linemen belong there, really. You'll often see offensive linemen quoted in stories that have nothing to do with the offensive line. That's because they are known league-wide as the best talkers and some of the most intelligent players. I think this comes from being big and bulky. In high school, some were stars, but more were blockers. In college, they all disappeared into the trenches, where there is little publicity and lots of time to study and prepare for the real world. They turned out big, but normal. That's why I liked them.

Schroeder, on the other hand, wasn't so likable. I tried. I really did. I used to dread walking up to his locker to ask him questions. He is so one-dimensional. That stare. That jaw. That forehead. That condescending attitude. Some journalists took to calling him "Robo QB." It was a perfect nickname. I often thought John Riggins should visit the locker room to give Schroeder some advice: "Loosen up, Jay baby."

Earlier this season, during Quarterback Controversy I, some of the reporters on the beat were secretly rooting for Doug Williams to keep the job he lost when he injured his lower back. Although I was not supposed to be cheering for anyone, I'm human. I thought Williams, after a life of troubles and tragedy (his wife died of brain cancer 11 months after their wedding), deserved a break. In the playoffs, he finally got it, and that was great. He always said hello, answered me by name, smiled, made small talk. In contrast, I never once heard Schroeder say my name.

Dexter Manley knew my name. The first two years, he would always chat. After his alcohol rehabilitation, he clammed up for about 10 weeks of the season. Then he started talking again. It was inevitable.

One day in 1986, Manley was prancing around on the sidewalk behind the two-story brick office building at Redskin Park. He said he had a new word he bet I didn't know.

"Arcane," he said. "Do you know what it means?"

"Yes," I said. "Ah, secret, unknown."

"No," Dexter said. "It means 'roof.' "

"Roof?"

"You don't know it. See, I taught you a new word."

I was going to argue, but I chuckled instead.

I laughed a lot; you've got to do that on a job that's never over. Driving back from training camp at about 10:30 one night last summer, I wound around a bend near Gettysburg and came upon four police cars, lights twirling, and a collection of five expensive foreign cars and high-riding cruisers.

I drove by and recognized Clarence Verdin, a wide receiver. I turned my car around and stopped. I walked up to not one, but six, Washington Redskins. I looked at them. They looked at me. Of all the people they wanted to see at that moment, I was at the bottom of the list.

"You're not going to write about this, are you?" one pleaded.

"I don't know," I said.

I spoke with a policewoman who told me they were speeding but said nothing more. I asked one of the policemen if the players were going to be cited. No, he said. Then he high-fived one of them.

"You guys gonna beat Dallas?" he asked.

Players and police hopped back into their cars and went back to the station. I tried to follow but was too far behind and lost them. On second thought, they probably lost me. So I phoned the station and got the runaround. No one would answer my questions.

I called my editors and drove home after my hour detour. There was nothing more I could do at 1 a.m.

In the morning, I called home and mentioned this in passing to my mother. "I have to pursue this, even though I don't really want to," I told her. "I feel sorry for the players, but news is news, and I can't unlearn what I already know."

"Honey, that's why people dislike reporters," dear old Mom told me.

We ended up running a short story buried inside the sports section the next day. Wide receiver Ricky Sanders and running back Dwight Garner were charged with speeding in excess of 84 miles per hour after a four-mile chase by the police. No one lost a job because of it. I'm not sure Gibbs ever saw the story. Of course, if I hadn't seen the players as I drove by, there would have been no story at all.

Asking questions didn't always result in serious consequences. Following practice one day soon after Bryant got out of the hospital, he raced toward the locker room door, sick of reporters asking if he was 100 percent healthy yet.

"Kelvin, are you 100 percent?" I asked.

"No."

"Ninety percent?" chimed in a reporter from The New York Times.

"No."

I bid low as most of Kelvin disappeared from view. "Seventy?"

Times: "Eighty?"

Post: "Seventy-five?"

Times: "Seventy-seven?"

I went to college to do this?

OF ALL THE THINGS THAT HAPPENED to me -- or that I caused to happen -- the most mystifying was the feud I had with Beathard. He got angry with me when I wrote in March 1986 that he was close to signing a new contract with the Redskins.

He signed in April.

The day my story appeared in The Post, we both were in Palm Springs, Calif., at the NFL owners' meetings. Beathard, dressed in T-shirt, shorts and running shoes, walked out of a meeting room. Reporters were gathered outside it. He looked at me. My eyes caught his.

"I'm never speaking to you again!" he managed through teeth clenched in anger. "I told you not to write about my contract!"

He stunned me, but I managed to quickly gather my thoughts.

"No, you didn't, and, even if you did, since when do you make decisions for The Washington Post?" I replied.

Beathard turned. "Get your information on the Redskins from someone else," he said as he left.

Three times that previous week, I had asked Beathard about his contract. Each time, he had said he didn't want to discuss it. That didn't mean I was dropping the issue, though. He has played this reporter/ source game a lot longer than I have. He knew my asking meant I was working on a story, or at least investigating the possibility of a story. Beathard, a coveted general manager, was a hot topic at the NFL meetings. Team officials and even other reporters were stopping me to say they had heard Beathard was staying in Washington. I told my editors. They told me to keep working on the story. I asked a few questions, and I got it. It was simple. I've worked on a hundred stories that were more difficult to pin down.

But Beathard didn't see it my way. He obviously still was in the midst of negotiations, and all I can think is perhaps my story cost him some leverage in his talks with Cooke. If that's so, I'm sorry for Beathard. But I still would have written the piece.

Beathard had been angry with me before, but, each time, we were talking within a week. This time, one week went by. Then two weeks. I needed him for something. I left messages. I got no return call.

Finally, about one month after the California outburst, I drove the 45 minutes out to Redskin Park from the city and told Beathard's secretary I was in the PR office and would like to see him whenever he had a moment.

The time was 1 p.m.

Six hours went by. Still no visit from Beathard.

A few minutes after 7 p.m., I wandered into the back offices. It was quiet. Some lights were off. The secretary had gone home. Beathard was standing outside his office.

"Bobby, I'd like to talk to you."

"I told you in California I'm not speaking to you," he snapped.

"But Bobby, that's ridiculous . . ." I trailed off because he turned his back and kept on walking.

Today, Bobby Beathard only smiles and says hello. I do the same. We have not talked privately about Redskin business

in almost two years. Beathard grants interviews and information to almost any reporter who walks in the front door or dials his telephone number. Any reporter but me.

Last March, I thought about sending flowers to Beathard for the one-year anniversary of our fight.

I didn't.

Maybe I will this year.

Maybe not. ::