It's a sweeping, burdensome title: Team of the '80s.

A few weeks ago, San Francisco Coach Bill Walsh was being asked if his 49ers might be that team. Then they lost their first playoff game. No one's asking anymore.

This week, as he began preparing for his third Super Bowl in six years, next Sunday against the Denver Broncos in San Diego, Coach Joe Gibbs was asked if his Washington Redskins qualify for the honor of National Football League team of the decade. He said he didn't know and couldn't answer a question like that.

Gibbs doesn't have to answer it. The statistics speak for themselves. And, according to the numbers, the Redskins are the best team of the '80s, with a Super Bowl and two full seasons still to go.

Based on won-lost records for all games played from the 1980 season on, the Redskins have the best record in football, but by a very slim margin over the 49ers.

The Redskins have won 90 games and lost 43, including playoff games, for a .677 winning percentage. The 49ers are 87-43-1 (.668). The Miami Dolphins are next at 86-44-1 (.660), followed by the Los Angeles Raiders at 82-49 (.626) and Chicago Bears at 78-49 (.614). Behind the top five are the Dallas Cowboys at 79-50 (.612) and Broncos at 76-48-1 (.598).

Were playoff games not counted, the 49ers and Dolphins would be tied with 80-39-1 records (.671), followed by Washington at 80-40 (.667). The others are at least five games behind.

But the Redskins' 10-3 playoff record puts them ahead of the 49ers (7-4 in the playoffs) and Dolphins (6-5 in the playoffs) in the overall standings.

"Who else is close to doing what they've done?" Miami Coach Don Shula asked the other day. "I'd like to wait until the decade is over to see who the best team is, but the Redskins certainly have done a great job."

"I take pride in what we've done," Gibbs said. "I'm glad to have been able to win all those games but I don't spend any time thinking about it. To me, the next game is always the most important."

"I would say we're the team from '80 to '87, but who knows what's going to happen the next three years," said Redskins offensive lineman Russ Grimm.

Most Redskins followers count time from 1982, when Gibbs led the organization to its first and only Super Bowl victory. The team began the decade with a 6-10 record under Jack Pardee, who was fired after the season. Gibbs was hired away from the San Diego Chargers to replace Pardee and take the first head coaching job of his life. He started out 0-5. Since then, the Redskins have lost just 28 games in 6 1/2 seasons. Not bad for an organization that didn't have a winning season for 13 years, from 1956 to 1968, and that didn't qualify for the playoffs from 1977 to 1981.

"Gibbs came in and salvaged the team," Pete Cronan, a linebacker with the Redskins from 1981 to '85, said yesterday from his home in suburban Boston. "There's no doubt he inherited a lot of problems. George Allen had his 'win now' philosophy and traded all the draft picks. The Redskins fell into a black hole for about five years. After Jack Pardee left, Gibbs came in and put everything back together."

There are some around the NFL and at Redskin Park who believe that, if the Redskins are not yet the team of the decade, Gibbs certainly is the coach of the decade.

He is the only coach to take a team to three Super Bowls and four conference championship games in this decade, and he has done that in the last six seasons. He has returned to the Super Bowl with completely new offensive skill-position performers: a different quarterback and running back and different wide receivers (prior to the return of Art Monk from injury). "That's extremely difficult to do," Shula said. Gibbs also has managed strike seasons better than any other coach in the game.

Sport magazine recently commissioned a statistical analysis that named Gibbs the best coach ever in the NFL. Gibbs thinks that might be stretching it a bit; seven years does not a legend make. But, for Gibbs, so far, so good.

"He's as consistently successful as any coach of the decade," said New York Giants General Manager George Young. "He was the best coach in the league in dealing with the strike."

"The numbers do the talking," Cronan said. "Gibbs is the coach of the decade."

But, like Gibbs, the Redskins have not been overwhelming when they have been successful. Their most impressive season, a 14-2 record in 1983, ended with a humiliating 38-9 loss to the Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII. Many times, especially in this strike season, the Redskins just eked by. As they say, they don't get any respect.

"They scramble and they scrounge," said Cronan. "They just have the ability to stay in the hunt every year."

Simply put, the Redskins have staying power. They have survived football in the '80s more than they have thrived in it. That is their secret, say those who know.

But let's not confuse staying power with one of the most overused words in the National Football League: dynasty. No one likes to talk about dynasties any more in professional football, and with good reason. Every time the word comes out of some team's mouth, it loses: the 1983 Redskins, the 1984 49ers, the 1985 Bears, the 1986 Giants.

When Washington middle linebacker Neal Olkewicz was asked a few days ago if the Redskins were a budding dynasty, he quickly replied:

"Don't tell Gibbs that."

Then he laughed.

"It still remains to be seen, if we lose this thing," he said of Super Bowl XXII against Denver. "Before the Raiders game {Super Bowl XVIII}, everyone was talking about dynasties, then we lost and it was like we were lucky to be there. I don't know if there really is going to be any team of the '80s or any dynasty. I think things have evened out pretty well."

"If the 49ers would have won {and been in the Super Bowl}, I'm sure the questions would have come up about them," Shula said. "When dynasty talk started, you heard about the 49ers after they handled us {in Super Bowl XIX}, then the Bears were unbeatable and last year it was hard to convince anyone that the Giants were beatable after last year. This has happened three straight years."

If it sounds like NFL folks are afraid of a "dynasty jinx," it's true.

"It seems like every time somebody wants to brag on our team, something bad happens," Gibbs said. "I don't pay attention to it. Everybody thought we were doing real well in '83; it was one of the best years anybody ever had, and then we get blown out."

Defensive tackle Dave Butz, a 13-year Redskins veteran, called dynasty talk "self-brandishing."

"I think that's what happened to Dallas," Butz said. "The statistics say it. You won't hear me say it."

Most say they don't expect the '80s to produce a definitive power as the 1960s (Green Bay Packers) and 1970s (Pittsburgh Steelers) did. Parity has crept into the league, making it much more difficult to repeat as Super Bowl champion.

"I do think everybody in the NFL's getting closer," Gibbs said. "The games are tighter. We had only a couple games that were lopsided at all. The games are close."

"There really isn't much difference between us and a lot of teams that are sitting home watching us {in the playoffs} all the time," Olkewicz said.

But there is some difference. If it is perseverance, not power, that leads to success in the NFL, Gibbs and the Redskins seem to have cornered the market.

"The Redskins have gone {to the Super Bowl} three times now, which is a great accomplishment," Young said. "You cannot ignore that."

But the Redskins lost the last time they went and are underdogs in next Sunday's game. Super Bowl losers do not become power brokers.

As Young pointed out, "Minnesota went four times in the '70s {their first Super Bowl came in 1970, after the 1969 season}, but they lost, and no one called them a dynasty."

Win or lose, the Redskins get amused looks on their faces when asked about their place in football history.

"I think dynasties are something you look back on," said Redskins linebacker Rich Milot. "We'll look back in the '90s and see if this was the team of the '80s."