Taylor knew he wasn't going to play last Monday night in Cleveland, that it was still too early and too risky to test his wobbly knee and his reconstructed shoulder in an exhibition game that would be forgotten the moment the final gun sounded.

But there was Taylor being introduced with the Redskin starting lineup, sprinting to midfield, jumping, clapping and slapping hands with his teammates, an ear-to-ear smile across his face.

"Oh Yeah," Taylor was saying a week later and miles away in a Dickinson College dormitory. "It just felt so good to go out there, to hear that crowd again. Nah, I can't deny it, I missed that feeling last year. It's one of the big reasons I'm coming back. I want to hear 'em again."

A year ago, that pleasure was taken from him in another meaningless game in another faraway city. He had made a driving catch of a low pass in the 1976 preseason opener - his first catch of the year - and an Atlanta Falcon safety had fallen on his shoulder making the tackle.

As soon as Taylor hit the turf, he knew something was terribly wrong, and the X-rays confirmed it. He had shattered several bones, and his season was over before it began.

And 1976 was not going to be any ordinary season. In 1975, Taylor had become the Henry Aaron of National Football League pass-catchers, breaking the receiving record (he has 635 receptions) in the final game of the 1975 season.

The record-breaker came in the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles in a game between two teams eliminated from the NFL playoffs. There was no national television coverage, no out-of-town writers, not even a packed house at RFK Stadium for a meaningless game between two also-rans.

And in the offseason, hardly any media types came around to chat with Taylor about his achievement. The President didn't call, not even a congressman. Several publishing houses said thanks, but no thanks, when approached about a possible book featuring the all-time leading pass-catcher. Charley who? they asked.

So Taylor was going to show them. He knew the Redskins would be on national television seven times in 1976. He knew that Humble and Dandy and Curt and Phyllis would have to spread the word. For with every catch he made, another record would be set.

All of that became so much wishful dreaming when Ray Jarvis, the Falcon safety, smacked Taylor to the turf in Atlanta. And so, for the next year, Taylor had to sit on the sideline, mending and meditating about his future.

"I always felt I could come back," Taylor says now. "It really hurt me a little to know that this record was there, but nobody knew anything about it. Well, the right people know - my teammates, my friends and my family.

"I just feel like this year, a lot more people are going to know about it. I'm going to let my action speak for me. I'd like to catch a whole lot of passes and push that record high enough that I can keep it for a few years."

Taylor, who will be 35 in September, has shown them all, and particularly Otto Graham, who coached Taylor in the 1964 College All Star game and publicly predicted the young rookie from Arizona State would never make it as a professional.

"He said I didn't show enough enthusiasm and he said I was too lazy," Taylor recalled. "He didn't even start me in that game but I got in when Tony Lorick, a teammate of mine at Arizona State, got hurt. And then I won the MVP award too.

"The next year, I came to Chicago to accept the trophy and my father was with me. We were riding up in an elevator and there was Otto. He said it again, "You know Charley, I never thought you'd make it.'"

Ironically, a decision Graham made as Redskin head coach in 1966 - moving Taylor from running back to wide receiver - "was the best thing that ever happened to me," Taylor said. "I only wish I'd spent my first three years catching the ball instead of trying to be another Jim Brown."

The Redskins did a lot of wishing last year when Taylor was on the injured reserve list. Where were those clutch third-down catches over the middle, the fabulous quick-out patterns for the easy eight-yard gains, those devastating downfield and crackback blocks that turned fouryard carries into 40-yard touchdown?

"Yeah, they really did miss him last year," said an old Taylor nemesis, Charlie Waters, a Dallas Cowboy defensive back. "I hate to say it, but I sure wasn't crying when Charley couldn't play. You never want to see anybody get hurt. But it was kind of nice not having to worry about ol'Charley.

"What makes him so tough? Well, he's a helluva competitor and his competence is overwhelming. We'll jaw back and forth at each other, he's always trying to psych me out. He's one guy who talk a good game and can also back it up.

"He's very strong and very physical. He's got a lot more strength than most receivers, and he's not afraid to make the catch and get hit on those inside routes. And when he's blocking you, he's so big and quick he's hard to avoid.

"He's intense, and somewhat malicious. He'll take a shot at your head if he's got it. No, he doesn't go for the knees and he's not a cheap-shot artist. He likes to go up high on you and he'll kill you with that block, really sting you if he gets you just right."

This season Taylor will have to do all of those things, not really knowing if his next block or catch will be his last. He has been told by several doctors that he is doing his knee or his shoulder little good by continuing to play the game.

But Taylor insists he has healed sufficiently to make a significant contribution. He says his style will change slightly this year because he will not be asked to run as many patterns over the middle, where the blind-side pops can cripple and maim.

"I'm going to be running more 'out' patterns, more deep and 'go' stuff," Taylor said. "It's the same thing Oakland has been doing with Fred Biletnikoff. You go into the middle now and you'll get killed. I'm sure there are going to be third-and-five situations where I'll have to go in there and it won't be any problem. But I think this is going to help me in the long run and the team too."

And so, Taylor still gets excited about playing football. He has always been an Ernie Banks type, the Mr. Sunshine of the Redskins. On the practice field, he will break the monotony of the drills with an infectious laugh, a loud mock curse when he drops a ball, a running dialogue with his quarterback as he runs a pattern.

"Come on, boy, THROW IT," he shouted at Brian Dowling the other day and when the ball finally arrived and he had picked it cleanly out of the air he said simply, "About time."

"Sure, I still love it," he says. "The game has changed so much from when I first came into the league. The guys playing now are supposed to be better now than when I first started because it's all so specialized. If you are a starter, you don't play on the special teams. You've got all these different defenses, the rules are always changing. It's so much more scientific, but I still do all things I always did.

"I'm a guy from another generation who's still able to function pretty efficiently and that's what I enjoy. That's part of the challenge for me. That's also why I'd like to play another year or two, so I can get in on this 16-game schedule. That's going to make a big difference and I'd like to be able to say I was able to do it and still perform."

Taylor has accomplished just about everything else in the game. "When I first came in, my dream was to buy myself a house. And I did that," he said. "I had seen so many guys come into the game who live in suites that cost them $600 a month, play a few years and then have nothing to show for it when they got out.

"I went through that stage myself - the big Cadillac, the fancy clothes, all that other stuff. But I think I've always been pretty careful. That's how I was brought up. And when it's time for me to stop playing, I'd like to stay in the game because football has been my whole life."

And how would he like to be remembered? "As a man who had a job to do and did it," he said, "I might not have been as graceful or as pretty as some of these other dudes, but I've always caught the passes and blocked for my backs and got the job done, no matter what the odds were."

And how would he write the scenario for his exit as an active player?

"That's easy," he said, flashing the Taylor grin. "I catch a 60-yard touchdown pass to win the Super Bowl and I stand there, with my hands over my head, and the crowd is going crazy. Yeah, that would be sweet."