He has been knocked cold eight or nine times - "I guess you call those concussions," he says - and there have been seven broken noses, two shoulder separations, a knee operation, countless broken fingers and cracked ribs and all manner of twists, pulls, cuts, scrapes and bruises.

But there is one thing that hurts Rusty Tillman more than any injury he has ever received playing professional football. He aches to play middle linebacker - rgularly - in the National Football League, but with each passing season he knows in his heart it probably will never happen.

Tillman is going to start in the middle Saturday night against the Green Bay Packers because Harold McLinton will not have fully recovered from a sprained left foot he suffered last week against the Chiefs.

So every day this week, Tillman has been showing up after his morning special-team practice for 30 minutes of intense work under the watchful eye of George Allen, preparing himself for a meaningless exhibition.

He worked the same way in the summer of 1974, when he busted his gut to win a starting position. The year before had not all during the winter and pre-season, Allen had been saying Tillman would have a chance to win the job.

Tillman had an excallent pre-season that strike-shortened year, and started two exhibition games. McLinton, by his own admission, had an "adequate" training camp. Yet, when the regular season began, there was McLinton starting in the middle, and there was Tillman back busting up wedges on the special teams.

"It could have gone either way that year," McLinton said today. "I could just as easily have been the backup. I think the only reason I won the job was because I had an extra year or two of experience."

In a sense, Tillman and his friend, Bob Brunet, are the last of a vanishing breed. When they were young, they believed all those things George Allen told them about working hard on the special teams and eventually moving in as a starter.

But they have grown old together as the most valuable members of the bunt and kickoff teams. Brunet has never started a game at running back in the regular season for the Redskins under Allen and Tillman has been used only when McLinton has been physically unable to perform.

"Sure, in some ways it's been frustrating." Tillman said today. "It's frustrating not ever attaining a goal you set out to reach. I was always told that if you worked hard enouth and wanted something badly enough, eventually you would get it.

"To come to the realization at the age of 31 that it's just not true is a very difficult thing to deal with. I felt that if I had been the middle linebacker in 1973 or 1974 I would have developed into a darned good one.

"I can got in now and do a good job, but I'll never be able to reach my potential. It takes three or four years of game experience to reach that. In three or four years, I'll be 34, 35 years old and probably not even playing.

"I suppose I could have asked to be traded, if I felt that being a starter else. But I've seen other guys on this team, people like Jerry Smith, Billy Kilmer, Sonny Jurgensen, Calvin Hill, all proven starters who had to adjust to sitting on the bench. You really have to admire the way they handled it. So I kept my mouth shut.

"And I believe in all that stuff that the team comes before the individual, and I also believe that the special teams as the offense or defense. Last year, the special teams were directly responsible for winning six games, and it's something we're all very proud of."

Tillman is the captain and king of the Redskin special teams, and he says the 1976 season was his most rewarding as a professional, even if he couldn't start in the middle.

"We took a bunch of new guys, and had the best special teams, the absolute best, we ever had here," he said. "In the old days, when we had guys like Billy Malinchak, Mike Hull, Jon Jaqua, there was a real special feeling in that group, and I never thought we could duplicate it.

"But last year, we pulled together, we worked together and we developed the same kind of feeling, only better. Brunet and I kind of took it upon ourselves to be the leaders, and these guys listened to us, they appreciated what we had done.

"Every once in awhile, one of the veterans, guys like Lenny Hauss and Roy Jefferson, would come to our meetings and tell us how they felt, how much we were contributing and how much we were picking them up. It was very gratifying."

And Tillman ways he still gets great pleasure out of what he does best - sacrificing his body almost every time he runs downfield to cover a punt or a kickoff.

"I really think that whole suicide-squad business if overdone," he said. "I've never thought about injury. It's a negative way to approach it, so you go out and do your job.

"I do have to admit it's a little scary covering a kickoff. You know there's going to be a collision somewhere along the line.

"It's like running into a brick wall," he said. "And then somebody asks you to do it again."

Running back Mike Thomas was advised to take another day off because of his recurring leg problems, and probably won't play against the Packers. Also idle idle today were tailback Calvin Hill (sore knee); safety Jake Scott (sore leg) and wide receiver Frank Grant (sore hamstring). Allen said he thought Hill and Grant might be ready to play, but said Scott was very doubtful . . . Allen praised cornerback Gerard Williams today and said he was "getting better every day," but that he would still wait to see if he keeps improving in the next two games before possibly making a move to trade for a cornerback . . . Safety Eddie Brown remained in Carlisle Hospital with a sore throat . . . Allen said middle linebacker Harold McLinton may be ready to play "if I decide to use him," but that if there was any doubt about his sore foot he would be held out . . . The Redskins are holding fan appreciation day for residents of Carlisle Thursday, inviting the public in to watch practice. They'll even have a band . . . Allen still keeps insisting he doesn't know when camp will end, although there's been some furious packing at the team dormitory. The best guess is that Allen will tell the team to report to Redskin park Monday, if they beat the Packers.