In his book, "Over the Hill to the Super Bowl," Big Owens wrote of pro football: "It's a cold game at times. When the Cardinals let Bob Reynolds go after a number of great years, all he got were his shoes. Some clubs aren't even that generous. If it ever happens to me, I'm just going to quiet disappear. I might say goodbye to my roomo, Jerry, but that's about it."

Slightly more than five years later after he wrote that, Owens felt the chill himself. He became expendable to the Redskins Monday and, true to his word, he told reporters: "Just give me a couple of days. I have nothing to say now." He did not say goodbye to his "roomo," however, for Jerry Smith also was dropped to make room for a younger man.

It is possible the Redskins will be more successful without Brig Owens and Jerry Smith, but they will not be as good a team. Anyone who believes there was a classier athlete in all of sport than Owens will get an argument here, and he and Smith - within the team and within the community - showed there were, indeed, humans inside all that NFL armor.

In truth, it is nearly impossible to argue with Allen's logic - and coaches without the capacity to determine when a player has lost that precious step do not make $250,000 a year. It is possible to question how Allen arrived at the Smith decision, especially given his usual generosity, almost to a fault, with veteran players who have contributed mightily to the Redskins.

Instead of allowing Smith to shoe he was incapable of backing up Jean Fugett during the exhibition, Allen all but gave the position to Bill Larson, a fact not overlooked by other Redskins.

"How can he know if Jerry can or cannot play?" said the center, Len Hauss, "At what point did he decide? Where has Jerry proved he can't play or proved he can play? That's the puzzlement. What did Jerry play against the Jets? One play. Correct.

"Of course, it's tough for me to be objective because Jerry is a helluva good friend."

If a coach is going to have any impact on his game, he must surround himself with quality players - and then immediately seek better ones. And Allen has been trying to find a better safety than Owens and a better tight end than Smith almost from the day he arrived in Washington.

Mack Alston, John Hilton, Marv Fleming, Ray Parson, Jim Kennedy and Alvin Reed were among the tight ends dismissed by Smith, whose 60 touchdown passes are the most by any NFL tight end, but whose career somehow seemed to Sonny Jurgensen.

Almost yearly, Allen would bring a Richie Petitbon or Rosey Taylor to camp, they would move ahead of Owens and then, as the season progressed, Owens would regain his position. Until the arrival of Ken Houston and Jake Scott.

Men as bright as Smith and Owens realize they will be replaced at some point. Owens realized a certain inevitability almost from his first professional moment, at his book relates: "I came out of the University of Cincinnati as a quarterback who had been fourth in the nation in total offense and went to the Dallas Cowboys as a seventh-round draft choice in 1965. The cowboys said they'd give me a shot at quarterback, but somehow I felt the chance of being the first black quarterback in pro ball wouldn't come with a Texas team. I was right. After a few days of practice, coach Landry told me to meet with the defensive backs."

When black and white often were separate and usually unequal in sports, Owens and Smith became fast friends - and roommates - for longer than all but the most special players even survive in the NFL.

Once in 1972, when Smith seemed determined to walk out of the Redskins' training camp because "I don't need this harrassment," Owens told him: "I know how you feel, but you just can't walk out of a situation."

Owens always was available at any of the defensive backfield positions - and also as a speaker at a dinner or clinic when the friend or caused was worthy enough. Although he intercepted 36 passes in his career - including one in the Super Bowl and was as much a force as anyone in the recent success of the NFL players union, he seemed to spend an inordinate amount of is career in someone else's shadow.

In high school in Southern California, John Huarte, who later won the Heismann Trophy at Notre Dame, once completed 24 passes for 250 yards in an all-star game and was judged the game's most valuable player. However, his team was beaten by one quarterbacked by Owens, who threw three touchdown passes and kicked the extra points.

The night Owens was switched from quarterback to defensive back by the Cowboys, he and another converted quarterback, Ernie Kellerman, were deep in thought.

"Brig, are you sure you want to go through that (hitting) every day?" said Kellerman.

Eventually, Owens said, "Ernie, let's stick around a little while longer and see how it goes."

For Owens, it went fine for 11 years; for Smith, 12 years. And late Monday Len Hauss was saying: "It feels like I won't be seeing a part of my family tomorrow."