Gallaudet College has fielded football teams since 1893 and never won more than three games in a season. Of course, just having a team at Gallaudet - America's only college exclusively for the deaf - is an achievement.

But Gallaudet's players have never considered deafness a handicap.

"Deaf people simply don't look upon themselves as handicapped in life or in football," said second-year coach Paul Smiley.

Daniel Fitzpatrick, captain of the 1977 squad, agrees. In that sense he is like his teammates. But there is a difference.Daniel Fitzpatrick wants to play pro football.

"I've always dreamed about playing pro football, ever since I was young." Fitzpatrick said moments before a rainy day workout last week. He talked through Smiley, using sign language. "I always wanted to play for the Packers. I'm not going to get my hopes too high, but I would like a chance."

Fitzpatrick's dream, though still a long shot, is not impossible. He is 6-foot-3 1/2 and 255 pounds, extremely solidly built in the upper body. The pros have shown an interest in him.

"You would have to consider the kid just on his size along," said Redskins coach George Allen. "I'd certainly be willing to give him a tryout."

Smiley has also received letters from the other 27 pro teams expressing an interest in Fitzpatrick, and several scouts have been out to take a look at him. "That's certainly never happened at Gallaudet before," Smiley said with a shake of his head.

The subject of all this attention is a round faced, self-proclaimed country boy, who seems almost off the field. According to teammates and coaches, he turns "nasty" once he is on it.

"I like to kill the offensive lineman," he said, his face breaking into a delighted grin. "When the offensive back comes in my area I want him to know he better not come back. I like to control my area."

Fitzpatrick apparently does a good job of controlling his area and several others. Playing the right defensive guard he is described by defensive coach Don Parker as "super quick."

"He's quick for his size but powerful too," Parker continued. "He had super lateral movement. Nine times out of 10 when a play is run to the other side, Fitz is in on the tackle."

The tools appear to be there. Strong and quick, good attitude, a dreamer with a seemingly realistic grip on things - those are traits pro football scouts are looking for. But Fitzpatrick's interest go beyond the football field.

Born in Custer Park III, 22 year ago, the youngest of five children, he was deaf at birth. He began playing football competitively while at the Illinois School for the Deaf. All along his mother, widowed when Fitzpatrick was 12, disapproved.

"Every letter I get from her tells me she doesn't want me to keep playing football," he said, the smile again lighting his face. "She says she doesn't want me to become another piece of meat. I tell her not to worry, but she still doesn't like the sport."

As a freshman at Gallaudet, Fitzpatrick met Louise Hudson, the girl he plans to marry after graduation. Since that time his world has revolved around three things - his girl, football and his studies.

"Fitz has always been the serious type," said Smiley. "He's never been much on par-trying. He's rather be with his girlfriend. He's always done everything in football, whether he likes it or not, without moaning. He's an easygoing type most of the time. Except on the field."

On the field Fitzpatrick will try to help Gallaudet improve on last season's 2-6 record. The season starts Saturday against the University of the District of Columbia. Last year, as Federal City College, UDC beat Gallaudet 20-0.

And what of next year? Fitzpatrick will probably get a try out somewhere. He says he does not consider his deafness a problem.

"I'm just like any other player on defense," he said. Smiley also has faith in his star.

But Gallaudet athletic director Bob Jackson sees some problems.

"There are some handicaps Dan would have to overcome," he said. "He would need cooperation from one of the pro teams. But he has the physical attributes. I don't think there's any questioning that."

Fitzpatrick's dream is not without precedent. In 1972 and 1973, Barney Sloan, also deaf, played defensive tackle for the St. Louis Cardinals. Most of Sloan's work was on special teams where he did not have to hear signals in the huddle play after play.

And what if football doesn't work out?

"I've got two choices," Fitzpatrick said. "I can go back to Illinois and work on our farm (currently run by his oldest brother) or I can continue on and get my masters degree in special education.

"I think eventually I'd like to teach social studies, either to deaf children in a hearing school or in a deaf school. Football is important, but it isn't everything."

But Fitzpatrick remains drawn to football. Exactly why, he isn't sure. He enjoys the hitting and his teammates' companionship and winning. But what keeps him driving through long workouts for eight or nine games a season, he can't define.

If he does not make a pro football team his friends will comfort him, but they will not feel sorry for him. They will not say he might have made it, if only . . .

"I'm not different than anyone else," Fitzpatrick repeated. He used sign language to say it, but the message came across.