"There was not a player in this room who didn't come up to me before the game and say he hoped I played well, say Pat Fischer. "And no one knew if I could. I didn't. Now where can you go and find 40 people to come over and do something like that - and mean it?"

That is the why of Pat Fischer's being at left cornerback yesterday against the Falcons in RFK Stadium, when nearly everyone with the exception of those Redskins who know him best - and coach George Allen - assumed his career had ended, at age 37, months ago.

This was long after the 10-6 Redskin victory had ended, long after the next-to-last Redskin had left the dressing room in fact. Fischer was speaking slowly - and painfully, it appeared - but there were some important matters about himself and the teams he wanted to share.

"Of all the people in the world, " he said, "absolutely no one received a higher reward than I did today, I was able to play. I contributed, I believe. I played my position and we won the game."

That final part seems so basic. It is ever so significant, because there was a time early in July when football was secondary to "simply getting healthy once again."

"I did not think I could come back," he admitted of the back injury he suffered early in training camp. "And I was depressed until I came to the conclusion that it didn't make any difference I didn't care if I didn't play - and that made it made it more easy.

"Then George asked me to get in shape. Why? To be healthy. I enjoy playing, but that was secondary at the time. Mainly, I was doing it to be healthy. But after the feeling came back to my legs, that first practice was important.

"That's when I realized the probability was good that I could play. Because I could run. The problem never was hitting or being hit. If I could run, I could play - and that day I did more than I expected. Of course, even if I came back and could run I didn't know if I could play well."

It was at this point that Fischer saw the irony of the summer-long saga of his injury. For years now, the rational, non football world has looked at Fischer's 2-foot-9 body and advancing ago and told him to retire to his banking interests and horses.

"They were questioning my ability to play," he said. "With this, though, all of a sudden they weren't questioning that any more. It was a case of if I could recover from the back injury I could play.

"And who makes the decision of whether you should play another year or not? You set certain standards for yourself, but how do you know? I think the age thing is overplayed, because if a guy knows he's lost his reaction he's not going to try to play.

"But you've got to keep coming back to find out. For me, the only test is if I can run, I can play."

And Fischer was his feisty self yesterday. The man called "Mouse roared at the receivers who tested him. Swing a fist now and then and, with two hands placed sharply at shoulder-level, assisted Wallace Francis out of the end zone before he made the catch on third and two from the 10 early in the fourth quarter.

Those are the times that there's such a tremendous drive from within all 11 people out there," he said. "Then and the final series, when we held them four times despite being out there for such a length of time.

"You reach back and try and reinforce one another, try to steady one another, say if we assert ourselves, victory is ours, And that's a tremendours thing. I don't know of any profession in life where you and 10 others are so close, so dependent on each other, everyone saying, "We can do it.'"

Fischer paused a moment.

"I can do anything else," he said. "It's always a puzzle to me that people should say you should retire. Retire to what? I can do other things, but this is what I enjoy doing. They (his teammates) know I'll play my role - and I know they'll play theirs.

"When I suspect that, that's when the fibre of the team starsto weaken. That's when you end up with a poor organization. If we can get this, the constant reinforcement, we'll have a good year.

"I don't know if we'll get it, what we need. But we've had it in the past, and I can only assume we'll continue to get it. I think we're stronger,and we'll get stronger still. I hope it catches on."

Because he gets so high for each game, it always takes Fischer longer than the other Redskins to settle down afterward. Yesterday he went from snappish to clipped answers to his usual articulate self in perhaps an hour.

At one point, he dropped a pack of cigarettes, stopped to pick it up and said: "Hey, I can bend over. How about that?"

Earlier, before he strapped on the corset he wears when no playing, he said his - and team's status - was a "week-to-week thing." His feelings, though more intense, filtered throughout the team: "Hey, I'm just happy to make it through the day."