Those hands.

Ken MacAfee uses them to play the piano, to create pen and ink drawings, to write a raunchy football novel to fulfill requirements for a senior literature course.

One day MacAfee will stick those hands into open mouths. This glib and gifted Notre Dame tight end wants to become a dentist. But first, MacAfee wants to help his football team defeat top-ranked Texas in the Cotton Bowl on Monday.

Those hands if used properly by Irish quarterback Joe Montana, will be one of Notre Dame's best weapons in the battle for a national championship.

"He catches the ball as well as anyone I've ever seen," said Texas' All-America defensive tackle Brad Shearer. "His hands can hurt you."

Those hands are immense. MacAfee wears specially made triple-extra-large gloves in the winter. His ring size is 14.

Those hands are attached to a 6-foot-4, 250-pound body, with a nonstop neck that resembles a large hunk of rock.

And those hands are controlled by a mind nimble enough to cope with organic chemistry. Plato's Republic and the subtleties of the Notre Dame I formation. What you have here, basically, is the prototype scholar-athlete who makes numerous catches and a whole lot of sense. Listen:

"I'm definitely looking forward to playing professional football," he said today, "as long as my body can stand it. But I'm not going to put all my marbles in one pot. I've applied to dental schools of Penn, Georgetown and Tufts. I'm going to do something with my life other than football.

"I've seen so many athletes waste their educations. School is the last thing on their minds. I know several guys I've talked to at other schools who say they're going to drop out as soon as the season is over to get ready for the pros. I think that's a a shame.

"For me, professional football didn't become a reality until last year. I've been studying to be a dentist since I got to school so that if I were injured, or something happened, I would have another option."

That is the way MacAfee was brought up. His father, Ken Sr., who was an outstanding receiver at Alabama and an all-pro with the New York Giants.

MacAfee Jr. insists, his father's most valuable asset was being all-world as a parent.

As a child, MacAfee Jr. vividly remembers being tossed into the air by Rossevelt Grier in the Giants locker room. "He just threw me over his head and all I remember is being kinda' scared," he said. He also remembers ears shed because his father forbade him to play organized football until he reached high school in Brockton, Mass.

"He was concerned about me getting hurt at a young age," MacAfee said. "I played all the other sports. But I also took piano lessons and ballroom dancing. I even took art courses at a local museum. At the time, I used to be hurt by it I'd go home and cry a bit. But now I know there's no question that it was advantageous not to play football at a young age.

"I saw so many guys get sick of football once they got to high school. That's acutally what happened to me with baseball. I always wanted to be a pro baseball player. I was in Little League. I went to Ted Williams' summer camp. But I got tired of it. Looking back now. I can't thank my father enough for not letting me play."

When MacAfee was permitted to go out for his high school team, he was used mostly as a wide receiver in a wishbone oriented attack that stressed running backs. He caught 32 passes his senior year, and was bound for glory at Notre Dane. Or so he thought.

When he arrived at the Golden Dome MacAfee was listed as the No. 6 tight end on the Irish depth chart. He called home, his voice cracking, and received a lecture from his father on the value of hard work and not giving up. Three days later he was elevated to the third team, and halfway through his freshman year, MacAfee became a starter.

It's been mostly a wonderful life since.MacAfee dates a former Miss Teen-age America runner-up. He was named to All-American teams each of the last three years and was selected as the Walter Camp player of the year in 1977.

There were nine catches in a come-from-behind Notre Dame victory earlier in the season, a game many believe turned the Irish season around, and eight catches against arch-rival Southrn Cal. MacAfee grabbed 54 passes this season, and is the all-time leading tight end in Notre Dame history.

The scouts say he will be a No. 1 draft choice, perhaps even the first player selected, although his speed (4.8 seconds in the 40) has been questioned in some quarters. Of such hands, ability to get open and blocking power are championship oftenses constructed.

MacAfee always has told his quarterbacks simply to get the ball "within three yards of me and I'll do the rest. I don't consider that bragging. I just have a lot of confidence in my own ability.

"If you're going to get hit, my philosophy has always been that you might as well have the ball in your hands."

Those hands.