We watch and discuss the special colts Affirmed and Alydar with such affection the question, odd as it might seem, keeps reoccurring: if they were humans, to what humans would they be compared?

"Affirmed would be O. J. Simpson," said Clem Florio. The post's horse wizard, "because he does just what he has to in order to win. I think about a run O.J. made in college (against UCLA), when a whole lot of tacklers took a shot at him, but nobody could catch him.

"That's what I mean.

"When I think of Alydar, the name that comes to mind is the great linebacker, Ray Nitschke, a banger and a hitter who never quits."

"Think of the best back-court basketball player you ever saw," said Steve Davidowitz, author of "Betting Thoroughbreds: A professional's Guide for the Horseplayers." "The young Maravich; maybe Jerry West, or Walt Frazier for a few years. Somebody with all the moves - and intelligence and wonderful athletic ability. That's affirmed.

"Alydar would be the aggressive forward, a hard-hitting board crasher capable of scoring 60 against weak opposition but who'll probably foul out in big games."

"Joe DiMaggio," said Laz Barrera, Affirmed's trainer. "I don't like football, so my horse would be DiMaggio, because when I was growing up he was my hero."

There are images of Bayi, who also would break quickly from the pack and hold off the best milers in the world, and Juantorena and Viren, though they might well be the track equivalent of an even greater colt than Affirmed - Secretariat.

Think of what the Brooklyn Dodgers once were to the New York Yankees, how Jack Nicklaus always seemed to be able to measure Tom Weiskopf in the final round of a major golf tournament and about two quarterbacks. Craig Morton had more ability; Roger Staubach won more big games.

"Frustration?" Alydar's exercise rider, Charlie Rose, was saying 90 minutes before Affirmed again beat his horse by a head - Saturday in the Belmont Stakes. "You can't believe it. You laugh and joke and be a good sport about it - and then you dream about it, too."

Much of what trainer John Veitch had done prior to the Kentucky Derby and Preakness - other than what was needed to keep Alydar fit and sharp - had been altered for the Belmont Stakes. The blinkers came off; Alydar was walked instead of galloped the morning of the race; an assistant trainer walked Alydar to the paddock instead of Veitch.

It brought to mind how Lefty Driesell would buy new uniforms for his Maryland basketball players before the ACC tournment, how other coaches with fine teams speak of "new seasons" before meeting superior teams - and end up like Alydar.

"What does this mean 3/8" Veitch said during a brisk stroll back to the barn almost immediately after the Belmont. "It proves that he's that much better than I am - about three inches.

"A tragedy they both were born the same year? That's racing. I don't think so. I'm disappointed, but not crushed. There are many other races."

Although some of his other comments seemed to hint he might not practices what he preaches, Barrera of Affirmed's future: "He needs time to relax. How long can you go? How long can you keep milking him? Why take a chance?

"There's gonna be a day when these (Triple Crown) races will be run a month apart, because now they're too close. Horses need time, and now it seems like we're running morning and night.

"I go back and look at horses I raced seven or eight times a year. Now I run horses 16 times a year and I don't run them too much. I have a (Breeding) share (in Affirmed) and I get 10 percent if he's sold.

"I think I deserve it."

And, yes, Barrera is pragmatic enough to allow that, given the choice, he would opt to sell Affirmed.

"Wouldn't you?" he said.

Then Steve Cauthen appeared at his side, carrying a T-shirt that said: "Cauthen's Affirmed Triple Crown." Earlier, during the fierce, nose-to-nose drive down the homestretch he had dazzled such as Florio once again with his hands.

Cauthen had been driving Affirmed with a right-hand whip, but when Alydar pushed so close as to make that impossible he switched to the left hand - with absolutely no wasted motion.

Barrera admired the shirt and Caughen said: "We'll make it Cauthen-Barrera Triple Crown."

"Just don't put me on the back," Barrera said.

To those who had seen Cauthen's style, on the track and off, as cold, the prodigy said: "I don't mean to be. I just try to do my job." Like Cauthen, Affirmed seems programed at times, unmindful of anything but the job at hand. Alydar seems more emotional.

Still, it was impossible to argue with Barrera's post-race logic about Affirmed: "I see them head and head and I know he drop dead before he lets Alydar beat him."

The Dyes of annandale were alone in their early morning vigil at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, as Sunday's column said, but they were not the only Bullet fans who welcomed the team home after their loss to the Sonics in game five of the NBA championship playoff.

The Fowlers of Hillcrest Heights, Md. Bill and Mary, were in another section of the airport, "along with a fellow in his late teens or early 20s who we didn't know." Bill said he got another man to work his shift so he and Mary could show their loyalty and that Wes Unseld, who did not take the team bus, "greeted my wife with a hug and kiss and said, 'I knew you all would be there.'"