Some Packer Backers were in such a belated rush to get on the band-wagon that the ended up with bumper stickers inscribed, "Never To Late in '78."

The missing "o" reflected their unshakable loyalty to a Green Bay team that was picked to finish below Tampa Bay in the National Football Conference's Central Division.

Now, the Packers' office operator prefaces her reply on the telephone with, "Have a pleasant day." A woman fan sent an immense potted plant for the Packers' locker room after the 24-14 subjugation of the Chicago Bears Sunday that provided a two-game lead over the Bears, Tampa Bay and defending conference champion Minnegota.

A 5-1 record suddenly has the mailman groaning about the Pack being back. The membership is shooting up in the Dave Roller fan club. Bart Starr had been down so long that he hardly knew which way was up in the standings. Maybe that is way he let the media persuade him to grudgingly admit about Sunday's victory: "All right, it was an incredibly big win."

Having allowed a foot in the door, the normally circumspect coach was asked it he were concerned about his players talking "championship" after coming off the field Sunday making the "No. 1" sign with their fingers.

"Heavens, no," said Starr, who learned to be respectful about future opponents as a quarterback under Vince Lombardi. "We don't discourage it. We just try to be realistic every week. We just try to have them understand that it's a long season. We'll enjoy this game through the film session and then we'll have to start thinking about Seattle," which is 3-3, in third place in the AFC West and a surprise team itself.

Starr's enthusiasm is tempered by the knowledge that the Packers have two games to play against Minnesota, and one each against Denver, Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago.

Walter Payton of the Bears was quoted in a Green Bay newspaper before Sunday's game as saying the Packers were overrated and not the team their record implied.

Payton ran for 205 yards in his first game against Green Bay in 1977 and 163 yards in their second meeting. On Sunday, Payton gained 82 yards on 19 carries. That figures arouse Payton and the Bears in their rematch with Green Bay.

"We were upset by what Payton said," Packer safety Steve Luke remarked after the game. "We wanted to show him how good we are," Luke recovered Payton's fumble to set up a field goal by Chester Marcol, and returned an intercepted pass 63 yards for a touchdown, suggesting he was highly motivated.

Running back Barty Smith said, "Everybody is just kind of joking about making the playoff, like: 'We won't be home for Christmas,' We started out with a wild-card berth as our long-range objective. But now we're shooting for a division championship.

"This week we've got Seattle, and they haven't played that well on the road. Chicago plays Denver and Minnesota plays Los Angeles. If we can win against Seattle, and Minnesota and Chicago lose, we'd have a three-game lead. That would be super."

The defense has been given most of the credit for Green Bay's success. Quarterback David Whitehurst, running back Terdell Middleton and wide receiver James Lofton have made the difference on offense, but Starr, characteristically, cites the Packers having 23 takeaways to 13 giveaways.