Now don't try to stir up something," said Mike Thomas. "Don't do me like that. If I was making more money than anyone in the game, I still couln't have played. It's got nothing to do with the option - and I'd appreciate it if nobody brought it up."

That is impossible. Yesterday against the Eagles, Thomas was faced with the decades-old dilemma in sports - play hurt, perhaps with a risky pain-killing shot, or rest what outwardly appears to be a rather tame injury. Thomas chose not to play and the Redskins should have won without him.

Because they did not, the glare of doubt, from outsiders as well as at least a few teammates, becomes more intense. The unwritten NFL rule on such matters, especially with the Redskins, is that if a limb is still attached to the body, regardless of how slender the thread, you play.

Thomas said he hurt his right ankle last week against the Lions in Detroit. He practiced hard Wednesday, but said he stepped in a hole and reinjured it. There is no noticeable swelling and Redskin coach Jack Pardee said Saturday he thought Thomas would start yesterday.

"It just didn't come around," Thomas said. "This is the seventh game. There are lots of things to consider. It's just too sore to run, so I couldn't I just hope it's ready by next week."

One Redskin said he thought there was pressure to take a pain-killer and that Thomas refused. Said Pardee: "I told him before the game to try to get ready, to do what he could. we wouldn't have used him unless we got down to nothing - and for awhile there it looked like we'd get down to that."

To the ordinary mortal, or at least one with a mind, this is a troubling issue. The notion of sport is not to push the body when it screams no.And when a Thomas takes such a stand, especially with an injury that simply refuses to look ugly, he is to be applauded.

But the NFL does not applaud rational players - and Thomas gets questioning stares and nasty talk behind his back. By not playing, the whispers go, he is saving his body for the open market, for free agentry at the end of the season. Except that most NFL teams might well look at Thomas and pass, regard him as a malingerer who quits under pressure.

"There are two sides of the issue here," said John Riggins, "and I've been on both of them. I can appreciate what Mike's going through. I can feel for Mike, yet now I'm on the other side of the fence. I can see where it hurts the team.

"I can't fault him for how he's handling this, but I will say that in the long run he might be hurt more than he's helped.

"Years ago in New York (with the Jets) I acted similarly. I was a little green at the time, like Mike. I couldn't appreciate how the veterans feel. That was a time when standing up to the establishment was the thing to do, so it was easier for me.

"Financially, it worked out, a once-in-a-lifetime thing, like all three cherries coming up. But it didn't do anything for my career as far as the game of football was concerned. What it cost me was credibility - and that's something in this day and age that's tough to come by.

"An older and wiser person wouldn't do that."

Would Reggins now play with an injury such as Thomas'?

"I don't know," he said. "And it's unfair to say. I can appreciate what Mike's doing. But now I'm on the othe side, winning games, that type of thing. Again, maybe I shouldn't be saying this but possible he bcan hurt himself more than help."

Already, the Redskins have taken out an insurance policy. They traded for Benny Malone this week - and about the day that former Dolphin arrived at Redskin Park, Thomas stopped practicing.

"Mike Thomas works hard every day," Thomas said. "This is a business, remember that. They can bring in whoever they want to bring in. What am I supposed to do - stop working?"

Thomas' frustration, his occasional snappish attitude, is understandable. As Redskin tailback, he followed a man who punished himself even beyond the limits of the most macho on NFL players, Larry Brown.

"If Mike could play," said Jean Fugett, "he'd play."

As Riggins suggests, Thomas may well be in a no-win situation. If he plays, he risks additional injury that could be crippling. If he does not play, he must endure the words that often can sting as much as sticks and stones.