Rhodes scholars are supposed to be philosphical, placing the tribulations of this world in proper perspective. Does Pat Haden sound philosophical?

"The tag that we're choke artists has dogged everybody on this team," said Haden, Rhodes scholar and quaterback of the Los Angeles Rams. "It infuriates some of us.

"All winter long and all summer, I'cve taken resposibility for us losing in the playoffs to the Vikings last year," Haden said, "I was happy to do that, because I so richly deserved it. I played miserably last year.

"I'll always have memories of that game (a 14-7 loss in the rain) and of my interceptions (three). I did more than any one person to lose that game."

Haden looks down at his hands as he quickly and repeatedly picks at the strands of cloth on his white wristband. The Rams will play the Minnesota Vikings, again, on Sunday in the opening round, again, of the playoffs.

Four times since 1969 the Rams have met the Vikings in a December playoffs. Four times the Rams have lost. If the Vikings can't win the big one in the Super Bowl, then the Rams can't even win the medium-sized ones.

"I've been dreading these days leading up to the playoff ever since I heard it could be Minnesota," said Haden. "I've already been asked about the Minnesota jinx five times today.

"It's perverted that people only think of the teams in the Super Bowl as winners. That makes for a lot of athletes feeling like losers who shouldn't.

"It's almost a cancer in this country going down to Little Leagure that only the champion is called a winner."

Haden pauses and smiles quietly. "But I accept that. I know people are going to boo me and yell at me and call me 'too short to be a quarterback,' until I win a Super Bowl for the Rams. So I guess that's what I'm going to have to do."

If Haven sounds angry, that is not exactly correct. Reflecitive might be the word. He and the Rams have had a lot to reflect about.

To call the Rams' motivation mere revenge would be to make trivial a grand passion. They see visions of Vikings in their sleep - Vikings blocking punts and field goals, Vikings getting lucky calls, Vikings winning with Fran Tarkenton on the sidelines.

The central character in the Ram redemption play is Haden. Oh, the Rams have the No.1 defense in the NFL on paper, but they don't expect to hold the Tarkenton aerial show without a touchdown.

For the past nine weeks the Rams have been an ordinary team with a 5-4 record, coasting to their division title while outscoring opponents by only two points.

It is Haden on whom this greatest burden falls. His best back, Lawrence McCutcheon, is out. His own rushing average - 6.2 - is 2.5 yards per carry better than anybody he can give the ball to. Hlanker Ron Jessie is just about his only deep threat.

The Rams stack up as eight-point favorites, but only if Haden forgets last year's atrocity in the mud - 130 yards in 32 passes.

Anyone who knows Haden hopes that he acquits himself well. His face is the image of what ought to pop out from inside a football helmet.

The 25 year old former USC star has no bull neck, no snaggleteeth, no lush's nose, no suspicious glance. He has the kind of direct blue eyest that even men notice. They look at you hard, but with generosity.

This city has two conspicuous all-American boys - Haden and Steve Garvey of the Dodgers. About Garvey there is always uneasiness, alwasy doubt. If you have to work hard at being perfect, are you really?

About Haden there is no doubt. He's the real McCoy. Just ask him. Pat, are you the all-American boy?

"Hell, no," he said. "That's all media hype. I've got good moral instincts around people, but all this stuff about me being a great quarterback and the smartest guy in the world - anybody with good sense would be nauseated by it.

"Why, there are people after me to be the governor of California. If they knew my political beliefs, I'm sure they wouldn't vote for me for anything.

"I don't think I have the same thirst for knowledge, for political authority that (U.S. Sen.-elect) Bill Bradley does. I don't want to forget simple pleasures, simple knowlege. When I retire, I'll probably move to Santa Barbara, take tennis lessons and just raise a family."

Nevertheless Haden enjoys watching other people watching him.

"I got a Christmas card from the White House from Hugh Carter . . . It didn't mean a thing," he related. "All my teammates were asking me to appoint them secretary of defense and secretary of offense.

"I told them all they were good for was to be secretary of fun."

The NFL has progressively become more fun for Haden.

In his first two years the 5 foot 11 Haden was always the tiny youngster with the big brain who was trying to displace a giant with a gun arm, be it James Harris, Ron Jaworski or Joe Namath.

"Guys resented me the first year," Haden said. "With due right, some thought I shouldn't be playing."

However, by the fifth week of last season, Haden had pushed Namath into de facto retirement, and he has been the boss since.

Now, when people step on his sensitive toes, they get told to take a hike. "Somebody wanted me to pose for a picture with (6-9) Too Tall Jones of Dallas to illustrate the problem I had throwing over linemen. Well, no quarterback throws over those guys. Almost everybody has to use the passing lanes and throw between them. I told 'em to buzz off.

"Anyway," Haden finished, "I've always started in front of some real tall quarterbacks."

Haden's biggest pleasure has not been his 229 completions in 444 attemts this year, nor his 13 touchdowns, nor his 2,995 yards. Rather it has been finally feeling himself to be the established, believed-in leader of the Rams.

"People ask me if athletes aren't dull to be around," said Haden, who goes to law school at night. "Jeez, they're the most interesting people you can find . . . all crazy characters . . . huge egos. They've lived compressed, intensified lives. Athletes are only dull in the presence of dumb questions."

Haden will have to endure three more days of those. Then he hopes that the "Minnesota Jinx" will be a book he can put on the shelf forever.