When the ball left center Ted Fritsch's hands, anyone in RFK Stadium with enough courage to look assumed the Redskins had lost. The drama was too much for Clarence Harmon.

"I had my head turned away," he said. "I was gonna let the crowd tell me how it went."

You missed a unique moment. Clarence. Emotions cannot go lower or higher much quicker. In a flicker, about 1.3 seconds for you figure friends, the Redskins and their fans went from hope to despair to ecstasy.

"That worried me a bit," Coach Jack Pardee admitted in the understatement of the season.

Usually, Fritsch is the most accurate snapper in football. If a gnat were suspended seven yards behind him and two feet off the ground, Fritsch would sting him. With the game, perhaps the season, in the balance, though, what Fritsch sent toward Joe Theismann looked like an oversized mole trying to find a place to hide.

"It didn't feel that low," Fritsch said. "Really, no excuses. The last thing I'd said to myself was not to put the ball over Joe's head (a high snap having been the primary reason a field goal was blocked in a loss to the Saints).

"Overcompensate? Probably. The ball was sandy and wet, but it was that way all day. What happens, I guess, is that when you think about it (the snap) and compensate, that's when you make mistakes. I missed my spot."

Most mortals assume that this spot is Theismann's hands. It is not. Fritsch is rather like a bowler who concentrates on an arrow a few feet from his feet rather than on the pins, knowing that if the ball rolls over the arrow, a strike is probable.

"Joe's hands give me the target," Fritsch said. But I pick out a spot, a release point. A mental spot is all it is, a couple yards behind me. If the ball passes through there, it'll end up exactly where it's supposed to.

"Fortunately, I had a good enough holder and a good enough kicker to bail me out."

Indeed he did. When faced with a sloppy hunk of leather skimming along a sloppy field at the game's most pivotal moment, lots of holders -- even ones paid handsomely to perform under such pressure -- would go bonker. Soft hands suddenly become steel.

Even more important, most kickers who see what Mark Moseley saw unifold before his eyes would simply stop. Or hesitate, assuming nobody could possibly field the ball, let alone right it and make it kickable.

Moseley didn't and Theismann did.

Whether the thought raced through his mind at the time or later, Pardee said there was a worse possibility than that skimmer of a snap. Like Fritsch, Pardee knew a high ball probably would doom the field goal.

"Once the holder has to come up with his hands," Pardee said, "he loses the spot (where he is to place the ball). A low one allows him to keep the spot and not get the timing thrown off too badly.

"Joe's the best bad-ball holder in football."

Mark Belanger in pads is what Theismann was. Or Johnny Bench.

"Joe kidded that he was going to go out and get him a big catcher's mitt," said Mark Murphy.

An hour or so after Theismann magically turned horror into heaven, he still was kidding, with Moseley. In Washington, Redskin heroes have multiple roles. They step out of their uniforms, wipe off their game faces and paste-on their television faces.

And in the emptying Redskin locker room, Mark Moseley of Channel 20 was interviewing Joe Theismann of Channel 7, asking: "Joe, on that last drive, were you thinking field goal or what?"

"We have a kicker I really believe in," Theismann began, and then he burst laughing. This was ludicrous, even by television standards. He had answered that at least a dozen times to at least two dozen reporters and all of a sudden it was Moseley with a microphone trained at his throat.

Theismann talked on. He may be at a loss for a receiver now and then, or the proper play, but he is never at a loss for words on camera.

"Within the 30, 25-yard line. . . he said. "Now this is really stupid isn't it?" -- he grinned at newshound Moseley -- "I really believe in you."

They recalled the details.

"Joe never showed down," Moseley said. "And neither did I."

And Washington beat St. Louis, 30-28.

"We've been doing this together five or six years," said Theismann, "so it helps us be able to execute something like this. You want to stay in rhythm. I want to get it down any way that keeps Mark in that rhythm."

"I saw it (the ball) hit the ground," Moseley said earlier, alone."But you just have to keep coming. I have enough confidence in Joe to know he's going to get the ball up somehow. The ground was soggy anyway. The whole field was a mess between the hash marks.

"Because of what happened so late (the Cards rallying from a 20-point deficit to a one-point lead), I had to get ready mentally and physically in a hurry. I had to loosen up quickly and on a field like that, it's hard to get the ball up.

"I'd hit a line drive (on an extra point) before, because I slipped. I have real short cleats. That makes it hard. I've been kind of down the lastg couple of weeks" -- here tears began welling in his eyes at the memory of his murdered sister -- "but I made myself concentrate harder this week.

"I remember saying on the sideline: 'This goal's for you, Pam.' It'd be tough to keep me from making it, I think."