After the Cowboys had wiped out the Vikings last month, Dallas rookie Steve Wilson sought out Jim Marshall, Minnesota's 41-year-old lineman, to shake his hand.

"Remember me?" Wilson asked. "I'm Tommy Wilson's son."

An ear-splitting grin appeared on Marshall's face.

"Touchdown Tommy Wilson's boy," he beamed. "I can't believe it."

Neither could Steve Wilson, who captained the Howard University football team last year, signed with Dallas as a free agent for $500 and beat out "at least 20 other rookie receivers" to make the Cowboy roster, even after begin cut late in training camp.

"Just being out on the same field with Jim Marshall was a thrill." Wilson said. "My father was a running back for the Rams, the Browns and the Vikings. I used to go with him to practice on Saturdays. Fran Tarkenton was there. I remember Carl Eller, Jim Marshall used to bounce me around. I'm just very lucky. I never thought this would happen to me."

But, now, Wilson is playing a vital role for the Cowboys returning punts and kickoffs and backing up starting wide receiver Drew Pearson.

Just how vital, became obvious Monday night against the Eagles, when his first fumble of the season on a punt late in the first half led to a tie-breaking Eagle touchdown.

"I feel pretty awful about it," Wilson said today at the North Dallas apartment he shares with rookie lineman Bruce Thornton. "No, they didn't yell at me about it. I had to go out there again in the second half and they don't want to hurt your confidence. It happens."

Confidence has never been a problem for Wilson, a lightly recruited high school player from Durham, N.C., who earned a starting position at Howard his freshman season and finsihed as the school's all-time leading receiver.

"I've always wanted to play professional football," he said. "At Howard, I thought we had some excellent athletes. The only difference between our program and the major schools was that they had more people and better facilities.

"My first year there, we didn't have a weight room. We didn't have a training table. When we traveled, the bus broke down. On the road they never really gave you enough money to eat what you needed to eat.

"It wasn't that the people weren't trying, they just didn't know what you needed. That's one of the reasons Coach (Doug) Porter isn't there. He spoke up about it and I guess they didn't like it too much. From what I hear, they're starting to do the right things now. It'll take a few years to build a winner at Howard, but I think they can do it."

During his senior season, Wilson was told by many pro scouts that he probably would not be drafted, "so I was prepared for it," he said.

John Wooten, a Cowboy scout, watched Wilson practice and recommended him to Gil Brandt, personnel director. The day the draft ended, the Cowboys presented a contract, just a few hours ahead of the Seattle Seahawks.

"The Cowboys were very truthful with me," Wilson said. "They told me they thought I had enough talent to come to camp and compete for a job. There were no promises, just a chance for an equal opportunity, and that's all I ever wanted."

By the time Cowboy veterans arrived in camp late in July, only six of the original 20 rookie receivers were left. Two weeks later, only Wilson and sixth-round draft choice Chris De-France still were around.

At that point, the Cowboys decided to waive Wilson, who went home to Durham and began looking for a job.

But two weeks later, the Monday before the regular season opened, Butch Johnson was placed on the injured list with a broken finger and Wilson was activated.

"Heck, yes, the kid is a longshot," Brandt said. "But he comes from pretty good stock and he's a darn good player, a lot better than what he showed against the Eagles. We also think he's got potential as a receiver."

Wilson has two catches this season, one of 45 yards late in the rout of the Rams.

The first time Wilson fielded a punt this season, the 5-foot-10, 180-pounder ran it back 84 yards for a touchdown against the Bears, only to have the play nullified because of a clip. His return average is average -- 16.6 yards a kickoff and seven yards per punt.

"But I'm learning every game," he said. "Wouldn't it be nice to break one against the Redskins?"