It is a familiar idea whose time, at last, has come. How often has an NFL addict watched teams hopelessly stymied the first 28 minutes of a half suddenly dash down the field and score in the final 120 seconds? How often has he wiped the foam from his lips and muttered: "What could they do running that two-minute drill the entire game?"

The response has been predictable and unsatisfactory.

Until now.

"I think it's a good idea," said the Redskins' offensive line coach, Ray Callahan. "We've talked about it quite a bit as a staff. It's come up several times."

He did not necessarily mean that the Redskins and everyone else soon will be running the majority of their plays without huddles, though it would be an interesting experiment.

Callahan was using the two-minute concept, of calling two plays in one huddle, as a way to attack the latest NFL defensive innovation -- the situation substitution. Perceptive fans already have seen the idea at work this season, by the Redskins and against them.

What one RFK Stadium customer calls the ParDeefense is one extreme. The Redskin coach has a specialist for every imaginable situation. Hordes of bodies shuffle in and out, depending on the down and distance, the defense trying to muster strength to counter the play the offense almost is forced to call.

Sometimes recently a bright coach flicked off his projector as a thought lit up his mind. Wouldn't the best way to beat all this matchup madness simply be to run a play before the fresh players trot onto the field and the tuckered ones trot off?

Indeed it would.

Basketball calls this sort of thing transition. Attack quickly, before the defense has time to cover its assigned men or zones. Capitalize on confusion.

"They'd have to use the players they really didn't want to in those situations, first off," Callahan said. "And they'd either have to use the defense they'd used the play before, or an audible that would have to be pretty basic.

"If it was a pass play, you'd pretty much know the defense."

Which is pretty much like being given the key to Fort Knox.

"If you planned ahead," Callahan said, "if you made sure you had the right play planned for, say, third down, it ought to work. The play you call ahead -- and then run without a huddle -- ought to be the right play."

The Redskins had just such a play in mind against Dallas here a month ago. There was no huddle, the referee appeared to signal play to begin and Washington was hoping to catch the Cowboys with their helmets unstrapped -- or running into one another while Joe Theismann passed to an uncovered receiver.

There was a probelm. The play surprised the wrong person. The referee apparently was so startled that anyone in the NFL would deviate from normal procedure that he blew his whistle again -- and ended the trickery as it started to develop.

Presumably, Washington will forewarn the officials next time.

The Packers clearly did this against the Redskins two games ago. They were aligned before Pardee's shuttle service could react. They got the play off -- and quarterback Lynn Dickey threw a pass into the stomach of Redskin Monte Coleman.

"You're seeing teams use hurry-up stuff on punts," Callahan said. "Cincinnati did it to us last week. They ended up running for a first down once, so we kept the regular defense in next time."

All of this is most encouraging. For years, certainly for most of the '60s, or what will be known as the Lombardi Decade, the NFL was offensively stagnant. Or at least to fans not totally obsessed with Xs and Os.

Lombardi may have had a creative mind, with that run-to-daylight theory of offense, but mere mortals considered it utterly dull. And George Allen seemed to spend six weeks of training camp with the Redskins deciding whether Larry Brown should run left or right.

Probably, that is a major reason the Dallas Cowboys became America's team, the one with more national appeal than any other than Notre Dame.Dallas is fun to watch, because it offers at least the illusion of imagination even on the most basic play.

But entertainment was not what Tom Landry had in mind when he devised that offense.

"I felt the best way to attack the 4-3 (defense) we'd established in New York (in the '50s) was the multiple offense," he said. "I knew that defense so well that I had a good idea of the best way to beat it.

"Remember, the 4-3 was based on formation recognition with man-for-man basic pass coverage. To be effective, the defense had to have a jump by recognizing first the formation, then knowing what plays could be run from it.

I felt if we used multiple sets, shifting from one to the other, we could confuse the defensive players. They had worked all week on perfecting certain keys -- and if we could destroy those keys we might be able to move the ball and have a chance even to win."

Even when they were bad, the Cowboys could score. Now several offenses -- one of them the Redskins' -- offer more than one formation before the snap. The no-huddle offense would be the next logical step to counter defensive trends.

Football insiders will realize that a form of no-huddle offense has existed for years. Lots of times a quarterback will call nothing in the huddle except "check with me." That means he will wait to look at the defense when the center leans over the ball and then yell out the play.

But football styles, like football teams, often experience cycles. The NFL had offensive flair in the '50s, then went to sleep in the '60s and early '70s. Now there are signs it is thinking again.