Redskins past, and present were saddened yesterday to see Roger Stauback retire. If nothing else, he had earned their respect through all the years of the Dallas-Washington rivalry.

But there was also just a hint of relief -- a feeling that now, finally, the Redskins might have a chance to begin dominating those hated Cowboys.

"It's a plus for us because he is gone for two reasons," safety Ken Houston said. "First, they have no experienced quarterback to back him up. And second, anytime you lose a player with his desire and ability you'll have to miss him.

Added Ritchie Petitbon, Redskin secondary coach, "It's not going to hurt us with him gone. They are going to have a tough time replacing the guy. He's probably one of the all-time greats, especially in pressure situations."

By the end of last season, Washington players and coaches were convinced thta the only difference between the two clubs was Staubach.

"They relied so much on passing last season and didn't run the ball that much," Petitbon said. "Now their passer is gone. It has to make a difference."

Whether Staubach's departure automatically shifts the balance of power in the NFC East from Dallas to Philadelphia and Washington is another question. Judging from last season, that would seem to be the case, but the Cowboys still have plenty of talent. Staubach's backup, Danny White, is untested. But he could be better than expected.

For now, the Redskins can dream about what the absence of Staubach might mean for Washington -- and have a few nightmares about what his play did for Dallas the past decade.

His Cowboy teams were 9-7 against the Redskins, including that sensational season-ending victory last December in which he rallied Dallas with perhaps the greatest individual effort of his career.

He completed 24 of 42 passes for 336 yards in the game, including two touchdowns in the final minutes to knock the Redskins out of the playoffs.

"That was the best I've ever seen him," said Petitbon. "But that was typical Staubach. He was at his best when his team needed something extra. You never could relax against him."

That's what former Redskin great Ron McDole learned during those emotional years of the George Allen era. Allen and most of his players hated Dallas, and Staubach was the Cowboy player they taunted the most.

"Diron (Talbert) would really get on him," McDole said. "He'd talk all week about how he never calls his own plays. We wanted to frustrate him, get him thinking.

McDole says he sacked Staubach more than any other NFL quarterback -- "I used to sneak up on him, or I'd never catch him." His most memorable moment came when he stole a ball out of the quarterback's hand.

"He was going to pass and he had the ball cocked and I just took it from him," McDole said with a laugh. "Was he upset." They called it an interception, but I always call it the only steal of my career."