The rivalry has survived dramatic changes before, such as the departure of George Allen and the retirements of stars Larry Brown, Bob Lilly, Don Perkins, Sonny Jurgensen and Bily Kilmer.

But in probably no other year has a Cowboy-Redskin showdown been surrrounded by so many questions marks and unknowns on both sides.

Of course, Roger Staubach is no longer around to haunt Washington with his uncanny flair for the dramatic. But there is more to this Monday night confrontation than the absence of Staubach and of the Redskins' John Riggins.

Besides having a new quarterback (Danny White), the Cowboys have a new starting fullback (Ron Springs), a new kickoff and punt returner (rookie James Jones) and a new safety (Dennis Thurman). And they won't have wondrous Preston Pearson coming in on third downs to catch those clutch passes.

Yet Dallas isn't alone with its changes. So much has been made of the switch to White that perhaps the remarkable remaking of the Redskin offense in nine months has gone relatively unnoticed. But consider:

Washington has a new starting backfield (halfback Buddy Hardeman, fullbacks Clarence Harmon and Wilbur Jackson).

Washington has a new kickoff and return specialist (Mike Nelms).

Washington has two new backup wide receivers (Art Monk and Zion McKinney) replacing Danny Buggs.

Washington has a new punter (Mike Connell) replacing Mike Bragg and a new kick snapper (Jeff Bostic) replacing Ted Fritsch.

Riggins gained 151 yards and scored two touchdowns in that 35-34 loss to the Cowboys last December. He is gone. Buggs caught two passes. He is gone. cBenny Malone gained 20 yards and caught a 55-yard TD pass. He is gone. Bragg punted five times for a 38-yard average. He is gone.

Staubach threw for 336 yards and three touchdowns. He is gone. Pearson caught five passes for 108 yards and one touchdown. He is gone.

As much as the Redskins want the world to think they have no apprenhension about the changing face of this series, there is concern about the unknown, just as there is concern in Dallas.

"The fact that Tom Landry still is coaching the team lends stability to the Cowboys," said Redskin free safety Mark Murphy. "That's one thing you can depend on. He gives them character and probably some predictability.

"We don't expect many changes just because, for example, Danny White is now the quarterback. He's still running the same offense and the same people are calling the plays.

"But until we find out on the field how he reacts to different situations, yes, there are some unpredictable factors built in that you didn't have with Roger in there. One thing we do know, no one else is quite like Roger Staubach, not even Danny White. How do yo replace one of the best ever?"

For that matter, how do the Redskins replace Riggins? And will Connell punt well under pressure as Bragg did for years? And will Nelms become the return artist the Redskins expect him to become?

"This series probably doesn't need any more to make it great, but there is an added element this year," quarterback Joe Theismann said. "That intangible factor that always pops up with new faces. We still have a lot of people untested, even though I think they all are going to play well.

"This is a time when the computer doesn't have all the answers."

Take Theismann's preparation for the game. He has studied reels of film, but there really isn't that much background on new cornerback Aaron Mitchell and safety Thurman.

"You get to know Cliff Harris," he said. "I learned his facial expressions, the way he moved his eyes, the glances he made.

"I noticed all that stuff, because they have to look at me. But I don't have a book on the new people. I will have to feel them out. Thurman is probably a better athlete than Cliff, but what they are gaining in athletic ability they are giving up in experience."

Just to make certain that they know everything they can about Dallas, the Redskins sent scout Kirk Mee to all four Cowboy preseason games. He also broke down rolls of game films, looking for even the smallest of changes. To Mee, the films and personal observation don't lie.

"I really can't see that many differences in them," he said. "Dallas is still Dallas. Coach Landry knows what it takes to win and he stays with what is successful. Lots of time, if you didn't know the numbers were different on the uniforms, you would think the players hadn't changed.

"Of course, we looked hard at Danny White. But he took them on some long marches, some in a two-minute drill, just like Roger Staubach. He also showed he could scramble. He does that as well as Roger. They are running the same plays with him, too. They certainly haven't redone the offense for White."

But as the hour grows closer to kickoff, the Redskins still ponder the same questions over and over.

Can White, in the first game of his new career as the Cowboys' starting quarterback, pull off the miracles Staubach used to?

"Roger produced so many times for them," linebacker Brad Dusek said. "He was uncanny. We have to wait and see how White does in the same situations. White can run, but Roger had a knack of ducking people. We have to see if White can do that, too."

Can the Redskins assimilate so many new faces into their offense in time to look polished for the Cowboys? The loss of Riggins, while hard enough to overcome, has been complicated by the addition of the new punter, snapper and halfback. Good offenses benefit from playing as a unit for long periods, as Pittsburgh has shown. Washington has to be on top of its game with just the benefit of preseason work.

"This rivalry just gets better no matter what kind of changes the teams undergo," Dusek said. "I suppose this time won't be any different. Guess it just shows the game is bigger than the people who play it.

"But it will seem strange not having Roger out there. We've been going after him so long and he was such a good competitor. I'm sure White will make things tough for us, too. The Cowboys always seem to come up with people who can play."

Theismann feels the same way about the Redskins.

"I've found that no matter who we put out there, even if I had never heard of the guy before, he's been a player," Theismann said. "The people we have now are going to be good. And I think they are going to be good Monday night."