For three hours the two men went at one another. Neither spoke to the other before, during or after the game. Each was content to let his play do the talking. Both spoke eloquently.

But in the end, Lemar Parrish had the last word in his daylong confrontation with New York Giant wide receiver Earnest Gray.

"I'm human, I'm going to get beat one time or another," Parrish said when it was over. "But I'll still be there when it counts. You won't beat me too many times. They tried one time too many."

All afternoon the Giants' quarterback, Phil Simms, who had passed to Gray for four touchdowns in the season- opening win over the St. Louis Cardinals, looked for his favorite target. Seven times he found him, for 63 yards. Two other times, Parrish was called for pass interference, once in the end zone after he had intercepted the ball.

But on two other occasions Parrish came up with the ball and no one in stripes blew a whistle. Once, early in the first quarter, he stepped in front of Gray to intercept at the New York 48. That set up the Redskins' first touchdown.

Finally, after Mark Moseley's field goal had put the Redskins ahead, 23-21, Parrish and Gray went at it one last time. From his 21, Simms found Gray across the middle for 21 yards to the Giant 42. Then, he made a mistake.

"The pattern worked once so I thought I could work it again," the second-year quarterback said. "It was a mistake I didn't read Parrish well enough. I should have dumped the ball off but I didn't."

Simms' coach, Ray Perkins, was more succinct: "He went to the well once too often."

As Gray came across the middle at the Redskin 40, Parrish was waiting for him. Simms threw. Gray dove. Parrish dove faster.He caught the ball and the Redskin 23-21 win was safe. So was Parrish's pride.

"When a guy keeps throwing at you all day like Simms did, he's testing your pride," Parrish said. "I didn't play well against Dallas and I knew coming in here they would throw to Gray a lot.

"I kenw I had to be more aggressive. I knew I had to be in his face all day, really challenge the guy. If he was gonna catch them, he was gonna work to catch them.

"On the last interception I thought they might run the same route. It had worked once, why not try it again? I gambled going for the ball, but that's the way I play the game."

Down the hall, Parrish's friend and former teammate, Don Harris, now a Giant, was talking about the risk of throwing at Parrish.

"He's the best cornerback in football," Harris said. "You aren't going to beat him with standard stuff. You need more than one move, more than one route.

"If I'm the man in charge, I stay as far away from Lemar Parrish as I can."

But Perkins and Simms were in charge and both felt their strength was Gray. If that meant throwing at Parrish, so be it.

"There's a tendency for any quarterback to keep looking back to a guy who's caught a lot of balls the week before," Perkins said. "The last play was a perfect example of that. Once too often."

"Parrish is so smart you can't afford to be off at all against him," Simms said. "When we ran our plays perfectly, they worked. When we were a little off, we got into trouble. Maybe the trouble is that I believe I can work every play perfectly. Make a mistake against anyone in their secondary and you're in deep trouble."

Gray is gifted young receiver who has the speed and the moves to make any cornerback look bad. He has gone against Parrish three times the last two seasons. He can remember more enjoyable Sundays.

"He's as good as anyone I've ever faced. He's out there one on one with you saying, 'come on, beat me,' and all you can do is keep working and try to beat him," Gray said. "On the last interception we both went for the ball and he got there first. We both wanted it, he got it. That's really the way it was all day."

For Parrish, 32 and in his 11th year in the league, this was a day of vindication. He often has compared playing cornerback to being alone on an island and today there were sharks circling -- especially after his off night against the Cowboys.

"I had something to prove today," Parrish said. "I had to work to do it all day, but, in the end, I think I did."

"He won the last round," Gray said. "The rest don't count."

A few feet away from Parrish, safety Ken Houston, who knows a little about going one on one with receivers, was smiling as he watched his friend accept congratulations.

"I knew Lemar was going to come up with a big game today," he said. "He didn't play like he can last week. That isn't going to happen two weeks in a row. Not to a pro like Lemar. He loves to be challenged.

"Gray against Parrish was their best against our best. Our best won."