"I think we can win the Super Bowl this season, assuming there are no major injuries, especially at the key positions." -- Jack Kent Cooke, July 22, 1980.

"If we don't play hard every time out, we can be beaten by a lot of people." -- Jack Pardee, July 16, 1980.

The Washington Redskins, the Cinderella team of the 1979 National Football League season, are one of the major flops of 1980.

Jack Pardee, coach of the year in 1979, is in danger of losing his job. His team, which came within two minutes of winning the NFC East last year, goes into today's game against San Diego at RFK Stadium with a five-game losing streak and a 3-10 record.

Instead of dreaming about the Super Bowl, as the owner Jack Kent Cooke did in training camp, the Redskins are wondering when their next touchdown might come. Instead of talking about being contenders, there is talk of rebuilding. Instead of cheers, there is criticism of everything from their lack of emotion to their postgame habit of shaking hands with their opponents.

What happened?

How could a 10-6 team loaded with enthusiasm and strengthened by its first high draft choices in a decade suddenly become one of the leagues's worst teams? How could a team that appeared to be a championship contender find itself headed toward its worst season inat least 17 years? How could an organization that seemed so stable be burdened with growing philosophical differences between its coach and general manager that threaten their ability to work together?

Several reasons for the collapse of the Redskins emerge after recent interviews with players, coaches and league sources. But the most important factor in the decline, most say, was the retirement of fullback John Riggins.

But to understand what has happened this year, it is also necessary to understand the unique nature of the Redskins even before Riggins' departure from training camp.

Even during 1979, in the glow of their unexpected sucess, Pardee kept warning that the club's personnel was not much better thatn the opposition. The Redskins' edge, he often said, was due to lack of injuries, great motivation and contributions by practically everyone on the roster. if any of those ingredients disappeared, the Redskins were in trouble.

"Maybe we all got fooled that we were better than we actually were," safety Mark Murphy said. "But it was easy; everything went our way last year. Why shouldn't that happen this season? It's incredible, but everything that happened good last year has turned bad. Wo hcould have predicted that?"

The Redskins were built on a fragile foundation. As long as the pieces fit, everything would be fine. But remove a few of the stronger chunks, and this was a team ripe for a collapse. The Riggins Ripple Effect

John Riggins wanted more money and a guaranteed contract. The Redskins thought he was bluffing. They said no. He and much of Washington's hope for the season stayed in Lawrence, Kan.

"Without Riggins, what kind of offense do they have?" dasked one rival general manager. "He made their line look good last year, he took a lot of the pressure off (Joe) Theismann. He was someone you had to worry about when you put a game plan together. He was one of their few gifted players. Take away any of the great runners from most of the teams in this league and the same thing would happen."

At first Pardee stoically brushed of Riggins' departure. Then, at the end of training camp, he said: "If we can stay even or get better in the backfield (without Riggins), that will have a lot of influence on our season. It will go a long way toward determining our success."

Now he admits the lack of a consistent running game throughout the season is the biggest reason the Redskins' offense is the second least productive in the league. Last year, Riggins was Washington's running game. He was the power back, the short-yardage back, the clutch-yardage back. No one hs assumed those roles in 1980.

But the loss of Riggins hurt the Redskins in other ways, too. It had a ripple effect on many other areas, severely damaging this team.

Continuity. "Things never settled down after he left," kicker Mark Moseley said. "There always seemed to be something else happening." Pardee had hoped for a serene training camp. Instead, he got more walkouts and holdouts (Lemar Parrish, Joe Lavender, Jeris White), injuries and unexpected poor performances (Ted Fritsch's bad snaps, for example). "Every day, it was something different." Pardee said.

"We never had the time to adjust to not having John," said Fred O'Connor the running back coach. "All our plans haad been made around him. It distrubed a lot of things" Example: with Riggins gone, Clarence Harmon became the starting fullback.He hurt an ankle early and his third down receiving heroics -- his major contribution last season -- have been serverly diminished, making the offense much less effective.

Leadership. "John was one of the few leaders the offense had," said one Redskin. "The line loved him. They knew if they opened a little hole, he would do the rest. He made everyone look better. Plus they were pals off the field. Everyone looked to John, because he always played hard and came through. no one filled that void." Said guard Ron Saul: "Everyone respected John and we like him as a person too. There is no question what his presence would mean to us. You don't lose a guy like John and remain the same team."

Distrust of managemant. "They could have brought back John by guaranteeing his contract," said one league source. "Instead, Jack Kent Cooke got stubburn and ruined the team. And they blame Pardee for not winning." Some players already were unhappy with their contracts and with the way older players had been cut in past years. When no effort was made to compromise with Riggins, it created unrest. Not winning intensified that unrest.

Riggins refuses to accept the theory that he is the reason for the decline. "But I can't say I'm all that sorry about what's gone one," he said. "It proves my whole point about why I left camp in the first place." Injuries and the Cowboys

The place: Tampa Bay Stadium, Aug. 29.

The scene: Unforgettable. Redskin players were standing on the field, not moving, heads humg. Fritsch had just made another bad snap, this one sailing over the head of punter Mike Connell and into the end zone for the second Tampa Bay safety of the game.

This was the final act in Washington's preseason tragedy of errors. Instead of entering the last days before the season opener against Dallas with things in order, the Redskins instead had to face the Cowboys without Riggins (retired by the team two days later), without injured middle linebacker Neal Olkewicz, withoug injured tight end Don Warren, and without their snapper (Fritsch, who was cut). They also had a new punter (Connell), and their best lineman, Jeff Williams, were hobbling from camp injuries.

"We all knew we were in trouble," said the secondary coach, Richie Petitbon. "If we were healthy, even without Riggins, I think we could have beaten the Cowboys. But we didn't have the depth to cope with all that at once."

The injury situation got worse. Both starting tackles were hurt in the second game, against the Giants, and thd Redskins wound up playing Okland with a guard at tackle (Gary Anderson) and a free agent signed a week earlier at tight end (Rick Walker). Every week it seemed another player was sidelined.

Washington had suffered only two significatn injuries in 1979, losing Buddy Hardeman for half the season and Ken Houston for three games. Now in addition to Riggins, they were playing without vital personnel on offense and defense.

The opening loss to Dallas just compounded the troubles. "It had a real negative effect on us," Murphy said. "It hurt the rest of the season. There was such a hype for the game. It wasn't just another game. And when we lost it, it tossed us for a loop. We were convinced no matter what, we could win that game." Moseley's Mystery Slump

"I think if you look back at the early games, if I had been kicking right, we would have won two or three more games and that could have changed our whole season around." -- Mark Moseley, Dec. 1, 1980 .

The Redskin offense had been designed around three major elements: the running of Riggins, the short passing of Joe Theismann and the kicking of Moseley, who was the best field goal man in the NFC last year.

It was bad enough that riggins wasn't on the theam, forcing the Redskins to switch a halfback-oriented attack after the schedule was under way (with Wilbur Jackson the No. 1 runner). It was bad enough that Theismann was scrambling for his life because the injured offensive line couldn't protect him. Then Moseley -- steady dependent, consistne Mark Moseley -- began missing.

"Mark's slump hurt us no question," said the offensive coordinator, Jow Walton. "We could have used a few field goals along the way. And I think Mark not hitting reall stunned everyone. We had grown to expect it from him."

Moseley field goals might have wn games against both Seattle and Denver, changing a 1-5 start into 3-3. Last year, when he accounted for three victories with his kicking, he says he probably would not have misfired.

"The guys depended on me," said Moseley, who missed eight of his first 10 attempts. "By letting them down, it kind of dampened everything. A team like ours depends on a kicker. They should. I let them down."

By the time Moseley straightened out -- he won the Saits game by hitting five field goals -- it was too late. The Redskin defense was floundering and games were so one-sided, he went another three weeks without even trying a field goal.

"It was a little to late," he said of his midseason breakthrough. "They needed me earlier." Errors and Penalties

Maybe General Manager Bobby Beathard has the right answer. "Our 10-6 record (in 1979) wasn't reflective of our ability," he said. "We were fortunate. It was misleading and it did more damage than good in the long run. Everything worked perfectly for us last year, we got all the breaks, a lot of people played very well. That's hard to repeat."

That's what the Redskins have discovered. Last year, they played consistently as close to their potential as any club in the NFL. They didn't make many mistakes, but they forced a lot. They led the NFL in take-away, give-away ratio with a stunning difference of 22. Last year, they were the least penalized club in the NFC, rarely hurting themselves with flags at the wrong times.

This season, their take-away-giv-away difference is six and they have been penalized 13 more times than in 1979, with three games remaining. In on contest, they had four first downs wiped out in the first half because of penalties. Holding calls especially have devastated the offense.

"We didn't do much last year to hurt ourselves," Paradee said. "This year, all we've done is hurt ourselves. Every time we have a long gain, you look around for a flag, because you know there will be one.

"Last year, we got some turnovers that we turned into tuchdowns. This year, we had a hard time even getting field goals."

The Redskins were ahead of the Nfl in another area last year: utilizing their entire roster. Paradee's emphasis on specialization was revoultionary; he combined the talents of two players to equal the ability of one at many positions. But injuries this season dradstically reduced his flexibility. And opponents found ways to take advantage of the substitution pattern, running when the Redskins though they would pass, and passing when Washington expected a run.

"Last year, we were able to use everything we had on the roster," Paradee said. "But everything has been so unsettled now. Our special teams have been really juggled and they've suffered. The good teams go out and have set lineups every week, like we had in 1979. Look what Pittsburgh has been going through.

"I don't know if we had better personnel than the teams that have beaten us, but we sure aren't that far from being competitive with everyone, if we could line up each week knowing who we were going to play." The Missing Ingredients

Jack Kent Cooke watched the Redskins lose week after week until he could take it no more. He told Pardee and Beathard he thought the players had lost their will to win, their spirit and determination. In essense, he said they quit.

"Quit? How could he sayt that?" asked one Redskin source. "We had a tight end (Warren) playing with a broken leg. We had a fullback (Harmon) playing on a horribly sore ankle. Guys were hurting and they kept going.

"Priorities got mixed up thanks to Cooke. We have enough trouble concentrating on our opponents, and now we had to turn inward and worry about this so-called lack of spirit. Cooke did us little good with his outburst."

But in midseason, the Redskins did appear lifeless, with a 35-21 loss to Chicago the most obvious example. "This was different for everyone," said O'Connor. "There was no playoff at stake. It meant a readjustment of priorities. Everyone here always thought they were going to the playoffs. When that was wiped out, what was left?"

Simply the dissatisfaction and unhappiness that accompany a losing season.

Paradee benched Ken Houston, the team's most respected player, but didn't tell him face to face about the demotion. Players resented the slight. The more the coaches talked about "lack of talent on the team," the more some Redskins became upset.

Paradee has difficulty communicating on an informal level with his players. That didn't seem to matter last year, but this season, some players say he has been unable to "grasp what is happening to us in the locker room." Yet Pardee isn't disliked by his players. He is too decent and sincere.

The staff also had miscalculated in some areas. The coaches had hoped Perry Brooks would provide a consistrent pass rush from his defensive tackle spot, but he wound up being benched because of inconsistency. They hoped the offensive line would produce one more productive season, but injuries and age destroyed those dreams. The worse the line played, the more conservative Paradee made the offense. While the league trend was to pass, the Redskins concentrated on running, something not even the presence of rookie wide receiver Art Monk could change.

"There were a lot of MVP canidates last year on this team," said Beathard whose poor 1980 draft left the roster with a shortage of new players. "This year, there haven't been too many standout seasons by anyone. No one has come along and picked things up."

As the Redskins faltered, the players suddenly looked to old and too slow. Cooke said the team had to undergo a rebuilding program. But will Paradee be around to help direct it? Will Beathard? And when will the losing end?

"Funny, but I wouldn't be surprised if we were at least 8-8 next year. with the way this league is, it isn't hard to improve or go downhill fast. We've shown that. If we get healthy and add some players, it won't take much to become respectable again.Wait and see if I'm not right." -- Ricie Petitbon, Dec. 4, 1980.