I am asked to explain how Rodney Dangerfield came to make a television commercial with the Maryland football coach, Jerry Claiborne.

Everybody loves a mystery.

How did the world's funniest man, I-get-no-respect division, come to stand in a football stadium with a coach so straight that next to him straight arrows look like boomerangs?

Say one thing about Jerry. In fact, say it Jerry's way: Futball is his lahf. The only semicrooked thing anybody ever got on the old Kentuckian was this summer when his players ran up the phone bill. Shoot, the drippin's off'n an oil well they give away to players out West are more than that phone bill.

Yessir, Jerry is as honest as the day is long, and he is a good football coach, if you look at the numbers for the last 20 years. Like about everybody except Bear Bryant, you can look and say Jerry hasn't won all the big games. But a lot of coaches never win the little games to make other games big games. Jerry does that for Maryland.

What Jerry doesn't do is cause people to buy tickets. Bear can be duller than a boll weevil in Alabama and win running the thing 70 times a game. Men will trade their '57 Chevy for a ticket to 'Bama-Open Date because everybody down there loves futball (Bear coached Jerry at Kentucky).

So nobody cares if Bear goes on television and talks like he has a futball caught in his throat. He sells a certain potato chip and a certain soft drink, and if he holds them up while he talkmumblegurgles you have a good shot of knowing what the heck he's selling.

What he doesn't advertise is tickets to his games. That'd be like Bo Derek running a personal classified asking for somebody to take her to the show. There isn't any need to beg folks to come see Alabama, and so the Bear just chomps his chips, sips on his pop and tries to remember who he's playing this Saturday.

Meanwhile, Maryland has to work to get respect around its place.

There are the Redskins and Navy and horse tracks and the Orioles and the Colts. There's the ocean. There are Kennedy Center and Rumors. If you're going to get respect around here, you better be good. And you better stand up and tell everybody you're good, in case they were driving to the ocean and missed it.

It is possible to miss the fact Maryland football is pretty good. Hey, the Terps are dull. They're so dull, you look up dull in the dictionary and there's their team picture. Hey, these guys get no respect. The only pass they've thrown in three years, the girl slapped the quarterback. It's tough coaching when you get no respect. The week of the Penn State game, Jerry asked Ronald Reagan to make a win-one-for-the-Gipper speech to the team. Reagan flew to Penn State.

This kind of Dangerfield shtick, with a major difference that we'll get to in a minute, occurred to Lenny Klompus in an airplane.

Flying across America, from the Rockville headquarters of his Metrosports television syndication company, Klompus put on the earphones to listen to a comedy album.

He heard Rodney Dangerfield getting no respect. My neighborhood is so tough, Rodney says, the hydrants run when they see a dog coming.

Klompus also does the advertising work for Maryland's athletic department. Somewhere over Kansas, he had this idea: Maryland football and basketball are respected nationally, but they get no respect where it matters the most, right around home. So he ought to get Rodney Dangerfield to do a 30-second television commercial with Jerry Claiborne. The twins of no respect.

Klompus wrote a letter to Dangerfield's agent in Los Angeles, hardly expecting a reply from a national television star whose commercial work is limited. Two months later, the agent called.

"We negotiated," Klompus said.

For a fee "very close to $40,000," Klompus hired Dangerfield to do two 30-second commercials, one with Jerry Claiborne (now running 15-20 times a week on TV, 200 times on radio) and one with the basketball coach, Lefty Driesell (coming soon).

At $40,000 a minute on the air, Dangerfield's work translates to $2,400,000 an hour and $19,200,000 for an eight-hour day. A tape recording of the commercials shows Dangerfield spoke approximately 158 words. That's $253 a word.

"Jerry didn't catch on to who Rodney was when I first brought it up," Klompus said. "But when I said 'no respect,' he knew who I meant. Jerry was just worried that the no-respect thing would reflect badly on Maryland football."

Klompus' commercial turned it around nicely, though. In his basic black suit and red tie, Dangerfield comes to Claiborne, who is in his coaching togs.

Dangerfield: "Hey, Jerry, you and your guys, you get respect all over. How do you do it, eh? Because I don't get any respect at all. My twin brother, he forgot my birthday."

Claiborne, hefting a football: "Well, Rodney, we get respect with seven bowls in eight seasons, national rankings, er . . . "

Dangerfield: "Jerry, move it along, will ya? I hope your guys run faster than you talk."

Claiborne, plowing ahead: "And it's a super season we got started."

Dangerfield, to the camera: "Well, show some respect. Call today for your Terrapin football season tickets. (Tugging his tie now.) Hey, Jerry, how about some free passes."

Straight Arrow Jerry: "Nooo way."

Claiborne's work in this little film is clearly superior to last year's performance when he kicked at a giant football that wasn't there. Later, it was superimposed over the coach's spastic foxtrot.

But the Oscar at College Park this year goes to Lefty Driesell's sea-to-shining-sea forehead.

In the script written by Klompus, rewritten by Dangerfield and adlibbed by Lefty, the coach says to the star: "We're sold out of season tickets. But we got tickets to St. Peter's, LIU, Ohio U., George Mason . . . "

Dangerfield, in basketball shorts and wearing his red tie over a Maryland basketball T-shirt: "Hey, don't you ever stop for a comma? Hey, by the way, you need a new center. How about using me in the team?"

Lefty: "Sure. Have these back by game time."

Lefty throws a bunch of towels at Dangerfield, who says, "Very funny. And where do you get those haircuts with the hole in the middle?"

Lefty stomps off camera.

And they ask where is the new talent coming from.