Lunch had been fine, John Riggins said, "and now, if you'll just get me the cigarette and blindfold, we can get this thing over with."

Until yesterday at the Quarterback Club, Riggins had maintained radio silence in public, choosing not to comment on just about everything until death or the resolution of his arbitration hearing against the Redskins, whichever came first.

But he and Ron Saul were persuaded to act as human dart boards for about 90 minutes before a few hundred fans, and, after some private preshow hesitation, Riggins agreed to let what he said leave the room.

He wanted Saul to go on first, sort of as the first attack boat landing on hostile shores. Saul has played for two teams and eight head coaches in the NFL, and having endured back-to-back 1-13 seasons with the mid-'70s Oilers was more prepared for the mood that zero for the season generates.

"I've just played for six coaches," Riggins said. "All of 'em are dead."

Saul is the unknown Redskin wit, a man with the unusual ability to repeat a story you've heard half a dozen times and still get you to laugh. At 33, in his 11th professional season and with his seventh knee operation fresh in his mind, he said he was grateful not to have to use his walker too often.

"Most of the kids on this team were 9 years old when I was a rookie," he said, not exaggerating too much. "I'm expected to be the General George S. Patton of this team, to lead. I hope (management) doesn't know I'm really Custer."

It went on like that, banter and bravado, two pros who have been around the NFL block and experienced the ugliness and the ecstasy, who may limp around after games but are wonderfully light on their feet in public.

Mike Curtis, who looks fit enough to play linebacker again and prosperous enough not to have to, was in the audience and Riggins used him, saying: "He was known as an animal on the field and a gentleman off it. I've kinda got the same reputation, although I'm known as a gentleman on the field and an animal off it."

That proved a spectacularly disarming device. Fans are unique creatures. They can be nasty after losses, kick the wife and threaten to wring every Redskin neck if ever their paths crossed. Put one or two a few feet away in mixed company, though, and lions melt into lambs, especially if a Riggins actually alludes to a presumed fault himself.

One man did ask Riggins and Saul about the difference between George Allen and Joe Gibbs. It was the only snapping curve of the day, one that might have thrown a younger man for a loss.

Instantly, Saul snapped: "You mean for me or those 23 guys on 20th Street (being honored by the Touchdown Club as new Redskins)?" When the laughing stopped, he suddenly recognized Riggins' prop, Curtis.

"I've gone against Randy White in my time," he said, "but let me tell you . . ." And nearly everyone was enthralled enough by the Curtis quips to forget that Saul had evaded the question. This man also can trap-block off the field.

"We're gonna be better," Saul insisted, "but three quarters (against a team such as the Eagles Sunday) don't get it done, folks. We got the No. 1 offense in the league, but it still comes down to getting the ball across that white line."

Saul was bold enough to volunteer some advice.

"The best thing they can do," he said, "is to let the young people in there, so they keep that gut feeling (of losing in the manner they did against the Eagles). The next time you meet that team, or the time after, when that (learning) experience is there, you fight 'em tooth and nail."

Riggins interrupted.

"We've been playing the regular season four weeks now," he said, "but everybody's still relatively new. The coaches are finding out about the players and the players are finding out about the coaches. And really, it all boils down to time.

"There's been a tremendous changeover, half the team is brand new players, and it takes a while -- like in any business -- before you get a feel for the guy lining up beside you, where you can go out every Sunday and get to that point in the fourth quarter, or whenever it might be, that you've got the chance to put the other team away and you do it.

"You refuse to be beaten, more than you're going out to try and win. When you try to win a game, it's kind of a defensive attitude. If you refuse to be beaten, the feeling is you've already got the game won. I think that's the difference between a young club and an older, experienced club.

"And when the Redskins do start winning, that'll be the feeling."

The applause was immediate and long. Just in case anyone felt otherwise, Saul added: "If you want to wire any cars (with bombs), mine's the green '57 Chevy."