They've been called homers, cheerleaders and hillbillies. According to the Redskins' publicity office, one of them was a loser as a player. One year they're popular, the next year they're not. Will the real Redskins' radio announcers please stand up?

Halfway through the season, they have -- boldly. They are about to make some TV-radio sports critics in this town eat some very tough crow. No matter what their previous shortcomings, the troika of Frank Herzog, Sam Huff and Sonny Jurgensen can no longer be dismissed as house men. No homers here.

The transformation of the crew into one of the hardest, yet fairest and most entertaining units in the league, began in the preseason with the addition of Jurgensen. He had been cashiered after six years on CBS' NFL games (the rap against him was that he never provided enough "inside" anecdotes). The network's loss was local radio's gain.

Usually, the first commandment in broadcasting is never put three men in the booth. WMAL violated that and got away with it. Herzog -- strong, tough and dependable -- is the frame of the sleek new machine. The blunt, unpolished Huff is the crankshaft. Jurgensen, the high-octane fuel, is the ingredient that makes things move.

Tellingly, the crew's brightest moment this year came at the Redskins' dimmest: the San Francisco 49er travesty Oct. 4. While most Redskin fans were heading for the bunkers and grasping for injury alibis with the team behind, 24-3, at the half, all three announcers leveled stinging, much-deserved criticisms.

Unless things changed on the field, Herzog predicted darkly, "There's gonna be some heads rolling." Huff, who could see a silver lining in a snakepit in previous years, questioned Joe Gibbs' offensive moves. Jurgensen scolded Joe Theismann for poor judgment and openly accused the team of dogging it.

"What gets me is the lack of intensity; the feeling that, hey, it's 24-3, it's over with," he said. "All teams have injuries. We can't keep making excuses. People have to go out and do what they have to do to win. That is giving an effort, a 100 percent effort -- and we're not getting it."

Forget that Jurgensen still uses words like "we." CBS-TV's Roger Staubach doesn't, but he latched onto the injury alibi that day to explain every Redskin fumble and holding penalty. Here was a bad 0-4 team just beginning to lie down. What was Roger the Dodger's difference of opinion with Jurgensen that day?

Pulled muscles and bad breaks. "I pretty much believe that you make your own luck, that things don't just happen to you," Staubach said. "But I'm beginning to wonder about the Redskins."

Apparently because of his candor, Jurgensen was rewarded after the 49ers game by a bizarre fact sheet released to selected members of the media by the Redskins' publicity office. The sheet said the Redskins were stumblebums during Sonny's reign, so the quarterback must have been a washout, too.

Now that the team has reached the lofty levels of 2-6, no more yellow rags have emanated from Redskin Park. But neither has the crew sold its soul to the Redskin Band. Last week, Huff still was critical of Gibbs' penchant for putting two tight ends in motion, and Jurgensen wondered why Theismann couldn't see downfield receivers who were open.

"We've tried very hard this year to be specific, to have some basis for our criticism," Herzog said. He noted that Jurgensen now charts the number of dump-off passes Theismann completes near the line of scrimmage. "That way, Sonny has some basis to come back and say the Redskins still have trouble getting the ball down field."

This fault-finding of the Redskins might be difficult for even a Cowboy fan to take if it weren't for the crew's good humor. There's a certain chemistry between Huff and Jurgensen that makes listening enjoyable. Neither has a radio voice; neither is terribly articulate. But they play off each other smoothly.

Jurgensen on a fumble ruling against Terry Metcalf in last week's first half: "That's one of those arguments you're not going to win. It's like arguing with your wife, isn't it?"

Herzog, the Bud Abbott of the team: "Yep."

Huff, after pausing for effect: "Well, Mary's here today, so I'm not arguing with her."

During the 49er fiasco, a dull, exasperating affair that probably was the hardest game the three announcers ever worked, Huff suddenly started talking about the birthday cake his wife was baking for him. Jurgensen chortled. "It's going to have nails in it," he said.

The most easily overlooked asset of the team is Herzog, who has become an excellent play-by-play man as well as the best TV sports reporter in town. Herzog handled the Bullets' games in their championship year, and the feeling here is that he was too passionate a rooter. Now he is lively, clear, vivid -- and balanced. The attention of listeners ebbs and flows with radio more than it does with TV, so I'd like to hear Herzog set the down and yardage scene more often. But he keeps things unusually clear as is.

Last week, NBC-TV's Bob Trumpy hopelessly botched his account of the penalty against the Patriots and the Redskins' final-second field-goal attempt in the first half. Trumpy also missed the point of the Metcalf fumble ruling. It wasn't that Metcalf failed to get both feet down but that he didn't hold the ball.

Herzog scored 100 on both tests. Now if he could only get Huff to stop dropping puns like, "Oh, Seay can you see?" we'd all be winners by January.