This often cynical, coldhearted city has gone completely wacko again over a quarterback from Alabama.

The first signal caller to come here from the Bear Bryant school of football wound up being dubbed "Broadway Joe" Namath. He still is the gauge by which all other New York Jets quarterbacks are measured.

Now, at last, with the Jets in first place in the AFC Eastern Division for the first time since 1969, there is another quarterback who has captured the hearts of the fans -- Richard Todd.

In the last two months, Todd has directed the Jets to a 7-1-1 record and they seem certain to reach the playoffs after a demoralizing 11-year absence.

It was his courageous performance Sunday that finally earned him the respect of even his most constant critics. Playing with a plastic-support elastic corset around his torso and a flak jacket to protect a broken rib, Todd took his team 77 yards in the final three minutes for the winning touchdown. His 11-yard pass to Jerome Barkum with 16 seconds remaining nipped the Miami Dolphins, 16-15, in what some are calling the most important football game played here in a decade.

"Richard Todd has won his way into the hearts of New Yorkers; they should all love him," said tackle Marvin Powell, who has watched the up-and-down saga of his quarterback for five seasons.

"Richard Todd commanded respect. He's a leader. He never let on he was in pain. We knew he was hurt all week, but as soon as we found out he was going to start, it got everybody jacked up."

Playing in pain is a creed in the NFL, but Todd's performance will long be remembered by New Yorkers who fondly recall Namath, hobbling on bad knees, leading the Jets to last-minute victories a decade ago.

Todd's ribs were so sore that he couldn't speak above a whisper last Tuesday. To make sure his teammates could hear his signals, he had a tiny microphone attached to his face mask and an amplified speaker hooked to his shoulder pads.

"I tried it before the game and it worked fine, but I still didn't want to use it unless I had to," he said. "I never did use it in the game."

It turned out that a freak injury to his left ankle, when center Joe Fields backed up and stepped on it, caused Todd more problems than his ribs. He admitted afterward that he couldn't set up properly to pass to his left and was limited in his range.

"We tried to use plays where Richard would set up quicker," explained Joe Walton, the offensive coordinator who performed the same duties with the Redskins for seven seasons. "We didn't want him to make too many deep drops where he would have more chance of getting sacked."

This is a strange twosome, Todd and Walton. Both were much maligned last season, but once they joined forces, Todd has improved remarkably.

"I wasn't satisfied with Richard at the beginning of the season," Walton said, alluding to the team's 0-3 start. "I knew he could do a lot better. I feel that he's proven that now. He's learned so much, to read defenses and go to the right receivers.

"He's more comfortable and relaxed now. He has more confidence but that comes from knowing what to do in certain situtations and knowing comes from hard work. Richard has improved, but he can get even better."

This season Todd has completed 206 of 356 passes for 2,396 yards and 19 touchdowns with only eight interceptions. He ranks fourth in the AFC. Last year he completed 55 percent of his attempts (264 of 479), but had 30 interceptions.

"What some people lost sight of is that it often takes a long time for a quarterback to make it in the NFL," Coach Walt Michaels said. "They expect a quarterback to come out of college and step in as a winner and it just doesn't happen."

New Yorkers, of course, were impatient during Todd's development. Touted as another Namath -- "Joe was my idol and I never wanted to be compared to him," Todd has said many times -- he struggled during his formative years and once lost his job to newcomer Matt Robinson.

By '79, he was booed regularly at Shea Stadium and once reacted by making an obsence gesture at the fans. He admits that he was bitter and unhappy at times, particularly when the losses mounted.

"I feel a lot more comfortable here now than I used to," he said. "But that's because we're winning."

With last-place Baltimore coming to town Sunday, the Jets will have an excellent chance to continue their winning ways, if Todd can play. He said the sprained ankle will keep him from practicing until Thursday. "They want me to stay off of it," he said, then added with a laugh: "But my ribs are so sore, I can't use crutches."