It is ancient enough history for Dick Myers to be uncertain about several details, although the draft choices were fifth- and sixth-rounders. He was a rookie in the NFL office and one of the few humans on the planet who understood--or cared about--the myriad of ways a team can add and subtract players from its roster. The work was routine, bordering on boredom, until he spotted the Redskins' new math:

One minus one minus one equals zero.


What had happened, Myers determined, was that George Allen accidentally, or possibly not, had traded the same draft choice to two teams. That inflated NFL humor for months; this raw, obscure league cop, who for weeks before had been little more than a glorified secretary for a wire service, had fingered one of the sharpies of the sport.

When Allen later hired Myers for the Redskins, they never discussed the matter. Neither will they when they face each other as near-equals, in rank if not reputation, in the United States Football League this season. Myers hopes the same quiet persistence carries the day again.

Of all the decisions facing the man Berl Bernhard has put in charge of "football operations" for Washington's USFL team, two barely will determine the fate of the franchise: hiring somebody to find players and hiring somebody to coach them.

Although his football experience is extensive, it includes almost no scouting. In a lineup of beef-eating men, Myers might choose the tuba player instead of the tackle; he is confident of being able to scout scouts well enough to select the one capable of evaluating prospects with Allen-like skill.

The announcement of Myers as general manager meant the early leading candidate to coach the team, Jimmy Raye, will remain an assistant with the Atlanta Falcons. Washington's newest team needs to be innovative, and hiring the first black head coach would be as welcome as it would be dramatic. And so would a refugee from the glorious Allen years here, say, Billy Kilmer.

"We'd rather be right than dramatic," Myers cautions. "That might be unfair to Billy, because he's had no coaching experience. Besides, I know he's excited about his new job with a Dallas bank."

Myers' choice of career rarely wavered from his early childhood in Afton, Iowa, although baseball was the sport that hooked him first. At first, he was good enough to play first base through college (at Iowa's Cornell College). Football? He didn't even try to delude himself.

There was one brief detour from sports, a quarter at Florida State's law school. During a holiday break, he pestered the man in charge of the unique sports administration program at Ohio University so intently over the phone that the flabbergasted fellow said: "Sure, come on out."

So Myers bounced back to what by then was his second love. The first, Dolores Massone, had persuaded him to make that call. They were married in the fall of 1970, when he was mastering a masters at Ohio but finding job prospects bleak.

The chance that he might last beyond the baseball season got him to New York working for United Press International, where he spent the first few weeks as a dictationist, tapping out the flat, fact-filled prose of reporters whose stories have to be finished a beat after the final out.

He was restless, and again sent his resume to the NFL.

One night he was dreaming about it, the next day the dream came true.

"Except Mark Duncan instead of Jim Kensil," Myers said. "I dreamed that Kensil would get back to me, and the next day when I came home from work, Dolores said there had been an important call from the NFL."

He had the interview Thursday, the job Friday and, although that hardly was his intent, Allen's butt not long thereafter.

Myers was in Denver this weekend, keeping an eye on Allen and the other league luminaries and maneuvering to eventually become part of the structure that determines how distinctive the USFL will be, how heavily it wants to bid for players against the NFL.

Candidly, Myers admits that NFL cuts today very likely will become USFL stars tomorrow. If the latest TV league is resourceful and imaginative, that will not be terminally harmful. Many players, especially offensive linemen, have prospered after being cut.

"There must be more Joe Jacobys out there," said Myers, referring to the Redskins' free-agent rookie who beat out first-round draftee Mark May for a starting offensive-tackle position last year. "Everybody's an NFL fan, and we've got enough (John) Ralstons, Allens, and (Red) Millers to produce exciting football.

"Not taking anything away from the other Washington teams, I think our (spring) season will go well. It is to our great advantage that there is no baseball here."

An even greater bonanza would be a September lockout/strike in the NFL. Myers and his adventurous colleagues are praying for the incredible: that the newest football game in town suddenly would be the only one.

To NFL management and players refusing to budge from their bargaining positions, the USFL is silently shouting: "Hold that line!"