George Allen, Len Hauss, Billy Kilmer and Diron Talbert were in town the past few days, but not because this is Dallas Week.

They would have felt out of place at Redskin Park, anyway. It's not like the old days, when Cowboys vs. the Redskins was a combination of crusade and hyperbole.

This is a new era of the Dallas-Washington rivalry. The Cowboys still are the contenders. The Redskins are the pretenders. And until the teams are again on nearly the same level, the intensity won't be the same.

For the Redskins, for the first time in two years, this game has meaning. A victory not only would go a long way toward putting them in the playoffs, it would catch the Cowboys' attention and would give credibility to the Redskins' already impressive seven-game winning streak. It could signify that future games between those teams might mean as much as those during the days when Allen coached here.

For all those reasons, the atmosphere this week at Redskin Park was charged with extra emotion. A feeling of anticipation permeated practices.

But the party line, as preached in team meetings by Coach Joe Gibbs, is to downplay the rivalry, to admit that the game is important but not just because it is against Dallas.

"I look at this like I look at any other team," said guard Russ Grimm. "When I take the field, I'm trying to beat the guy across from me before he beats me. Sure it's big, but that's because we are 4-0 and we want to be 5-0. Everyone would like to beat Dallas, they have the recognized players. Who's heard of Russ Grimm or Jeff Bostic or Joe Jacoby? But I don't think a rivalry has anything to do with it."

Receiver Art Monk said the game "means a lot to us, but we are preparing for it like any other game. We can't get caught up in the buildup and the hype. That would hurt our concentration. When I was a rookie (in 1980) some of the old guys were still left and the feeling in here was different."

"I think it would be the same no matter who we were playing this week," said linebacker Monte Coleman. "We are undefeated and everyone is going to be shooting at us. Sure, everyone is excited about it, but the town probably hates Dallas more now than we do."

"It just can't be the same as in the old days," said safety Mark Murphy. "There has been too much turnover on the roster. Lots of our guys are so young they think Roger Staubach has worked his whole life selling Rolaids."

Don't be misled. The players and coaches know what this game means, for themselves as well as for their fans. They know beating Dallas, especially under these circumstances, is extra special to the community.

"There is something special about this week, you can sense it," said Joe Bugel, the offensive line coach. "You know that all the people are talking about is Dallas. That's the game they want. I think we have the game in perspective as players and coaches, but these are the weeks you love. You get excited. And the vets won't let the young guys forget what it means."

"My daughter says that everyone is asking her, 'How are you going to do against Dallas?' said linebacker coach Larry Peccatiello. "No one asks her about other teams. When I was with other teams, everyone was aware of the rivalry. Now that I am here, I think the rivalry is as intense on our part as I thought it would be, but I'm not so sure it's the same with Dallas. They've had the upper hand and that's kind of taken away from it. One of the things our players would like to do is win this one and get the rivalry as meaningful as it used to be."

Defensive end Dexter Manley said he "grew up in Houston and I loved the Cowboys. I went to Oklahoma State where our nickname was Cowboys and I was in heaven. But now I don't like them at all. They all think they are so good. We just have to prove that we are as good as they are, that's all."

There is a side issue to this game. The Redskins ended the players' strike still a pro-union team. The Cowboys were lukewarm, at best, toward the union. And quarterback Danny White was one of the players criticized by union leaders for pushing for an agreement during the last days of the negotiations.

"I don't think that carries over into the game that much," said Murphy, the team's player representative. "I mean, we don't go after a Cowboy and say, 'Take that, scab.' There is just a lot of apathy about the union among the Cowboys. And they were smart. Tex Schramm (the team's president) had maybe six players making over $100,000 last year. Then, suddenly, there were 31. Why did they need a union?"

Tackle George Starke, one of those "old guys," says he still feels the same about the Cowboys.

"I enjoy playing them, they are our natural rivals, but the young guys take everyone the same, that's why they are winning," Starke said. "They don't want to beat the Cowboys any more than they wanted to beat the Eagles. Rivalries are passed down eventually, but it takes a while.

"There is a lot of history that I can't pass down to them. They have to build their own history against this team, just like we did."