The Little Pro Football League That Tries fluttered for the first time in public yesterday, and did surprisingly well. George Allen dominated draft day with a three-for-one, going-into-business sale. Even before the coffee arrived and they dangled dollars to Craig James, the Washington Federals came to terms with a quarterback who helps attack two major needs: credibility and availability.

Covering this U.S. Football League draft? somebody asked Kim McQuilken.

Part of it, he said.

So the engaging former Redskin, whose arm may be rusty but certainly not tired, has completed the rarest of athletic journeys: from the field to television and back to the field again. McQuilken isn't any more certain than the rest of us where this new league is going; he's also willing to tag along for a while.

"Here's an opportunity where there's no pressure on me," he said. "I mean, it's not the NFL. I don't want to go back to the NFL. But this is a real opportunity for me to play in what now is becoming a very bona fide entity. With television contracts; with coaches; with some players they're signing. Geez, maybe I can go in there and have fun--and play--and get paid to do it.

"I'm in a business (a specific phase of corporate insurance) where this will enhance my contacts. It's not like I have to stop what I'm doing for a new career. I'll just continue what I've been doing. Physically, I'm the same age as Danny White (31)--and I don't think anybody is gonna accuse him of being too old.

"If anything, I'm well-rested."

He could have laughed at that, but didn't.

In three seasons with the Redskins, McQuilken threw four passes. His entire pro life has been a lesson in humility. Once touted as a possible savior for the Atlanta Falcons, he wilted behind Steve Bartkowski; seen as capable of being a starter with the Redskins, he watched the unexpected flowering of Joe Theismann.

"My rookie year (as the Falcons' third-round draftee)," he said, "one of the first games I played in was the second half against the Rams, down 27-7. I threw 27 times the second half; never handed the ball off. It's laughable when you look back at it (his life as terminal backup).

"But what an education. It's killing me. If I ever get a chance to play, I got all this knowledge."

He has that chance.

Anyone not completely broken by Norm Van Brocklin deserves one.

"The most intimidating man I've ever known," McQuilken said. It was the Dutchman who once called a popular, eager, obscure rookie off the bench during the final moments of his last chance to impress the coach. Instead of being ordered onto the field, the player was ordered to butt Van Brocklin's cigarette.

"We knew we had to beat the Dolphins (in the eighth game of the 1974 season) or Norm was going to get fired the next day," McQuilken said. "To show you how much we loved him, in the fourth quarter it's 42-7. That's how much we wanted Norm to keep his job."

Pat Sullivan and McQuilken were on the sideline, fearful, knowing one would be called on to replace the staggering starter, Bob Lee. Both inched as far as prudently possible from Van Brocklin; Sullivan got the call.

"Norm knows the game's over; he knows the season's lost; he knows he's gonna get fired the next morning," McQuilken said. "It's 42-7 and he grabs Sullivan and says, 'Get in there before this thing gets out of hand.' "

Even though McQuilken rarely got a hand in games, little bitterness toward the Redskins remains.

"The Redskins offered me a great contract (the year Joe Gibbs was hired)," he said. "Almost too good to be true. Which made me a bit suspect. They were very eager to have me return to camp but (because high aspirations never had been fulfilled) I just didn't want to kick around the league any longer. I was gonna settle down here in business, get married. Forget it.

"I got out of it at least feeling better than how I felt when I played. I got out feeling I got out on my own terms. Felt pretty good about that."

He's intrigued by the USFL.

The Redskins are slightly paranoid that the Feds would preach peaceful coexistence and then try to sign such as SMU's James. All we want is a few stars, the USFL answers, not the entire solar system. Except for possibly George Allen.

Off in his own orbit again, with the spectacularly named Chicago Blitz, Allen influenced most of the draft's first round. First, he swapped positions with Arizona and picked the relatively obscure running back Tim Spencer. Then, he traded his ninth-, 10th- and 12th-round choices and negotiation rights to quarterback Tony Eason of Illinois to Boston for a No. 1 he used to select the gifted Trumaine Johnson of Grambling.

"He's got the key factor, an experienced quarterback (Greg Landry)," said the Federals' director of player personnel, Mike Faulkiner. And, as usual, our unwavering attention.