John Riggins runs like an 18-wheeler, see. So WMAL gets this diesel horn sound effect, and they use it to accompany the glee of Frank Herzog, Sonny Jurgensen and Sam Huff whenever Riggins plows over some would-be defenders.

First time, about three games ago, it was pretty funny. Second time, still okay but slightly annoying.

Last week, Riggins gained 185 yards. I listened on the Beltway for awhile. My neck still hurts from checking the mirror.

Actually, the flagship of the 100-station Redskins radio network, WMAL-630, need make only three small adjustments to realize vast improvement in mileage for its weekly game broadcasts:

1. Disconnect the horn. Immediately.

2. Tune up the Huff.

3. Once in a while, take the straight route.

This Redskins team deserves credit. It is cleaner, quicker and happier than many other NFL radio teams. But with the suggestions above taken, many more of us might just accede to WMAL's oft-repeated wish: that we watch the game on television with the sound off, and leave the audio to Frank, Sonny and Sam. WMAL even makes it clear that its booth boasts a TV monitor and it is frequently obvious from listening that the three men play to the replay.

It is also obvious that this is an above-average booth, one whose members, though they are two-thirds homer, avoid enraging most of us with clubbiness and/or boosterism for two reasons. The first is Herzog himself, flat-out and facile Frank, the only one of the three with a perspective broadened by the fact that he's never worked at RFK in a helmet, plus an enviable cadence and sharp sense of pace. He is the glue; without him, Jurgensen and Huff would surely hurtle through the floor and ceiling, respectively.

The second reason for success is the collective senses of humor and timing shown by Herzog, and by 11-year Redskin Jurgensen and Hall of Fame Redskins/Giants linebacker Huff, in this, their second season together at WMAL (Jurgensen is the newest addition).

At Tampa Bay, before the strike, thunder rumbled above as players, Buccaneers mostly, bumbled below. WMAL's booth could've imitated lots of local NFL radio teams under similar circumstances and turned trite or made excuses. As during the Redskins' awful start last year, they did neither.

Jurgensen: "Anybody got a backgammon board?"


Huff: "The playing conditions are not too good down there . . ."

Jurgensen: "That's putting it mildly. I'll tell you one thing--after this game, a strike is gonna look good."

Much laughter.

Later, Huff chimed in: "Well, here comes the Redskins' offense on the field." Pause. "Doug Williams, Tampa Bay."

Every once in a while, the three men go too far, venturing into silliness. Usually this happens during slow periods, and begins with Herzog mentioning Sam Huff's wife's tomato soup. When in doubt, guys, how about some stats?

Jurgensen is the most irreversible homer of the bunch, but he isn't so offensive on the radio as he is when he does his occasional single-handed sportscast on Channel 9's evening news.

Jurgensen is just fine on my radio, because, well, this is a Redskins game. This is where a cranky, offense-minded ex-quarterback like Jurgensen belongs, even if he does say "we" a hundred times, and is a master of the non sequitur ("What's the score of this game?"), and left alone, fades to black. Luckily, Herzog has a knack for getting Jurgensen going.

Huff, though he probably doesn't chip in for Sonny's special orders of burgundy-and-gold-striped toothpaste, had better be careful lest he become known as the poor man's Tom Brookshier, with his tendency toward good ol' boyishness and giddy, empty accolades that do little informing and eventually become distracting.

After a recent score, Huff's illuminating comment: "Boy, he's quick, isn't he, little Joe Washington?"

Or: "I wonder if he (Moseley) ever gets nervous, kicking these things. I'm a little nervous myself."

Or: "I like the way he plays, Riggins. He's really come around." He paused here. "He's a good person." Another pause. "He's tough."

It was Huff who started the good-natured giggling over Riggins' Kenworth connection that led WMAL's Len Deibert and engineers Ed Painter and Bert Cohen to come up with the diesel-horn effect. But don't blame them. Sam had started honking himself; they had no choice.

Against St. Louis, when Huff predicted correctly that Joe Washington would carry the ball because of the way he rushed in from the sideline with the play, you got an inkling how tough Huff was to beat on the field. Only thing is, now that he's playing a couple hundred feet above the field, he can't keep answering Herzog's questions ("What can you do to defend against a screen, anyway?") by saying, "You just have a feeling."