They had talked. Lordie, how they'd run their mouths. You'd have thought it was this obscure Dexter Manley who had won a couple of Super Bowls, instead of the other way around, so long and loud were his taunts at the Cowboys. Brag big, play bigger, he'd reasoned. Redskins' coaches cringed.

All you need to know about Joe Theismann's estimation of himself is that he wrote a book on how to play quarterback before he ever threw a pass in the National Football League. No athlete ever had more off-the-field income with less on-the-field performance. Until yesterday.

Yesterday, athletic America had to stop in midsnicker and nod its head in admiration. Hold the mustard; these guys can play. Manley tipped a football--and the championship of the National Football Conference--the Redskins' way. Theismann threw just enough of the precise, professional passes he'd insisted he could complete under immense pressure to make that possible.

Now they were side by side, though not intentionally, soda and cigars in hand. Manley had been directed to join Theismann's press conference, already in progress, at almost the moment somebody asked about the Redskins' strongest character.

Captain Bubbly couldn't resist.

"Right here," he said, pointing at Manley and then hugging him.

Manley is vivid illustration of the Redskins' noblest character: inventiveness. Somehow, the best coaches money can buy have mixed and matched a lot of Manleys, Mel Kaufmans and half-pint receivers with a half-dozen underappreciated veterans and charged into the Super Bowl.

Embarrass the Redskins once; get embarrassed next time.

The Redskins began last season 0-5; they are 19-4 since. Few players ever have walked off a field with less dignity than Manley after the Redskins' loss in Dallas last season; no one basked in more glory yesterday.

"I talk a lot," he'd yelled, slapping hands with Charlie Brown in the dressing room. "We won it; we won it; we won it."

Early on, one of the haughty Cowboys, Drew Pearson, had walked by Manley and snorted: "Just keep talking."

All Manley did was hit him with a stare.

"Just ignored it," he said. "The talkin' time was over; the action time was on."

It surely was.

All but run out of Texas Stadium slightly more than a year ago, Manley slipped by one all-pro, Pat Donovan, put a move on another, Herb Scott, and all but planted Danny White in a patch of dyed dirt. Manley thought White had been hurt worse than he had, and felt sorry about that. He was worried when White's backup, Gary Hogeboom, started doing a wonderful imitation of Roger Staubach.

But this was Manley's day, as this season so far has belonged to the Redskins: anything he touched turned into a touchdown. He sensed the Cowboys would throw another screen to Tony Dorsett midway through the fourth quarter from their 20. That had gotten them out of trouble earlier.

"So I jumped just as my man released (and scurried after Dorsett)," Manley said.

What happened is vintage Redskins. A defensive tackle confined to offense much of his Redskins' life, Darryl Grant, grabbed a tip by a defensive end spectacularly offensive a year ago, carried the ball 10 yards to the end zone and the Redskins all the way to Pasadena.

A week ago, when he all but grabbed anyone with a pen and pad and demanded to be quoted about how much he wanted revenge against Dallas, Manley dreamed grandly. "Maybe if I do well, I'll get on 'Nightline,' " he said. "Or the Carson show."

Brent will have to do at the moment.

That what he'd dreamed actually happened seemed tough for Manley to tackle.

"Boy," he sighed at one point. "A great feeling."

He wiped his little-boy's face with his undershirt and thought about the rewards.

"The dollars will be spent," he said. "Can't spend the memories."

Theismann knew exactly how to fan his fantasy. He was as comfortable in the spotlight as Manley was shy.

The Redskins have been waiting ever so long for Theismann to grow up as a quarterback. Twice, he showed he's become a man under center.

Theismann threw just one pass his picky peers might remember, but it will linger a while. The Redskins had wonderful field position after Mike Nelms' 76-yard kickoff return, until two Dallas linebackers made a blitz sandwich out of restaurateur Theismann.

From near-certain touchdown range, Washington suddenly was moving toward the outer limits of Mark Moseley: third and 18 at the 28, Theismann rolling right, a Cowboy thundering at him from behind. How many times had he practiced that throw? Hundreds as a Redskin; thousands his football life. It had to be hummer in the strike zone on the run, with a championship at stake.

It was. First and goal at the six.

Soon, a four-point lead was 11.

"If Joe hadn't had Joe Walton and Joe Gibbs here," George Starke said, "he might not have developed. Walton (now the Jets' offensive coordinator) set him down, calmed him, allowed his skills to take shape. He was skittish; he's become a fine quarterback."

From across the room, the mature, understated wise old quarterback was going bonkers on a television platform. Theismann stared at Starke, pointed to Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke holding a football and yelled: "Pop Hog."

Later, he got serious.

"Gotta tell you," he said, "this one makes up for it all." Theismann had seen the other Cowboy comebacks, been astonished at Clint Longley that horrid Thanksgiving, cried after Staubach pulled that 35-34 miracle out of his sleeve. Giddy, he's also greedy.

"Jeff Bostic came up to me," Theismann said, "told me he loved me and that we'd played great. But that we've got one more."