He was still signing autographs, on slick program pages, scraps of paper, and even on other competitors' badges. Eamonn Coghlan had just run the fastest-ever indoor mile, 3:49.78, and suddenly the Sunday afternoon crowd at the Meadowlands clamored for his signature.

Coghlan, who had been predicting a lower time in the mile all season, finally got the chance to better his old record (3:50.6), in the meet that had been postponed by a blizzard two weeks before.

From the start, Coghlan said he figured there was no way the old record would not fall on Sunday.

"This was the only time all season we went for a record right from the start," he said. "From the first step, Ross (Donoghue) went out and set an honest-to-goodness pace, and I just went out and did what I wanted to do, to break 3:50. I tried not to doubt myself."

After talking all season about lowering that mark, Coghlan attained his goal in the last indoor meet of the season on the track he had helped to design.

"To me, what I accomplished today is comparable to Roger Bannister becoming the first man to break four minutes, and John Walker being the first to break 3:50 (outdoors)," Coghlan said Sunday, without a trace of boastfulness.

"Someday, this record will be broken, too, but nobody can take away the fact that I was the first one to break the 3:50 barrier."

Coghlan had won the mile in Friday's USA/Mobil Track and Field Championships at Madison Square Garden, but his 3:58.74 barely gave a hint of what could happen two days later.

Coghlan wasn't disturbed by the speed, or lack of it, and thought ahead to his strategy for the Meadowlands track.

"One less turn (10 instead of the Garden's 11) psychologically can make a difference," he said on Friday. And in running Sunday's mile, Coghlan said he just "decided to block out each lap of the countdown and just concentrate on staying calm and close to the leader. On this track, you just finish one and you've begun another (lap) which makes it go even faster."

Coghlan gave some of the credit to Donoghue, who played rabbit for Coghlan and maintained a pace that produced practically even splits. He also credited the surface itself. "The bends, the contour, make it a great track to run on," he said. "The fastest I've run on indoors."

Coghlan had predicted the record would be broken there because its steeper turns and Fiberglas-coated surface are conducive to faster times.

On the last straightaway, Coghlan said he was blocking out all sense of tiredness and pain. "I thought of my coach, Jerry Farnon (who died last year) and of my father, and I said, 'Guys, this is for you.' "

Coghlan's father died Jan. 31 while visiting his son's Rye, N.Y., home. He had come from Ireland to New York to see Eamonn compete in the Millrose Games and the meet that ultimately took place on Sunday afternoon.

Coghlan had hoped to set the record with his father watching, and when he returned from the funeral in Ireland two weeks ago, said he would dedicate the record quest to his father.

Someone asked Coghlan, who plans to run longer distances outdoors, if he is finished with the mile now that he has broken the indoor record for the third time.

"Finished?" he said, eyes opening in disbelief. "After 3:49, I haven't even started."