In an era in which inflation double-covers egos and contracts in professional football, along comes Nick Giaquinto, Washington Redskins' erstwhile reserve running back and special teams player.

Talk about a humble history. A 5-foot-11, 204-pound hunk of grit, Giaquinto was cut by the New York Giants (1977), the New York Jets (1978), the Ottawa Rough Riders (1979) and the Miami Dolphins (1981).

In between, he played for the semipro Eastern Connecticut Sea Raiders ("They gave you 50 bucks a game and a helmet," Giaquinto says, "and you had to supply your own pads"), has been a bouncer at Big Daddy's bar in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. ("They didn't pay me enough to get hurt," he says. "So mostly, I talked them out of fighting"), and has been a busboy at Gibby's restaurant in Florida. There, he says, he quit after the manager yelled at him for drinking milk in the kitchen instead of busing trays she said were still on the tables.

"So I took one more drink of milk," Giaquinto remembers, smiling as his injured right Achilles' swirled about in the Washington Redskins' training room whirlpool today, "and told her, 'You can't fire me because I'm leaving on my own.' "

He walked out of the kitchen. And onto the Dolphins' 1980 roster.

Humble, indeed.

"Nick's got a lot of devil in him. He's one of those mild-mannered Clark Kent types," says Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann. "But look out when he gets his cape on."

To which Giaquinto, 28, from the University of Connecticut and hailed in Redskins' reasoning for his versatility, field smarts and work, work, work ethic, says, "I'm not crazy. That's all rumor and speculation."

Giaquinto has been one of the men in motion from umpteen different offensive sets since Washington picked him up from Miami's cut list late in the 1981 season.

"I'm a whiz or a dart or a spear," says Giaquinto, using terminology created in Coach Joe Gibbs' offense, "or a fake whiz."

With Giaquinto these days, life is more Gee whiz.

"Nick's a guy that it's hard to feel you could do without," says Gibbs. "He can just do so many things for a football team. He can run back punts or kickoffs, plays great special teams . . . "

" . . . He's like having a coach out on the field," says Don Breaux, the running back coach. "What Nick is, is a pretty good runner, excellent in the passing game with an added dimension of playing a wide receiver, and he's an excellent special teams player."

After so many years of "Giaquinto" being a name scrawled on somebody's cut list, Breaux added, "He's better than a lot of people give him credit for. Not flashy. Just makes the plays."

General Manager Bobby Beathard adds with a scout's shrewdness, "A lot of teams seem to have one guy like Nick. Now, Nick becomes even more valuable to us with the rosters cut from 49 to 45 because he can do so many different things."

Coming out of Connecticut, Giaquinto was not exactly another gloriously crafted product click-click-clicking off a noted football assembly line, dropping, at last, gently into the NFL. He had to talk to friends who knew people in the right places just to get tryouts with the Giants and Jets.

Always, he was a hard worker. "I tried to run down the field as hard as I could during training camps, after all these passes that were overthrown," he says. "I did it one time, two times, three times a practice. I hoped the coaches would look at the films later and say, 'Who's that guy who keeps popping into all those plays?' "

Giaquinto became a teacher, first as a substitute in a Florida high school, then as a full-timer in a Florida elementary school. He also coached some football.

The man responsible for keeping breath in Giaquinto's football career was Dan Henning. As an assistant coach with the Jets, Henning liked what he saw in Giaquinto, even though he was cut. When Henning became a coach at Miami, he arranged the tryout that set Giaquinto free from his hassles in the kitchen.

Finally, when Henning became the Redskins' offensive coordinator in 1981, he noticed Giaquinto's name on Miami's cut list 10 games into the season. Two days later, the Redskins picked up Giaquinto.

"I was a little surprised I was picked up so soon after I was cut," he says. "The great thing was I got two paychecks that week, one from the Dolphins and one from the Redskins.

One Super Bowl ring later, Giaquinto reflects on a career with totals of 115 yards rushing and 350 yards in pass receptions, saying it was easy to retain his football faith all along the rise, fall, then rise path.

"The more you bus trays," he says, "the more you think about football. I kept myself in shape because in the back of my mind, I always thought there might be another chance. I wanted to be ready."