That old question of respect continues to pester the Washington Redskins, like gnats flying loop the loops inside their face masks.

"Even if people have to look it up in Webster's, just to find an excuse why we won the Super Bowl last year, they will," says wide receiver Charlie Brown. "I think it's jealousy. People just don't want to accept us."

"Nowadays, it's the in thing to be down on the Super Bowl champions," says tight end Rick Walker.

"After we beat Dallas last year," says Joe Jacoby, 6-feet-7, 300-pound offensive tackle, "even my younger brother said, 'Play somebody in their prime, you're just beating up on old guys.' "

"There is still a certain amount of apathy towards us," says Coach Joe Gibbs. "People look at us like we are a bunch of overachievers."

"I'm from Texas," says rookie cornerback Darrell Green, the Redskins' top draft pick from Texas A&I, "and you know what the people of Texas think."

Because the Redskins won the National Football League title in a strike-shortened season last year, there are those who say that the largest diamond in their Super Bowl rings ought to be cut in the shape of an asterisk.

"Everybody keeps bringing up that asterisk," says running back Joe Washington.

"No matter what you do," says linebacker Neal Olkewicz, "somebody will always be pessimistic."

"Do we have respect?" asks free safety Mark Murphy. "Judging from the preseason polls, I'd say we don't. Nobody is picking us to win the division."

And even though last year the Redskins finished 8-1 in the regular season, 12-1 overall, and claimed retribution for their only regular-season defeat to Dallas with a 31-17 depluming of the Cowboys in the conference title game, it seems people keep comparing the Redskins' fiber to that of the San Francisco 49ers.

Resourceful, yes.

Repeat, no.

"If we had lost four games during the regular season, then got into the playoffs as a wild card, then won the Super Bowl, maybe you could call it a fluke. But we didn't do that," says linebacker Pete Cronan, a bearded hard-hitter John Riggins likes to call "Cronan the Barbarian."

"People say we were a fluke last year because we only played 13 games," says offensive guard Mark May. "Well if that's the case, then all those years Miami was winning in the early '70s were flukes, too, because they only played 14 (regular season) games."

There are those veteran Redskins, however, who simply refuse to take out a flyswatter and splat the gnats. Such is the case with Tony McGee, a defensive end in his second year with the Redskins and his 13th year in the NFL.

McGee has 100 quarterback sacks in his career. But he won't chase the gnats. "We don't have to ask for respect. We are the champs," he says. "And it wasn't respect that put rings on our fingers."

George Starke, offensive tackle in his 11th NFL season, is known as head Hog and as the only Redskin to have spanned both Super Bowl seasons. (He was on the team's taxi squad in 1972, the Redskins' last Super Bowl year before last year.)

Do the Redskins now have respect?

"Who the hell knows?" Starke says.

Do the Hogs of the offensive line have respect?

"Of course," Starke says.

"You see, this is all show business," says Starke, 35, the man responsible for turning the Hogs into a corporation in the offseason. "Respect comes from being known, getting marketed. Usually the quarterback and running back get marketed the most. Like (former Dallas quarterback) Roger Staubach. You see him running around, giving people relief on commercials all over the place.

"Well, the Hogs have respect now. The name 'Hogs' was bigger than Riggo, bigger than Joe Theismann."

For a professional quarterback, winning the Super Bowl provides the stamp of legitimacy. It is the mark of supreme accomplishment. People remember their names like they remember astronauts' names.

The Jets' Joe Namath had only three winning seasons, but he has the stamp of legitimacy for that Super Bowl III victory. The Raiders' Jim Plunkett was traded once, cut another time, but he, too, has the stamp of legitimacy, for reviving to gain the Super Bowl XV victory.

And what of the Redskins' glib Theismann, who once wrote a book on "How to Quarterback" when he was playing in Canada in 1971, then took it off the market because nobody really believed he knew the answer?

Last year, Theismann not only knew how, he showed how. In all, he completed 219 of 337 passes for 2,749 yards, 21 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions. He was so utterly competent in the postseason, completing 68 percent of his passes, that his quarterback rating was 110.8.

For all those people who might not have taken Theismann seriously for all those years, last year he won the Super Bowl and therefore earned, above all else, the quarterback's stamp of legitimacy.

"I think around the country, because I've never been afraid to speak my mind, a lot of people would have liked to see me get my block knocked off," says Theismann. "Because I spoke my piece, guys I played with on the Redskins, the cliques on the teams of the mid-'70s, would have liked to see me have every word shoved up my mouth.

"But I have never tried to differ with those people, saying, 'Now, you just wait and see.' I've always answered with actions on the field . . . Really, I think that I am respected for my year-to-year consistency, not just because I won the Super Bowl."

Perhaps it is fitting, in a perverse, totally unjust way, that when people reflect on the Redskins' Super Bowl season of 1982, the one play they likely will remember about Theismann was more defensive than offensive: the Super Bowl play where Theismann knocked one of his own deflected passes from the hands of Miami defensive end Kim Bokamper, who was steps from the Redskins' end zone.

"I guess that's the way it goes," Theismann says.

Then, in a statement that has as much relevance for his defending Super Bowl champion team as for himself, Theismann says, "I feel like I have a place in history now. I just don't know where it is."