A furor developed last night after ABC-TV commentator Howard Cosell referred to Redskins wide receiver Alvin Garrett as a "little monkey" during the broadcast of the Washington-Dallas game.

During an instant replay in the first half, Cosell said, referring to Garrett (who had made a reception for a good gain), "Jake Gibbs wanted to get this kid and that little monkey gets loose, doesn't he?"

This remark was verified by The Washington Post, which recorded the game. About 20 calls were received at The Post after the remark, with many people perceiving it as a racial slur.

Later in the broadcast, Cosell made reference to the controversy, saying that reporters had been asking about it: "According to the reporters, they were told that I called Alvin Garrett a little monkey. Nothing of the sort and you fellows know it. No man respects Alvin Garrett more than I do. I talked about that man's ability to be so elusive despite the smallness of his size."

After the game, Cosell, referring to the original remark, told The Post: "I don't remember saying that. I was being complimentary to the man all night.

"Where were they when I fought for Muhammad Ali's rights? Where were they when I created the Jackie Robinson Foundation? This is the cheapest kind of trash in the world. My record as far as race relations is supreme."

Nevertheless, the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference said he has sent a telegram to Cosell and wants an apology.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery said, "As a sportsman, I would urge him to issue an apology. He said it. If he doesn't remember saying it he ought to check the tape. I heard it, then I started getting telephone calls. That many people can't be wrong . . .

"While he may not have meant it as disparaging, it is offensive to many people."

Garrett said, "It doesn't offend me because Howard is always shooting off his mouth. Half the time he doesn't know what he's talking about. I think he looks like a monkey. I guess it would bother me if I heard it in person, but that's Howard."

In New York, about a dozen callers to the offices of the Associated Press said they had heard Cosell make the comment, and United Press International's offices in New York also said it had received a complaint.

An operator at ABC offices in New York said the network had received "a few" calls over the incident.