Joe Theismann often acts like a conceited egoist who in another life would be a peacock. There'll be very little downfield blocking from the public in support of his "opinion" that the owner of the Redskins, Jack Kent Cooke, ought to redo a contract worth $1.4 million with more than two years to run. The guy probably will be a millionaire from his off-the-field scrambling; he will earn $315,000 this year just for accepting a pig's bladder from a Hog and either tucking it in John Riggins' tummy or playing pitch-and-catch with some Smurfs.

And Theismann's whining about being underpaid?

Most unbecoming a cover boy for Gentleman's Quarterly.

Theismann wants us to eat at his restaurant, run in his sneakers, take pictures of ourselves with his camera, read his newspaper, listen to him on television and also buy his line about deserving more money.

He's captain of the All-Gall team.

He's also right.

Absolutely, Joe D (for dollar) should be paid more for what he does with the Redskins each week. At least in relation to what 27 other NFL quarterbacks offer their employers. And what he earns in his off hours is irrelevant. Theismann's team won the Super Bowl last season. No way is Dan Fouts of the Chargers worth twice what Theismann makes. And that pup in Denver, John Elway, reportedly is getting $5 million for five years.

After ever-so-many years, Theismann is one of the quarterbacks you would trust on third-and-long with a big game on the line. Mark Moseley's foot might have gotten the Redskins into the playoffs; Riggins and the offensive line might have been dominant throughout the playoffs; it was Theismann's arm--and presence of mind--that assured victory in the Super Bowl.

Last year, his $275,000 salary was only the 16th highest among NFL quarterbacks. Theismann frets about slipping even lower this season, that his might be close to the minimum wage for men who bark hut-hut regularly. Tut-tut. Working stiffs must be doubled over by now.

"I guarantee you," countered Theismann, anticipating the flak, "that if a very good office manager found that another office manager, in a company they were in direct competition with, was getting paid more than he was, he'd do exactly what I'm doing."

He surely would.

Genuine concern that comes off as petty pouting to anyone not directly involved happens in businesses less fawned over than football. Even pure, devoted, loyal, wise and humble sports columnists have been known to growl about dolts who couldn't carry a thesaurus making much more than our pittance.

Maybe they actually work, cynics shout.

Nope, they were lucky enough to get involved in circulation wars. Or so we believe. Same thing with Theismann. Fouts and Elway, and some others, leaped ahead of Theismann in the salary stats not because they could execute the hitch-and-go better but because there was a competing league wooing them.

Didn't Theismann know about the U.S. Football League when he and the usually astute Ed Keating agreed to terms with Cooke?

"Dan and John got what they wanted because the USFL is a fact," Theismann said. "It was a hypothesis when I signed."

But Theismann did sign. Without anything close to the Weathersby weapons Riggins passed out to his blockers near his head, Theismann signed that four-year contract. And gloated about it, saying Cooke gave him $50,000 more than he'd agreed to.

It's tough to accept bragging one year and begging the next.

What shoots even more holes in Joe D's case is the advice he offered Charlie Brown and Dexter Manley in mid-July when they were trying to get their contracts reworked:

"The reality is, when you sign a contract you have an obligation. What Charlie and Dexter have to realize is that they made adeal . . . My advice to Charlie and Dexter is this: don't sign a contract. Don't accept pay raises. Come into camp and play your butts off this year; in two years, you will make three times the money you will now, because the USFL will be there and the International Football League will be there."

Joe D should have told himself that before he signed. He had enough outside income to keep him off food stamps; he could have gambled, as he suggested Brown and Manley do: let the USFL come into being and seen if it was solvent enough for him.

You mean the Chicago Blitz would not have coveted one of Notre Dame's finest? Or most any owner would not have whipped his wallet open for a glib Super Bowl winner at liberty? Misread that pattern, eh? Beware of tycoons bearing bonuses.

Sometimes, Joe D is too easy to assault. He keeps flogging his position with his own statements.

Ah, but Cooke did give in to Brown and Manley. Whatever he chose to call it, the hard-liner who let Riggins rust in Kansas three seasons ago rather than bend to his demands retooled contracts for two gifted players attractive to the USFL.

And set a mighty precedent.

Brown and Manley are among the best-paid players at their positions. Why shouldn't Theismann get a similar courtesy? After all, a torn-up contract is a torn-up contract.

And while squire Cooke is at it, he ought to settle that incentive-clause hassle with Moseley by giving his kicker what he's willing to settle for: $15,000, or half what seems rightfully his. Mercy, man, didn't he give you several times that much psychic income?

Theismann has said that if Cooke fails to agree with his "opinion" he didn't know if he could play for the Redskins next year.

You really could walk away from football? Joe D was asked yesterday.

"I didn't say I'd walk away," he said.

But what other leverage do you have?

"I have no leverage," he said. "But what leverage do they have? They're gonna be without a quarterback. I doubt very seriously they'd want me active in the media of this city and not being able to play."

Joe D says that's not "an ultimatum." Cooke might argue what he did for Brown and Manley is not renegotiation. Most of us rock back in bemused bewilderment. Especially Joe D's teammates. One of them insisted Cooke "will do right by Joe" and offered to bet that it would happen before November, or just in time to assure a contented quarterback for the playoff push.

Cooke usually prefers to be magnanimous without prodding.