He has none of Roger Staubach's neatly clipped military sophistication, the aura of the former naval officer who has briefed admirals.

He is, instead, a Midwestern boy from Grand Rapids, Mich., big-boned, rangy, with a rural accent and a medium short haircut that glistens with sweat after a game.

Gary Hogeboom of the Dallas Cowboys, suddenly among the nation's leading quarterbacks just two weeks after his 26th birthday, lives in McKinney, Tex., with his wife Kristi and 20-month-old daughter Heidi Jo. He owns six horses.

Fifty years ago, with pro football still young, he might have been the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder with the white-hot fast ball just signed by the Yankees, the lastest phenom on America's most loved and hated team.

But Hogeboom choose football, and Tom Landry, the Cowboys' coach, in turn named him to start Monday night against the Los Angeles Rams. Hogeboom didn't let him down. He completed 33 of 47 passes for 343 yards as the Cowboys won their opener, 20-13, in Anaheim.

It was a difficult moment for Landry. His starter the past few years, Danny White, was the No. 2-ranked quarterback in the league last season, but had not taken the team to the Super Bowl. As Landry said Monday night, "That's considered a failure in Dallas."

"I got a feeling Gary is the right one to start this game," Landry said. Hogeboom had had a good preseason, engineering a come-from-behind victory over Houston. As expected of any humble Midwest youth drafted in the fifth round from Central Michigan University, Hogeboom was loved by his teammates.

"He's great to joke with, go out with, he just gets along well with everybody," said Doug Donley, the wide receiver replacing the retired Drew Pearson. Also, he had been on the bench four years and burned for the starting job as fans drew up banners and reporters churned out columns full of his name.

Hogeboom also had never started a regular-season professional game, never played a complete game, never proven himself blessed with anything like the consistency of White. Don Meredith, once a young Dallas quarterback himself, told Diane K. Shah of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner before the game, "It was not a brave thing that Landry did. The brave thing would be to stick with the No. 2-ranked quarterback in the NFL."

In the movies, of course, the rookie phenom walks a few in the first inning, while his girlfriend tears her handkerchiefs and the besotted press box touts mumble, "I told you so." Hogeboom obliged by fumbling deep in his own territory, leaving Jack Youngblood to scoop up the ball. Later, Eric Dickerson scored the Rams' first touchdown.

On the next series, Hogeboom heightened the drama some more by throwing directly to a cornerback. In the pressbox, there were thoughts of the last Rams-Cowboys game, the humiliating upset in Dallas that knocked the Cowboys out of last year's playoffs.

"This week was tough," Hogeboom said later. "There was pressure. And the first couple of drives were rough." The Cowboys train in Thousands Oaks, only 60 miles from here, but they are no more loved in Orange County than in Alexandria, Va. Last year's 24-17 playoff victory was as sweet as a smogless day to Rams enthusiasts. With the score, 13-7, at the half Monday night, many thought they might enjoy that taste again.

Hogeboom, however, had already begun to pick apart the Rams' secondary, frustrated only by penalties and fumbles by Tony Dorsett, who finished with four. He was spotting blitzes and hitting open receivers while showing an ability to put far more velocity on the ball than a touch passer like White could ever manage.

While Rams quarterback Vince Ferragamo missed receivers and threw four interceptions, Hogeboom began to break records not only for himself but also a trio of Dallas receivers. Dorsett caught 10 passes, Donley nine and tight end Doug Cosbie eight, all personal bests.

A near-perfect 19-yard spiral to Cosbie scored the first Dallas touchdown. With the help of a 52-yard field goal by Rafael Septien that almost hit the crossbar, the Cowboys tied the score, then won it with a 12-yard pass from Hogeboom to Donley and a seven-yard touchdown run by Dorsett.

Hogeboom's 33 completions set a team record, besting White's total of 31 against San Diego last season. It was the 25th Dallas Monday night appearance at the opening of the team's 25th season. The victory put Landry ahead of Green Bay's Curly Lambeau in total career coaching wins with 235, second only to George Halas' 325.

Hogeboom took a perch in the corridor to accommodate reporters, who still are barred from the Cowboys' locker room. He sipped a soft drink and grinned mostly, but said all the right things.

"I wasn't aware of the statistics," he said. "They aren't important anyway. If we didn't win, they wouldn't have meant a thing." Hogeboom was still in his sweat-soaked undershirt, while in the locker room White had dressed and was heading for the door. "It was not fun," he said.

Might Landry reinstall him if Hogeboom falters? "I would never speculate on a coaching decision," White said.

Of course, violent things often happen to quarterbacks. In January 1983, Hogeboom put a chill into an already frosty Washington day when he took over from an injured White and threw two touchdown passes to draw near the Redskins in the NFC championship game. Two interceptions eliminated the threat, but Hogeboom's Cowboys want to try again.

"The only time I had a crowd of reporters like this before was after that Washington game," he said Monday night. Donley nodded and said, "I can't wait to get up there and play some football."