The biggest and meanest of the Cardinals, Bubba Baker, did a little-boy somersault near midfield; in the stands and on the field, all over town in fact, came the sort of honking/hugging celebration that suggested Neil O'Donoghue must have drop-kicked the Spirit of St. Louis back across the big pond.

At the very least.

It's a big deal here when the Cardinals beat the Redskins, since that has happened now just three times in 17 games; a bigger deal caused a guy who should have been giddy to be near tears in the victors' locker room.

"Win a game," Joe Bostic muttered toward a teammate who had slapped his shoulders and then skipped merrily away, "lose a brother."

It was his right knee, not his heart, that gave out on Jeff Bostic the last play of the third quarter, so Joe's loss is not even close to complete. Football may be warlike, but the casualties usually live to laugh another day.

Joe Bostic knows all that. He also knows how close to cruel the game can be, how a man's life can be permanently changed in a flicker, how weekend family reunions can suddenly turn funereal.

Seems like every time the Redskins and Cardinals collide, a Bostic ends up in a cast or on crutches. Joe, a guard for the Cardinals, hurt his ankle in Washington a while back; Jeff, a center for the Redskins, suffered a hyperextended knee here two years ago.

"It was a long drive home (to North Carolina)," their father, Joe Sr., recalled. "We kept stopping along the road and calling Washington, to see how bad it was."

Remarkably, the knee sort of snapped back into place and Jeff missed no playing time; this one is serious, causing Redskins team doctor Stan Lavine to utter the most chilling words in sport:

"Ligaments (torn), at least two of 'em. Surgery either tomorrow (Monday) or the next day."

With ligaments, you're never certain. It should be career-jolting rather than career-ending. Regardless, Jeff's suffering caused Joe to let us experience tenderness in a job that isn't supposed to allow any.

When Jeff didn't get up right away after an 11-yard completion to Art Monk, Joe could be seen far away on the Cardinals' sideline. Still and silent. Teammates drifted by to offer consolation.

"You don't ever want to see something like that, even if it's a Redskin rookie you never even heard of," Joe said. "You hear that nonsense about family stopping on the field, but whoever said it ain't got a brother. Or many friends.

"Inside, my heart was saying: 'Get up, dummy. Get up. Get up. Get up.' Part of my body was trying to pull him off the ground. When I saw the stretcher, it got to me.

"Dammit."

As they placed Jeff on the stretcher, Joe walked onto the field. As they began wheeling Jeff away, Joe patted him on the pads and mumbled something he later thought was, "Just hang in there, buddy, it'll be all right."

It will and it won't.

"We're sharing the house with my folks," Joe said, "and tonight'll be kind of a somber affair. I should be happy. Such a thrilling day. But I'll be wondering: 'How bad is it really?'

"We're real close in age, 17 months apart, shared the same bedroom for 15 years. I know him so well. He's a gritty little son of a gun. I guarantee he'll some out of this as good as new."

The Joe Bostics met outside the Cardinals quarters after the game, Joe Sr. tipping off his loyalties this day by wearing a red jacket with "Bostic . . . 71" stitched on the back and a Cardinals cap.

After the father helped the son remove his bulky blocker's pads, they walked the 100 yards or so to be with Jeff for a few moments.

"Don't think he's in too much pain," the father said, relating his earlier visit. "He was sitting back there with a coke."

Inside, there were private words and pats of encouragement. Jeff is younger, slightly shorter and lighter but with a more puffy face. If they were teammates, Joe would be playing to center Jeff's immediate right. Back at his own locker, Joe glanced at a protective brace on his knee and said: "I wouldn't play without it. I keep telling Jeff he ought to use them, too, but he's insisted they're not comfortable.

"I hate to be the type of guy to say I told you so. Anyway, they don't help if the knee gets twisted, only on blows from the side."

In his mind, Joe replayed the accident. Surely, it was that wonderful -- and dangerous -- counter-trey. Wonderful because it features the unique speed and power of Joe Jacoby and Russ Grimm; dangerous because Mark May pulls the other way.

Joe shook his head in disgust. Jeff's right knee must have gotten caught in what amounted to a near-600-pound vice. Lucky it was still attached.

In truth, counter-trey wasn't to blame after all. The play was a rollout pass and, Jeff admits, "I never saw how it happened."

Nearby, an equipment man was lacing his right shoe, and George Starke was joking: "I'll make sure to have a limo waiting (for the team plane)."

Sensing the eerie irony, Starke inquired: "You ever hurt anywhere but here?"

"No," said Bostic.

Jeff's wife, Lynn, had planned to stay with the family tonight. Instead, Jim Hart's wife, Mary, drove her to the airport to join Jeff on the Redskins charter.

Down the hall, Joe was being optimistic, saying: "If you have to suffer something like that, you want it to be as close to the middle of the line as possible (because center requires less mobility than the other positions).

"And this is just his first operation. (Cardinals guard) Terry Stieve has had six or seven. It's not the end of the world."

Blotting Jeff from his thoughts, Joe had protected quarterback Neil Lomax splendidly during the fourth-quarter comeback. Once, he bumped Dave Butz enough for O.J. Anderson to glide by for 17 important yards.

"Could have been me," Joe realized. Quickly, he snapped back to reality, but that it might as well have been him in many ways:

"On the field, going down to the dressing room," he said. "Gosh. This still is a game and people care. I just had to see how he was. That's all."