Richard Petitbon was reading the University of Miami football media guide on Maryland's flight to Florida last Friday when he ran across a section that outlined opponents' "top newcomers" and their "notable achievements."

Petitbon, a redshirt freshman linebacker, found his name under that of Azizuddin Abdur-Ra'oof. Then came the part to which Peitibon has gotten all too accustomed.

"You read Ziz's notable achievement and it says, 'Abdur-Ra'oof runs a 4.38 40-yard dash.' Then you get to my name and it says, 'Richie Petitbon, son of Washington Redskin defensive coach.'

"Well, as I told one of our coaches, that's not a notable achievement for me, being born Richie Petitbon. This game, I'm going to give them an achievement to use in the future."

Petitbon's achievement was quite notable and had an immediate impact. His interception of a pass by Miami's Bernie Kosar late in the fourth quarter helped Maryland complete its incredible, 42-40 comeback victory.

The elder Petitbon, who played on an NFL championship team with the Chicago Bears and helped coach the Redskins to a Super Bowl victory two years ago, said yesterday, "I probably got as excited over that game as I've gotten over any football game in my life."

Asked if his son's interception made him as happy as any of his own big plays, he said, "No, happier." But he didn't tell his son exactly how happy he was. "He'll have to read it to find out," the father said, laughing.

Maryland's Petitbon is 6 feet 3 and 233 pounds. Big for a college linebacker. Like his father, an all-pro strong safety, Petitbon hits hard. The father said he knew the kid was bona fide tough when the youngster, then about 2, pulled a hot pressing iron into his baby stroller, leaving a nasty burn on his leg that the years haven't erased.

"I knew he was gonna be tough because he didn't cry," the father remembered. "Not one tear."

For many schools, Petitbon would be a starter. At Maryland, which has two outstanding linebackers, Eric Wilson and Chuck Faucette, Petitbon fills in and plays special teams, where he has made a reputation.

"He's hard core," Coach Bobby Ross said. "He plays on all the units. We have a point system for evalutating special teams play and he's the top person with, I think, 136 points. We tease him and tell him that if he finishes on top, he'll win a color television."

Petitbon grew to love special teams as a Redskins fan and ball boy. "I've always watched guys like Pete Cronan and now Greg Williams and Otis Wonsley. Those guys are like maniacs and they always have told me this is how you break in."

With Faucette at less than full strength Saturday because of a tender ankle, Petitbon played linebacker in crucial spots. He missed a tackle on fourth and 10 that helped Miami turn a seven-yard gain into an 11-yard gain and a first down.

"If they had gone on to score, I would have really been upset, since I let the guy slip away," Petitbon said. "I wanted to do something to help make up for it, and it was the very next play that I was able to get the interception."

Petitbon said he talked to his father that evening. "The first thing he mentioned was that missed tackle," Petitbon said. "His eye is so sharp, he sees it all. But after that, he congratulated me on the interception and encouraged me."

The father conceded, with a slight laugh, "I'm a little more critical of him than I should be."

While growing up in Chicago, Texas, and Vienna, Va., Petitbon wanted to play college football "from the first time I got one of those cheap football suits from Sears."

"I never wanted to push him," his father said. "I'm glad he played. I think it's a great game. Like most fathers, you'd like your son to play quarterback. But eventually, you gravitate to your normal position. I'm just glad he's at Maryland where he's got really good coaching."

Petitbon made a fairly late entrance into playing football. Because his father wanted him well-rounded, he played soccer and basketball. He attributes his agility to having played those sports. He did play football at Madison High School, and his ability was evident to several colleges.

Ross said Petitbon "is becoming a good player and an excellent pass defender."

And Petitbon, who was worried about establishing his own identity, is doing just that.

Frank Reich's 12-of-15, 260-yard, three-touchdown passing performance against Miami placed him second in the nation in passing efficiency, according to NCAA statistics. And it earned him an appearance today at 7:35 a.m. on Good Morning America.

Reich, who has completed 66 percent of his passes, trails Brigham Young's Robbie Bosco in the NCAA ratings.

Reich's performance, coming off the bench in Miami to lead Maryland to the biggest comeback in the history of major-college football, also earned him Sports Illustrated national player of the week, ESPN player of the week and one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's players of the week.