"I swear to block to the best of my ability, so help me Buges."

Rick Donnalley

Until a few days ago, the Redskins' new center had gone his entire life thinking the oath Ronald Reagan takes Jan. 20 is the most important in the known world. Donnalley even had gotten a Phi Beta Kappa key under that mistaken impression.

Then it struck him that 40 men have become president of the United States, standard-bearers of freedom, molders of the fate of mankind; fewer than a dozen men in history have become Hogs.

It had been a modest ceremony, the oath being administered by Boss Hog, Joe Bugel. In addition to indirectly promising to save Bugel's job and Joe Theismann's life, Donnalley, under threat of a $5 fine, agreed to wear the official Hog T-shirt each Thursday.

The only topper to being a Hog, Donnalley thought after the Redskins' rout of the Vikings Thursday in Minneapolis, had been being born. He thought again.

"This has to be bigger," he said. "You earn becoming a Hog; you sorta fall into life."

While on the subject of falling, Donnalley stole a glance toward Mount Hog, tackle Joe Jacoby, who had roused earthquake watchers about the globe a few hours earlier by plopping on a fumble in the end zone.

"He couldn't catch his breath," Donnalley said of his pal's reaction to recovering that bobble by Keith Griffin in the second quarter. "His face was blue. Guess the pressure of scoring a touchdown got to him."

It was pressure that turned his face Smurf-blue all right, Jacoby admitted, the pressure of perhaps half a ton of humanity atop him and the ball. Opinion varied about what happened next.

"He could have improved his spike a bit," guard Russ Grimm suggested. "It would have been a lot more impressive if he'd have held the ball over his head and squeezed it, seen if it would have popped."

"He could have pulled the goal post down and thrown the ball over it," said Head Hog, tackle George Starke. "How about it, the two biggest guys on the field (Jacoby and Mark May) fighting over the ball."

"I thought he had a good spike," Donnalley insisted.

He certainly did. Got every fiber of those 300-plus pounds into slamming the ball, tip down, so violently it hopped at least 20 feet back up and toward the top of what seems the North Country's fanciest igloo.

A Jake Quake he might call the spike if the glorious chance ever comes again -- and if Griffin must replace John Riggins too often, it just might.

Not necessarily to keep Griffin's spirit from sagging too far, some Redskins were joking that what Jacoby grabbed was not a fumble at all but an illegal lateral the officials missed.

"Last time I scored a touchdown was in high school," Jacoby recalled. "It was on a blocked punt. No, I didn't block it. I got near the punter and he kicked it straight up in the air in the end zone.

"It was sort of like a jump ball in basketball; I grabbed it."

Jacoby was not sure what protocol demanded immediately after his first pro touchdown. To spike or not to spike flashed through his mind. Should he follow his head or his heart? Slam the ball down or simply hand it to the official, cooly, as if it was another routine moment in the office.

Like catching the ink bottle before it hit the floor.

"Then," Jacoby said, "I thought, 'What the hell; go for it.' "

Very likely, that stupefying spike did not leave so much as a teensy dent. Nobody heard the carpet utter the faintest whimper. Joe Washington figured out why:

"That field is the hardest I've ever seen. I swear that on the sideline you could hear everybody out there running. Sounded like a cattle drive each play, a stampede. Everything but the moooooin'."

What fans in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome were doin' sounded something like moooooin'. For almost three quarters, they were lividly upset with the Vikings.

There was talk that at least one fan left the park after the first play, that 68-yard touchdown pass from Theismann to Calvin Muhammad; so impotent had the Vikings' offense been of late, large creatures about the state were chanting:

"Two . . . Four . . . Six . . . Eight . . . Score Before We Hibernate."

Which the obliging Vikings finally did. They scored one touchdown, then another. And were on the threshold of a third when Allen Rice fumbled and the ball rolled out of the end zone for a touchback.

"It's human nature to be complacent when you're ahead by that much," Donnalley said.

"We just wanted to make sure no one left the television," Washington joked. "Same as in the past."

At last, the Redskins' regular season begins again. They have finished playing the Ohio Valley Conference, or whatever that collection of Falcons, Lions, Bills and Vikings most closely resembles.

"These were the type of games we really needed," Washington said of the Bills and Vikings. "Playing teams we were supposed to beat and winning (after assuming 24-0 leads and snoozing).

"We'd hit a spell where very little had gone right. Now the offense is saying: 'Gee, this is like old times; we can do that (score points in bunches).' "

Paid to fret, Coach Joe Gibbs is "tremendously concerned" over Griffin's fumbling. Riggins' return to the hospital for rest and additional tests for his back is even more worrisome.

Still, it's a bit soon for even the most zealous of the Redskins' faithful to twist on his Dallas game face. Stay merry through the weekend; hoist a few to the Hogs; rejoice that enlightened management guides the Redskins.

You wonder about some of these NFL minds. Before that late burst, one Redskins insider thought the three-times successful Vikings were worse than the 1-12 Bills. He had not yet seen the Oilers.

What a round robin that would make. Loser gets the first pick in the next draft. Probably, whichever team earned that embarrassing honor would grab the mike on draft day and announce, proudly, that it had chosen: "Patrick Ewing."