Some day, even Joe Theismann will retire.

He will turn 36 on Sept. 9, the day the Washington Redskins open their season at Dallas. He has agreed to a contract extension through the 1987 season, although he still has not signed it. He seems certain to be around for three, perhaps even four or five more seasons.

But not forever.

That is why a couple guys named Jay and Babe -- young and hungry, bright and Californian -- spend their summer days slicing spirals through the heavy air at Dickinson College, trying to win the job of the '90s.

It is entirely possible that Jay Schroeder, a 24-year-old who has played much more baseball than football, or Babe Laufenberg, a 25-year-old who backed up a lineup full of future sports stars in college, will one day become the new quarterback of the Redskins.

Why did the Redskins release their only non-baby boomer quarterback, 41-year-old veteran Jim Hart, in the offseason? Because of Jay and Babe.

And why didn't they snap up Vince Ferragamo or Joe Ferguson or any number of tried-and-true veterans to replace him? Because of Jay and Babe.

"Now's the time to start working with them to see if one is the guy who'll lead us when Joe stops playing," Coach Joe Gibbs said before opening training camp Thursday.

Both quarterbacks arrived that day with the rookies. Their goal, for now, is modest enough.

"I've got my sights set on No. 2," said Laufenberg. "That's the way you've got to look at it."

Their motto, it seems, is patience.

"You can't rush anything," said Schroeder (pronounced Shray-der). "It is a blessing, really, to come in here and see how Joe runs the team. It is a lot easier when you know you're not going to be thrown in right away."

But, assuming that one does become No. 2, he will be, in the words of Laufenberg, "one play away" from the starting job. And, with the roster reduced to 45 players, it is possible the Redskins may decide to keep just two quarterbacks, not three.

So whom do you choose?

Do you like the man who has been fanned by Dwight Gooden in Class A ball in the Carolinas? Or, do you take the guy who has served time behind quarterbacks Steve Dils, John Elway, Turk Schoenert and Seattle outfielder Phil Bradley on various college teams?

If you take Schroeder, the former, you've chosen the classical, over-the-top quarterback, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound, blond, blue-eyed ex-UCLA star who moves well out of the pocket.

If you like Laufenberg, the latter, you've got the well-traveled, quick-release, 6-2, 195-pound trigger man who has been around longer and knows the Redskins' system as well as any third-year player.

Right now, quarterback coach Jerry Rhome likes them both.

"This is the most fun for me," he said this morning, squinting into a hazy, reluctant sun. "I'm very satisfied with them. I'll say in five years both will be playing in this league, if not for us, for someone else. They're that good."

Both came to football, and the Redskins, in strange ways. Schroeder always wanted to play baseball, but when the Toronto Blue Jays wanted to make him a pitcher after four seasons in their minor-league chain, he quit.

"I told them to go fly a kite," he said.

The Blue Jays saw then what the Redskins realized in 1984, when they chose Schroeder in the third round of the National Football League draft, although he played only two years of football at UCLA. They loved his arm.

Schroeder was just a .220 hitter in the minors but made his mark defensively as a catcher and outfielder.

Before games, he used to win six-packs of beer in bets by standing at home plate and throwing a baseball over the fence in left, more than 300 feet away.

"It was just like throwing a home run," he said.

Laufenberg, like Schroeder a Southern Californian, was drafted out of high school by the San Francisco Giants. He was a pitcher with a 90-mph fastball, but he loved football.

First, he tried Stanford. He enjoyed the academic environment, but wasn't so thrilled with the logjam of quarterbacks, so he left and went to Missouri, where Bradley was quarterback. From there it was on to a junior college before he finally landed at Indiana, where, finally, he could play quarterback.

Drafted in the sixth round in 1983, Laufenberg, like Schroeder, has yet to throw his first pro pass in a regular season game.

Neither has been given any indication who is ahead in the race to back up Theismann. In fact, it's still too early to tell. But an amiable battle wages on.

"I like the fact that it is a sink-or-swim type thing this year," Laufenberg said. "If we fall on our faces, then I say, 'Go out and get another quarterback.' We'll have had our chance, which is what we've wanted all along."

There actually is a third quarterback in camp, a kid the Redskins scooped off the beach and quickly signed before he had a chance to wash off his Coppertone.

On a bright Tuesday morning in mid-May, Dan Lonergan had just arrived for a week in Ocean City with his old college roommates from Penn State.

Then his grandmother called, telling the former Nittany Lion the Redskins were on the phone. They were asking him to come to their minicamp. So he drove to Philadelphia and caught the first flight to Dulles, threw a few passes at Redskin Park, signed a contract, found a helmet that fit and was on the field by 4 p.m.

Although common sense would dictate he is just another body for preseason workouts, Lonergan, 22, says what any of the 60-some rookies would about his chances: "I think I have a shot."

To prove it, he fired two long passes -- both softly fell into receivers' hands -- to end today's morning practice with a flourish.

But reality drips off the pages of his contract. His bonuses, he said, come with every cut he survives.

"As far as I make it," he said, "I get paid."