Coach Joe Gibbs pulled a reverse on an entire football team today.

Ignoring the unwritten National Football League tradition that says you do things because that's the way they've always been done, Gibbs surprised the Washington Redskins by sending them home from training camp after this afternoon's practice, a day earlier than scheduled.

He had his reasons. Thirty-five days of usually serene college life in a town of steeples, big porches and white-frame houses was enough.

"I noticed last night was the first meal that didn't taste real good," Gibbs said. "I must be ready to leave."

Gibbs prefers to have the Redskins (2-0 in preseason) practice at Redskin Park Thursday afternoon before Friday's 8 p.m. game with New England (1-1) at RFK Stadium (WTTG-TV-5). The game is sold out.

"I didn't want to be moving and shuffling everybody the day before a game," Gibbs said. "I would like to get them settled down before the game rather than leaving the day before it."

Another reason for the sudden move south was the history of horseplay on the final night in the Dickinson College dormitories.

In previous years, several inches of water have covered the dorm floors by the time the night was over. Shaving cream was everywhere. Repair bills were practically in the mail. No one was safe.

"There's probably some truth in that," Gibbs said, laughing. "I lean toward those other reasons (for leaving early), but I threatened the players pretty good the last two years and they've been pretty good."

But when they are bad, they are horrid.

"It worried me," Gibbs continued. "I heard some things in the wind this year. I saw a few gas masks coming in. The gas masks bothered me."

Actually, the gas-mask caper occurred three years ago, when several veterans held three rookies at bay with fire extinguishers until Gibbs arrived on the scene.

But it's clear that Gibbs' plan to avoid pranks this season by leaving early backfired.

Something other than football players left town a day early: sanity.

After morning practice, linebacker Rich Milot and guard Russ Grimm picked up John Konoza, an assistant public relations director, and carried him squirming into the locker room for a shaving-cream shampoo.

Minutes later, after Konoza reemerged, his right wrist began to swell. He had X-rays taken and soon was told by head trainer Bubba Tyer that he had broken a bone in his wrist.

Wearing a cast this afternoon, Konoza said he would be "out" five weeks, pending the final word of team doctor Stan Lavine. He said he couldn't write or type.

"That'll save one roster spot," General Manager Bobby Beathard said with a big smile. "Maybe we can waive him. We tried to trade him. Of course, we didn't call the teams in our own division."

Maybe Konoza should have known better than to believe Tyer, a man who stashed a dozen eggs in his office today in case he had to retaliate for any pranks done to him.

"He thinks it's broken. It's not broken," Tyer said, with a sly little grin. "It's just a sprain. We thought we'd let him keep the cast on overnight and open up the paper tomorrow morning and read it.

"It's kind of the ultimate prank."

But this is a training camp that prides itself on competition everywhere, pranks included. Later, as Babe Laufenberg was being interviewed, an avalanche of baby powder fell from an open window onto the quarterback's head and shoulders.

"We'd better move," Laufenberg said as another cup full of powder was placed on the window sill by a mysterious hand.

Baby powder has many functions. When Mark Moseley and Dexter Manley pulled on their helmets for practice, their hair turned white.

There were water balloons thrown at TV reporters, and telephones ringing in the equipment room, trying to lure some unsuspecting soul to pick up the receiver and get an earful of shaving cream.

At lunch, a group of players shouted in unison: "Hell no, we won't go." But they left, all right, practically running over each other on their way off Biddle Field.

"To quote a famous quarterback, Ken Stabler, 'We're blowing this pop stand right now,' " bellowed linebacker Pete Cronan.

During one of the day's few serious moments, Gibbs was asked to compare this training camp with last year's. He was reminded that he had stayed around for all the practices this year, unlike 1984, when he walked out nearly 40 minutes early one day, saying he was "fed up" with what he saw.

"We still had our share of disturbances," he said. "I think that does happen today. You worry about the guys who come in late. It creates some imbalance."

The disturbances included running back John Riggins' contract holdout and recent arrest on a drunk-in-public charge and the holdouts of veteran defensive tackle Dave Butz and rookie defensive back Tory Nixon.

Because the Redskins were the oldest team in the league last year and because of several key injuries, this became a training camp made for rookies and free agents.

It's likely three draft choices will survive in the secondary alone -- Raphel Cherry, Barry Wilburn and Nixon -- as well as perhaps three more -- guard Raleigh McKenzie, defensive tackle Dean Hamel and tight end Danzell Lee.

A couple more likely will spend all or part of the season on injured reserve, while three ex-U.S. Football League players -- wide receiver Gary Clark, kicker Tony Zendejas and tackle Mike McClearn -- well may make the team.

From now on, they will make it, or get cut, at Redskin Park. Their Carlisle days are over.

The players left their footprints on the way out today.

In baby powder.