In a prior football life, Babe Laufenberg might have been Billy Kilmer. Or Bobby Layne. Or Joe Kapp. Guys who couldn't seem to do a whole lot on a football field except win.

"One of my assets is making things happen," he was saying. "You can't do that in practice, but it's what separates quarterbacks. When things are going downhill in a hurry, you can't go downhill with 'em."

He was cutting tape from his wrists and ankles, his face glowing through a beard that gave him more the appearance of a gritty strong safety than a glamor-boy passer.

At his feet, a game ball was nestled nose-to-face mask against his helmet. Never have the soils and spoils of sport been better arranged. If only Norman Rockwell had drifted by with his paints.

Few have been told "no" more often the last several years than Brandon Hugh Laufenberg -- or made that harder to do. Battlin' Babe. He refuses to go quietly from the Redskins.

Though not as routinely as a three-martini lunch, Laufenberg has been written off quite a lot. He left Stanford and Missouri before emerging, at Indiana, as a quarterback worthy of an NFL chance.

Ironically, the Redskins the last two regular seasons have given Laufenberg every experience but the one that may feature him best: games. Battlin' Babe seems best in combat.

A week more than a year ago, Laufenberg rallied the Redskins within four points of the Patriots in the next-to-last preseason game.

Kept him a Redskin, although on injured reserve.

Against the Patriots Friday night in the next-to-last preseason game, Laufenberg rallied the Redskins to a 37-36 victory with some brilliant improvisation and final-seconds poise.

"Threw an interception last time," he said of the difference 53 weeks had made. "I'm a year older, a year wiser."

Trouble is, victory this season might not get Laufenberg what almost-victory did. Cost-conscious dumbbells allowed NFL rosters to be cut from 49 players to 45.

Very likely, the Redskins cannot afford to keep three quarterbacks. In his own way, the younger (by 18 months) Jay Schroeder was as impressive against the Los Angeles Raiders the game before.

If it comes up "no" again for Laufenberg, he is hoping most of the rest of the league at least can read, if not think. He wants them to notice the small wire-service accounts of his heroics in papers servicing the other cities.

Perhaps slightly altered, the stories that might alert general managers and coaches in need of a resourceful quarterback trumpeted:

WASHINGTON -- Babe Laufenberg turned a broken play into a 75-yard touchdown pass to Gary Clark and later threw a 25-yarder to Clint Didier with four seconds remaining to spark the Redskins past the Patriots, 37-36 . . .

His mind is even more lively than his arm. With more than a decent stubble of beard affecting a nasty streak, Laufenberg will slip a French phrase into locker room chatter.

Or alter an appropriate lyric:

"You don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind's blowing. (Before his two-touchdown, 200-yard night), it was blowin' me out of Washington."

After the night's more-heralded backup, Steve Grogan, ran and passed the Patriots into the lead, Laufenberg scrambled on first down from the Redskins' 25.

He could have run for a modest gain, but he saw a staggeringly wonderful possibility down field: Clark. He motioned Clark to break deep about the instant the small wide receiver was doing that very thing.

Whoosh!

Grogan wouldn't back down, either, and with 67 seconds left, Battlin' Babe was 80 yards from the seven points necessary for victory.

With 24 seconds remaining, the Redskins had first down on the Patriots' 20. A swaggering Sonny Jurgensen, who later counseled Laufenberg, might have told his teammates in the huddle:

"What are we gonna do with all the extra time after we score?"

Laufenberg's thoughts were less lofty:

"I said to myself: 'I've got four downs to get it in.' "

First down, first incompletion.

Thought Laufenberg: "Well, I've got three downs to get it in."

Second down, second incompletion. Then, a five-yard penalty.

By now, Laufenberg is thinking: "Oh, God, I've got two more shots!"

Comes a friendly face, roommate Didier, and a gem of a play. On faith, Laufenberg launches the ball before Didier makes his cut inside and they arrive in the end zone about the same time.

"A street player," said quarterbacks coach Jerry Rhome. "He doesn't know when he's beat. All he wants is a shot."

Rhome, Laufenberg and Joe Theismann often could be seen in training camp shooting pool. Laufenberg was runner-up, to Charles Mann, in the team's backgammon tournament.

Laufenberg grew the beard, he said, "because watching it was more exciting than the night life in Carlisle."

"The ultimate enjoyment in this game," the quarterback next door, Theismann, said, "is the two-minute drill. Precision passing; use of the clock; guys out of bounds; going for six because three won't do it.

"Pretty much what Babe did."

Surely, somewhere in his travels, Laufenberg has been similarly heroic.

"Yes," he said, "but never to save my life."