You should have seen the blank stares reporters and nearby Atlanta Falcons teammates gave Charlie Brown when he said his 12-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter today -- one of those typical Charlie Brown airborne jobs -- reminded him of his touchdown catch in Super Bowl XVII three years ago.

Super Bowl? The words seemed to echo in the empty cavern of the Falcons' past. This is the team that has won just one playoff game in a 20-year NFL history. You ever heard anyone say, "How 'bout them Falcs?"

And today, the Falcons' empty-cave history grew a little more hollow and forlorn as Detroit posted a 28-27 victory before 44,744 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. It made for a pleasant NFL debut for Lions Coach Darryl Rogers and a messy start for the oft-booed Falcons, who once led, 14-0.

"Yeah, this is probably a game the Redskins would have won," Atlanta running back Joe Washington said.

He would know. Washington was a Redskin up until April 30 when a draft day trade sent him to greener pastures, which, in this case, meant Dixie.

Surely, you remember Joe Washington. Ran for 916 yards and caught 70 passes for the Redskins in 1981. Held tackle Joe Jacoby's shirttail when he ran inside. Dove for the winning touchdown catch in that 37-35 victory over the Raiders two years ago.

Only a few weeks ago, another trade sent Brown, 26, to the Falcons in exchange for holdout offensive lineman R.C. Thielemann. This is the same Brown, who, only two years ago, became the first Redskin since Bobby Mitchell in 1963 to catch 1,200 yards worth of passes.

Together, Brown and Washington totaled nearly one-third of Atlanta's 300 yards in offense today. Brown kept double-coverage off deep threat Stacey Bailey and caught four passes for 48 yards. Washington caught five passes for 39 yards (two for first downs) and ran twice for 12 yards. Does all of this sound familiar?

Both players said they don't remember the last time they saw empty seats at a home game. There were 14,965 unoccupied here today.

On the surface, only the uniforms have changed. Brown is the big-play wideout whom the Falcons' general manager, Tom Braatz, predicts will catch 70 passes this season. Washington is still called Go-go and is expected to do precisely what he did for the Redskins: catch passes on third down and get in a few carries a game.

Under the surface, though, there appear traces of bitterness in both players. Brown is a two-time Pro Bowler, an original Fun Buncher, who suffered numerous leg injuries last season. His 78-catch total of 1983 plummeted to 18 last season.

Ask Brown what his fondest Redskin memories are and he says, "I don't think they are anything good. When I was hurt last year, everything came down on me. I don't think it's right to criticize a player when he's hurt. I think if I hadn't gotten hurt, I'd still probably be in Washington.

"But I've learned a whole lot from the experience. I've learned that no matter how good you are, how many Pro Bowls and how many Super Bowls you've played in, it doesn't mean you'll be successful with that team forever. I'm the type of person who can be successful wherever I am. If someone tells me that Charlie Brown can't play football, I'd say that person is a nuisance to life."

What about the touchdown catch that clinched the Super Bowl victory over Miami, the one that was recreated today?

"Really, that play is (overshadowed) by John Riggins' touchdown run (earlier)," Brown said. "But that was a big play because if it didn't happen and Miami had come back and scored, we wouldn't have a ring and a few thousand dollars. But that's the way it is."

Washington is a man of immense pride. He has had at least five knee operations and has been traded three times in a career that began in 1977 in San Diego. He missed nine games in 1984 because of a knee injury.

He knows that the Redskins felt his knees could take no more pounding. Coach Joe Gibbs said as much. The veteran running back was part of a complex trade that the Redskins made to position themselves higher in the second round so as to draft Tory Nixon, the since-traded cornerback.

Washington laughs long, hard and with purpose at the thought of being traded for Tory Nixon. "Need I say anything more about that?" he says. "Doesn't that alone say it all?"

Braatz said today that, in reality, Washington was not a part of the Nixon deal. Braatz said the Redskins gave Atlanta a lower second-round pick this year and a No. 1 choice in 1986 in exchange for Atlanta's higher No. 2 this year and a No. 2 in 1986.

With that deal consummated, Braatz said, several minutes later the Falcons gave the Redskins a sixth-round pick for Washington. The Redskins, however, insist that the Falcons refused to accept the first part of the trade without getting Joe Washington, too. Maybe it's just semantics.

"Good, is mostly what it was for me with the Redskins," Washington said.

"Each and every time I have been traded, what I remember most is that it was time for me to go, whether it was because there was a coaching change or because there was a change in the coach."

Whether Washington was taking a parting shot at Gibbs -- who has said in the past that he tries hard not to trade players -- wasn't clear. Washington would not elaborate.

All Washington would add was this: "One thing is for sure, whatever happens up there to the Redskins -- good or bad -- isn't my concern anymore. My concern is down here with me."

Brown said he will watch the Redskins play Dallas on television Monday night. He wanted to know every detail about Dallas Week hoopla.

"Is it true Tom Landry said bad things about Malcolm Barnwell?" Brown said. He seemed more excited about this than about his touchdown catch.

"I guess once a Redskin, always a Redskin," Brown said. "I'll always hate Dallas."