There is a columnist's prayer that goes: "Lord, provide me with today's idea -- and forgive me for yesterday's."

Many, perhaps most, Redskins fans believe the topic this morning is anything but divinely inspired, for it deals with a piece in Time magazine by a friend and colleague, Tom Callahan.

The issue at issue is the most recent, the one with Reagan and Gorbachev smiling on the cover and the cheery headline: "So Far, So Good." That was fine with Washingtonians. So far, so good, until they arrived at page 92.

To their astonishment -- and general anger -- Callahan seemed to be snapping Joe Theismann's ego as violently as the Giants had his right leg. Worse, Callahan's shot didn't seem accidental.

While Theismann still was hospitalized, Callahan was writing: "By untold measure, he is the most embarrassing quarterback ever to succeed in the National Football League . . . he has provoked more winces than any other basically decent fellow in sports, and without once wincing himself."

Well, Joe did author a book on how to play quarterback before he ever threw an official pass in the NFL. And he arrived here, nearly 12 years ago, publicly cocksure he could quickly bench two legendary geezers, Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer.

All Theismann eventually did was lead the Redskins to two more Super Bowls than Jurgensen and to one more Super Bowl victory than Kilmer. Or perhaps lead is the wrong verb.

"He could never lead," Callahan writes. Period. End of sentence. Earlier, he argued: "In a fixed situation, with the least complicated directions, spry and strong-armed Theismann sufficed."

I've always thought leadership among the most overrated qualities in football. Or at least the kind of rah-rah stuff that excites casual fans and stirs teammates for no more than three plays.

I say the guy who rants about manhood at halftime had better stick it to the middle linebacker in a hurry or the gesture is futile. I say a guy doing his job on every down is a leader.

With that in mind, I shout that Theismann was a hell of a leader from the first snap of the 1982 season through Jeff Bostic's injury in mid-October last year.

However gauche he may have been otherwise, Theismann performed. With receivers scarcely taller than blades of grass in RFK Stadium, he completed more than 60 percent of his passes.

That's leadership.

His team won.

But I may be wrong. To wit: "In truth, quarterbacks are seldom the real team leaders. They're glorified in the media and in the eyes of high school cheerleaders everywhere. But usually quarterbacks aren't tough guys, and out on the field the tough guys are the ones you rally around when things aren't going well."

That also appeared in the latest edition of a magazine, but the author was not the callous Callahan. It was none other than a former Redskin, George Starke, whose memoirs in Washingtonian are enlightening and entertaining.

Although it may have sounded otherwise, Starke defends Theismann for the most part. He argues that Theismann does too have the courage to stay in the pocket under a horrific rush and hit Art Monk on a deep sideline pattern.

Others still in the league, still on the Redskins in fact, yell in dissent. Late last season, opponents found success in all-out blitzes, and they would have continued that until one of two things took place: Theismann beat them at their own risky game or Coach Joe Gibbs told him to rest his mind and body a while on the sideline.

In hindsight, it can be argued that Gibbs played a mean trick on his 36-year-old quarterback this season by not giving him a proper relief pitcher for those slumps everybody experiences.

If there had been a veteran, such as Don Strock, available, maybe Theismann could have spent a brief time on the bench and returned with the brilliance he showed in preseason.

Theismann took remarkably little heat in the media locally, for the simple reason that nobody -- Gibbs included -- figured Jay Schroeder was ready to play effectively. Sure bad breath is terrible, but it's better than no breath at all.

If Gibbs felt otherwise, he would have given Schroeder more than a few minutes of quality practice time each week. Incredibly, the kid has been stunning.

Interestingly, nobody has blitzed the raw rookie nearly as often as the veteran. That surely will come, for the safe stuff hasn't worked yet.

In two games since Schroeder became the starter, the majority of Redskins fans have come to the conclusion Callahan did about two days after Theismann's injury:

You're glad Joe's out of action.

You've said it in checkout lines; you've said it at the office; you've said it while being jostled on the Metro.

I've heard you.

You've been a bit more delicate than Callahan, always remembering to say: "Gee, it's a shame it had to come in such an ugly way, but . . . " Honestly, it did ease a decision Gibbs may have been forced to face rather soon.

The offensive line had been altered as much as possible; three receivers either were fired, traded or banished to the far side of the kickoff coverage team. There was only one bit of tinkering left if the team continued to slide: quarterback.

Which is kind of what Callahan said. Readers of his former employer, the late Washington Star, know him to be sledgehammer blunt at times. Bobby Dandridge may still be limping around town from a Callahan rip about five years ago.

Some of us suspect Callahan writes now and then as he plays golf: he swings hard, and does not seem to mind if the ball fails to land exactly in fair territory.

So cringe, if you must, at his timely, if unTimelike, column. Then retreat to a mirror and 'fess up: bottom line, you both basically agree.