CARLISLE, Pa. -- Call it a blip. Or a clang. Or whatever signals the interruption of excellence. Most NFL cities in the last five years are at least slightly familiar with the sound; Washington is not.

The season the Redskins won the Super Bowl, 1982, 16 teams made the playoffs; the Redskins are the only one of those 16 teams that has not dropped to .500, or below, at least once since.

Another Super Bowl victory will be needed for the Redskins to contend for team-of-the-'80s honors. Still, five years is statistically a wee bit more than a player's lifetime in the NFL -- and nobody else has been so consistently superior.

"And as long as Bobby Beathard is around," said Redskins assistant general manager Bobby Mitchell, "we'll be in the top quarter {seven teams} of the league."

Doubters might insist nothing significant could possibly change in such a short period. Well, the Chargers made the playoffs in 1982. So did the Falcons and the Cardinals; so did the Packers and -- yes, you could look it up -- the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

That was the strike-shortened season, of course, when everybody played just nine games. But the most recent Super Bowl winners, the Giants and Bears, won only four and three games, respectively, that year. The Broncos were 2-7.

After an 8-1 regular season record in '82, the worst the Redskins have done was that 10-6 performance two years ago that kept them from the playoffs. The Chargers, Cardinals and Bucs combined won 10 games last season.

"If you asked people nationwide to name the most consistently good team over that period," said linebacker Rich Milot, "I doubt the Redskins would be mentioned."

Probably not.

One guess might be the Raiders. Sorry. They slumped to 8-8 last year. So did the Dolphins, who had been in two Super Bowls and the AFC title game in three of the previous four seasons.

America's team? Nope. Oil isn't the only thing to slump badly in Texas. The Cowboys were 7-9 last season.

Not surprisingly, Tampa Bay plummeted the quickest (from 5-4 to 2-14) and pretty much stayed deflated.

This is one fact-finding mission where every Redskin was eager to point a finger. Mitchell's went immediately toward Beathard.

"Lots of people around the league know personnel," Mitchell said. "He knows what players will help the Redskins. That's the edge he gives our coaches."

Another edge is the coaches themselves. There are 13 in all, counting Joe Gibbs, or three more than the Cowboys. The biggest edge, very likely, is the owner. The two critical factors in any business are time and money -- and Jack Kent Cooke long ago realized how to allocate both wisely.

Volatile and demanding, Cooke nevertheless has kept a consistency throughout his staff of Redskins managers. Only two assistant coaches have left since Gibbs arrived seven years ago, and one of them, Dan Henning, returned after an unsuccessful run as head coach of the Falcons.

Any team that knows where to find players and how to train them has a fine chance of avoiding the usually inevitable down cycles in pro sports. Year after year, the Redskins seem a proper blend of youth and experience.

"One of his strengths," said assistant head coach/offense Joe Bugel, pointing at Gibbs, "is that we totally break down everything in the offseason. Then we talk about personnel till we're blue in the face. We try to refresh each year, not let anyone get in a comfort zone."

The popular theory among fans is that the Redskins have kept winning while making a major transition. That's only partially true.

There is a fresh, powerful arm and nimble mind at the most important position -- quarterback. And another glamorous spot, running back, has been overhauled. But an entire unit, the defense, has been largely untouched.

Defense is like summer weather in Washington. It gets talked about a lot, but nothing much changes. Of the 11 starters against the Dolphins in Super Bowl 17, six still are prominent at their positions.

A seventh player, Curtis Jordan, has moved from reserve to defensive quarterback (free safety); Vernon Dean has been an off-and-on starter. Monte Coleman has been a valuable reserve.

Also, most of the Hogs have stayed in the Redskins' pen. Joe Jacoby, Russ Grimm and Don Warren were starters against the Dolphins; Mark May and Clint Didier, the Hog with track shoes, were backups who have become featured players.

"With coaches and players staying so consistent," said defensive coordinator Larry Peccatiello, "we can pick up {at the start of training camp} and do things we were doing at the end of last year, without missing a beat.

"We don't change just to change."

"Seems like when you're at the point where you really know the game," Milot said, "they're trying to get rid of you. But experience is so valuable. There's an old football saying that you don't really win games, you lose 'em.

"We know how to win."

Nearly everything in football is interrelated, so stats are not always that meaningful. If form holds, however, the Redskins' defense will surrender around 300-plus points and be ranked among the top five or six in the conference.

"We're a finesse team," said Mitchell. "We'll hit you, but we'll also stay around longer than most. Look at some of those other teams. Greatest hitters you've ever seen. But they're out of the league in three years."

Chemistry, or whatever you choose to call relative peace and harmony, is significant. And only noticed when it's out of whack. The Redskins are uncanny in filling the 25th through 45th roster holes.

"We're work-ethic guys," said middle linebacker Neal Olkewicz. He pointed out that the Giants suddenly have about half a dozen authors on their team; the Redskins had none after their Super Bowl success.

"{Coach John} McKay came in once {when he was head coach at Tampa Bay and Gibbs was an assistant}," Gibbs joked, "and said we had no chance that year, because nobody on the offensive line was speaking to each other.

"Turned out, we didn't have a chance."

With his Redskins, Gibbs and Beathard nurture all the proper football virtues. And they also seem to get lucky at just the right time.

When some draft choices fizzled, an entire league came to the Redskins' rescue. The USFL was most generous. Alums Kelvin Bryant and Gary Clark have allowed Redskins fans to recall Tory Nixon, Walter Murray and others with some perspective. Beathard and Gibbs are mortal as football thinkers, but still better than most.