This was about as private as it would get for Doug Williams late yesterday. The cameramen and reporters were scurrying his way in the Redskins' locker room as he stood, almost alone, and half-whispered: "A long time coming. Long time."

When his time finally arrived, Williams figured it would be on the other coast, with the characters who roam California. Last Monday morning, Coach Joe Gibbs hinted Williams might be a Raider by Monday night.

"After practice," Williams said, "he told me they'd turned the trade down. It was for a second-round draft choice."

This morning, Al Davis might be on the line offering the mineral rights to Irwindale. Being recently slickered by Davis for a couple of pass catchers who couldn't, the Redskins would be tempted to smile and say: "Not for your whole franchise."

Doug Williams still can play, as he and the Redskins knew all along and the rest of the league quickly learned. Five years later, his NFL star twinkles once more.

The sad part about opening day in RFK Stadium was that so many Redskins starters couldn't finish; the exhilarating part was that every backup strutted his stuff brilliantly.

No one could recall a more bizarre afternoon, what with the Redskins losing their regular kicker, their regular quarterback, their regular running back and their regular center -- all before halftime.

Gibbs could be excused if he shot for a phone during intermission, had Gene Upshaw paged and pleaded for the strike date to be moved up a week. A Redskin who never even got into the game could be seen limping off the field.

How's that?

Well, Dexter Manley was nothing more than another rich spectator, a sort of hand-waving official greeter for teammates as they trotted to the bench. Some of us were certain Manley suffered a mild pull after little more strenuous action than a handshake.

The coach's eyes had seen more to cause him concern, such as the Eagles moving into a 24-24 tie very late in the third period. Then Williams continued humming spirals into friendly hands -- and the frightening day actually ended with the Redskins beating the point spread.

"There are lots of fans in this area looking forward to seeing Doug Williams," Doug Williams said. That explained the ovation he received when a sprained right shoulder sidelined Jay Schroeder.

There may well be lots of general managers about the league wishing they had met the Redskins' very recent asking price for Williams.

"Not draft choices," Gibbs said. "Equal value."

Trivia buffs may already know that Williams and Randall Cunningham were not the first black quarterbacks on an NFL field at the same time. With Tampa Bay, Williams opposed the Chicago Bears' Vince Evans in several games.

Yesterday's major turning points involved Williams' arm. Philadelphia began a surge almost immediately after Kelvin Bryant dropped a wide-open pass that stalled a drive near midfield with the Redskins ahead, 10-0.

Shortly before halftime, Bryant made amends with an over-the-shoulder catch of a lovely Williams pass that helped put the Redskins up, 17-10.

Late in the third quarter, Williams gave the Eagles hope of an upset; early in the fourth quarter, Williams took it away.

"No one ever took the ball from me before," he said of Reggie White's steal and 70-yard touchdown run that tied matters at 24.

Williams added: "You've got to push it right down their throats {after such an embarrassment}." Rarely does the push come so quickly as the 39-yard touchdown pass Williams threw to Art Monk after Keith Griffin's 54-yard kickoff return.

In the dressing room, the game ball sitting in a corner, Williams played diplomat at least as well as emergency passer. He had taken no snaps with the first-team offense last week.

"It could be a lot worse," he said of being a backup. "I could be in Louisiana with no job."

He merely is a caretaker quarterback, until Schroeder mends, Williams emphasized. Nobody should lose his position through an injury, he said.

Two lockers away, Schroeder was in pain and by himself. One-handed, he tried to put on a sock but could not. Seconds later, frustrated, he picked up his footgear and sought aid in the training room.

Williams, meanwhile, was under the sort of media siege usually reserved for Schroeder. He has been the object of such attention before, but not lately. Or at least not in a real football league.

"As far as the Redskins are concerned," he said, "my {trading} value went way down. Why would they trade me now {even if Schroeder were to heal much faster than the anticipated few weeks}?"

Think about it. This team doesn't rebuild; it reloads. You want a Doug Williams around. Or a Jeff Bostic (who replaced the injured Russ Grimm at center).

What about his reportedly being the league's highest-paid relief pitcher?

"I'd rather be the highest-paid starter."

Loyalty is important to Williams. He remembers that Gibbs was mainly responsible for his being a first-round draft choice, by Tampa Bay in 1978; it also was the Redskins who called when Williams was a free agent two summers ago.

Williams was relaxed enough to joke about the strength and alleged inaccuracy of his arm.

"Look back at {Terry} Bradshaw," Williams said. "He threw harder than me. Look at {Bert} Jones. He threw harder. Look at {John} Elway. He throws harder. I could go on and on. Lots of quarterbacks throw harder than me {at Tampa Bay}. But they were luckier. They had receivers who could catch.

"When I came in, I had the kind of gun Reagan could use." At 32, he has receivers who can make him look good. For a pleasant change.

Now, a Redskins aide mentioned to Williams that a TV station wanted him for a taping session this week. Naturally, a limo would be at his call.