The two crucial differences between the NFL players strike of 1982 and the NFL players strike of 1987 are: 1) The average player's salary has blasted off from $90,000 to $230,000, largely due to competitive bidding from the USFL. So high an average creates a public relations problem in selling the merits of a strike to brothers-in-arms working stiffs. 2) The owners promise they're going to play football with or without the current players. If I was an NFL player, this is the one that would scare me.

Scab teams allow the season to continue. This is a real life problem. By the time the union is ready to go back to work, there may not be many jobs to go back to. And if that happens, there won't be any union. (Heard much from PATCO lately?) I hope you memorized the rosters in the USFL and Arena Football, because that's where your new NFL is coming from.

Before we get too far, let me make my position clear: Labor laws weren't written because owners were generous, benevolent employers. If it was up to them, the average NFL player would work for the hourly wage at McDonald's. But the issue isn't how high the salaries are -- owners make millions and nobody grouses; you can't believe for a second that NFL franchises are losing money -- the issue is whether in the United States of America workers have the right to work where they choose. Freedom is always worth striking for. Just because some myopic players are eager to trade it for porridge doesn't change the inalienable right. (And no matter what the arbitrator rules in the Jack Morris case, you know in your heart that baseball owners colluded to circumvent the spirit of the free agency law. If it walks like a duck, smells like a duck and quacks like a duck, face it, it's probably a duck.)

You say no one will watch the scabs. What if you're wrong?

Let's take the reasonable scenario, that the NFL owners stock their teams with rejects, players who weren't quite good enough to make NFL teams before. How many trees do you think you'd have to shake before 50 Division I-A starting quarterbacks would fall out? Don Majkowski, only the seventh-best passer in the ACC last year, starts for the Packers this week. If he can start in the NFL as a rookie, why can't Mike Shula?

Granted, the level of play won't be as good as pre-strike. Granted, it will be more like college football. Like the Federals. Like the Commandos. (Like the early NFL exhibition games, which, by the way, sell out RFK.)

But these won't be the Federals or the Commandos. No matter who's wearing the uniform, the uniform is burgundy and gold. That makes all the difference.

If the league schedule goes on, and the games count in the standings, and there's still a Super Bowl in San Diego, then by God these are the Redskins.

And in a few weeks if Mike Hohensee is the quarterback, and he throws three touchdowns to Joey Walters and the Redskins beat the Cowboys, 35-13, well, what the hell, life goes on, you know.

When Joe Theismann broke his leg, Jay Schroeder went in to replace him. He wore a Redskins jersey, so he was a Redskin. It didn't matter that he'd started only one game in college, or that he hadn't proven he could play in the pros. He was a Redskin, so he carried your hopes and trust. The first pass he threw went 44 yards to Monk, and nobody remembered Theismann's name.

It can happen here.

Football puts helmets on its players, and shields their looks with birdcage face guards. Its self-gratifying intricacies and its credo -- sacrifice of self for the good of the team -- discourage individuality. As television, it's less dependent on stars than baseball or basketball. Individual match-ups involve only two of 22 players at any time. It's not like pitcher vs. batter, or Bird vs. Magic. TV sells The NFL. If those teams and that league stay on the air, eventually people will believe it's for real.

The owners are right in their thinking: Players are replaceable parts. In helmets and uniforms they all look alike. In a pileup how do you know if that's Howie Long or Matt Millen? In the open field how can you tell Joe Morris from 35 guys named Derrick? There's no difference between Hohensee and Marino on the chalkboard. The way the camera follows them in slo-mo, how do you know how fast they run the 40? It's possible in a few weeks you'll think there were never any Redskins but these.

The labor movement in this country is at its lowest point in decades, and the man on the street blames labor, not management, for most of the labor-management unrest. For some, the last straw is a sports strike because it violates the shrine itself, the family den. Workers who would themselves strike for freedom and pensions excoriate athletes in similar circumstances.

The other day The Washington Post ran two letters on the football strike issue. One said: "Any player who strikes {should} be banned for life." The other said, "I'm sick of players who are making hundreds of thousands of dollars whining . . . I, for one, vote for playing ball."

The average NFL career lasts less than four seasons. It's hard for the majority of players to hang tough on the long-term view when the odds say they'll be out of the league -- and out of the big money -- before you even pay off your car.

These are precarious times for salaried workers. Givebacks are everywhere. If what the scab teams play looks like football, and smells like football and quacks like football, it won't take many defections within the union rank and file to validate that indeed it is football.