Four weeks ago, before the NFL players' strike had started, most of them were nobodies. Four days from now, after Monday night's football game has been played, most of them will be nobodies again. Today, though, they are the Washington Redskins. They think. They hope.

"It seems like there's a crucial point in every week," safety Skip Lane said. "Like last night we were sitting at the bar drinking a beer and saying, 'This could be our last beer in Washington. Enjoy it, buddy.' You know, that type of thing. Then, all of a sudden, everybody starts smiling and as it gets closer to showtime, you start realizing that there's going to be a show."

But yesterday morning, with the striking Redskins attempting to return to work, things were more uncertain than ever for the replacements.

"You wake up and get ready to go see what happens," offensive tackle Don Tucker said at 7:25. "They told us, 'You guys are going to hear a lot of rumors. Just try and stay loose.'"

The replacement Redskins did hear a lot of rumors yesterday. They did try to stay loose. At times, they seemed pessimistic. At times, they seemed optimistic. At times, they just seemed frustrated.

"I'm not worried about it," Tucker said of a possible confrontation with the union Redskins. "What are they gonna say? We've won two games for them."

As he headed for breakfast at about 7:55 a.m., tight end Joe Caravello said, "I don't know what anyone else is thinking, but I hope that the players in the union can come to an agreement with the Management Council. I really think this should be solved. But I sure would have liked to have gotten this game in."

The replacement Redskins knew the end was near yesterday. What they didn't know was how near. And late yesterday afternoon they still didn't.

"Nothing is for sure," wide receiver Anthony Allen, the NFC's leader in receiving yardage, said before practice at Redskin Park.

"The way things are going it may change again. Right now, we're under the assumption that we have to practice and prepare for a game. Whether we make it that far is another story."

The bus that would eventually take the replacement Redskins to Redskin Park yesterday pulled into the Dulles Airport Marriott parking lot at 8:15 a.m.

On most days, it would have left by 8:30. Yesterday, because of the uncertainty surrounding the regular Redskins' meeting at the Ramada Renaissance hotel, it wasn't scheduled to leave until 9.

At 9:30 it was still sitting in the Marriott's parking lot.

"A lot of the guys are pretty nervous," Lane said by telephone as he waited in his room.

"They think it's over. I don't think it's over. I think we're going to play. The players were supposed to be in by 1 o'clock yesterday afternoon, and I don't think with a guy like Tex Schramm in charge anything's going to change. Tex Schramm doesn't want to play the regular Washington Redskins if he doesn't have to. I don't think there's anything that can keep us from playing."

Of course, there was. But even at 9:35 yesterday morning, Lane had an inkling.

By 10:35 so did defensive tackle Dan Benish.

"I've heard that the players are over there {at Redskin Park} and that there's a lot of emotion over there," Benish said.

"I guess they've gotta get some things settled. So, we've been told that we're going to play Monday night. We're just waiting for a phone call telling us to go to the bus."

And in the meantime?

"Well, we're just kind of sitting around and watching TV," Benish said. "Some kind of game show. We're working on the intellectual part of ourselves."

At 11:50, the replacements' intellectual work was continuing, and a chance to work on the physical part of themselves seemed to be slipping away.

"I'm not real sure if we're getting messed around with by anyone," offensive guard Darrick Brilz said. "But we're getting anxious. I just wish they would do something. I hate the waiting."

When asked to describe the situation, tight end Craig McEwen said, "House arrest would be a good way to put it.

"We want to practice. If we're going to play, we have to get ready. If they're going to settle it, fine. If not, we've got to get ready.

"I'm sure they'd rather play with the regular team because the Cowboys have had so many guys come across. This is a real important game for them. Maybe they {the union players} should have made up their minds yesterday. Then they wouldn't be in this situation. It's really unfortunate. But my gut feeling is that we will be playing Monday night, and I'll be ready to play."

But McEwen was also ready not to play.

"I've been talking to my agent," he said. "If I don't get picked up, I guess I'll go back to my home in Riverside, California, and keep working out. Maybe I'll try to become a graduate assistant coach at Utah, my alma mater."

Finally, at 12:40, the word came. The players boarded the bus and made the two-mile trip to Redskin Park in a motorcade that included as many as four police cars.

Once inside the gates, the players set about the business of preparing for the Cowboys -- and there are business considerations at stake.

By playing their third game this season, the replacements become vested for one year in the NFL's pension program. They also become eligible for shares of playoff money.

For Benish, who will become a sixth-year man, the game will mean an additional $150 per month in his pension checks if he starts receiving benefits at age 65.

"Yeah, the money would be nice," said Benish, a former Atlanta Falcon. "But I'd just like to get another chance to play against Danny White and Tony Dorsett and those guys.

"And you know," Benish added, "I don't think it's impossible for this team to have a good game with Dallas and possibly even win the game."