Please pay attention, because I'm only going to do this once. For the next two weeks, as we all participate in the Super Bowl Schmooze, sports stories in newspapers, radio and television will seize upon the notion that the Washington Redskins are given no respect. You will see the phrase "Rodney Dangerfields of the NFL," and you will hear an endless parade of Redskins bitterly denounce the media for underrating them. It already has started. Chomping on a victory cigar (the size of a pool cue, by the way) in the wake of the Vikings game, Mark May officially declared the 1988 Disrespect Theme open for business. "We defied the odds," May intoned. "But they're never satisfied. They don't care who we beat. They never give us our due." Are you now, or have you ever been a they? The basic tenet of this theme is that everyone not wearing a Hog snout thinks the Redskins couldn't beat The Golden Girls.


There may have been some truth to it in 1982 when the Redskins exploded to 8-1 from 8-8 the previous year, but it was ridiculous in 1983 when the Redskins dominated the NFL, and it's derivative now.

Cease and desist this theme.

I don't know why the Denver Broncos are favored to win the Super Bowl. My guess is that they think John Elway is good enough to win the game, no matter how many amigos are playing. And I can understand how they might conclude the Redskins are vulnerable to a great quarterback; Dan Marino, one of the select few quarterbacks on Elway's side of the table, beat the Redskins this season, virtually by himself.

Still, the people I've talked to who closely follow the AFC West say that Denver is about as good as it was last season, not necessarily better, while the Redskins seem to be improved. Last season, playing in Denver, the Broncos beat the Redskins by the skinniest of margins, 31-30, in a game that saw Max Zendejas grossly miss one extra point and two field goals. That, incidentally, was Zendejas' last game as the Redskins' kicker. Now, if Denver is pretty much the same, and Washington is a little better, and the Super Bowl (in which, by the way, Denver is 0-2, and hasn't come within a sniff either time) is being played at a neutral site, what rational man makes Denver a 3 1/2-point favorite?

Granted, I can see how Denver becoming the favorite would prompt May and others to resurrect the Disrespect Theme (a theme, by the way, I'd hoped was buried when Larry Holmes retired, but recent rumblings from Easton, Pa., indicate you can't keep a dead man down). But I think a better word might be "misunderstood." Because if you look at the record, you'll find that over the last six seasons the Redskins are the best team in the NFL. Their overall record, including playoffs, is 76-25. Denver's, for example, is 60-34-1. And not to belabor the point, but over the last six seasons the Redskins have been to the playoffs five times, the NFC championship four times, and now the Super Bowl three times. If they send you a ballot for the NFL Team of the Decade, it would be silly for you to write in anyone but the Redskins.

But if "disrespect" is your word, consider the sources. There's Joe Gibbs, who surely must be superstitious about being favored, because he does anything he can to torpedo the notion whenever it comes up. (It's the same in politics: Nobody wants to be the front-runner until it's time to count the votes.) Gibbs gets a rash if anyone suggests the Redskins might be better than an opponent.

REPORTER: Looks like a breather next week, Joe. Not a bad move, scheduling Vestal High School.

GIBBS: The way they're playing, they've got to be considered the favorites.

REPORTER: Joe, they're 16 years old.

GIBBS: Age is a tricky thing. They're amazingly quick, really well coached, and much more mature than you'd expect. It's a gut-check for us.

REPORTER: Their parents want you to make sure to drive them home before 9, that's their curfew.

Gibbs covets being the underdog so he can use it as a motivational tool to cajole his team into a maximum effort each game. Apparently, he's fearful that the Redskins' performance might suffer were they actually accorded the respect they covet. But the more you hear the coach poor-mouth his team, the easier it is to fall for it.

And there's the matter of the margins this season. They might be influenced by the fact that while the Redskins are but 15 points shy of 17-0, they're also 21 points away from 8-9. (The Redskins beat the Jets by 1, the Giants by 4, the Bears by 4, the Vikings by 3 and 4.) There are different ways to the Hall of Fame. Might as well face it, these Redskins aren't Koufax, they're Marichal.

But even they have to be impressed with the Redskins' performances in their last three games, three in a row they needed to win (two, by the way, on the road, where Denver hasn't played in more than a month). Put to a severe test in each game, they responded heroically. Under Gibbs, they're traditionally better not just in the second half of the season, but also in the second half of each game. If breathless isn't your style, you're long gone anyway.

For today, we'll leave you with the observations of Russ Grimm, who's been on all the Gibbs teams, and, like a true Hog, seems to have a special fondness for one like this that so regularly roots around in the mud. "There's really no way to explain why our games are so tight. That's just us. It seemed to me like we dominated Minnesota everywhere but on the scoreboard, so people might wonder about us. On the other hand, even when we're playing bad, you look up at the scoreboard and we're still in it."

They can respect that.