SAN DIEGO, JAN. 28 -- The gold medallion hung low around Gary Clark's neck, bouncing off his chest as he leaned forward to answer another of the morning's Super Bowl questions.

Some football players wear their number on a chain. Others wear a religious medal.

Gary Clark wears the symbol of Mercedes-Benz.

The Washington Redskins' most valuable wide receiver bought the necklace when he was a rookie with Jacksonville in the U.S. Football League in 1984. It became a reminder of what he was playing for, what his goals were. Play well enough, earn enough money, buy the car, he thought.

Clark wears it to this day. In the last three seasons, many good things have happened to Clark, but he still hasn't reached his ultimate goal. He still doesn't have the car.

"Everybody wants a Merc," Clark said as he walked back to his room at the Hyatt Islandia, the Redskins' headquarters for Super Bowl XXII. "That's the ultimate. It's just a goal you set that you want to achieve. I'm still working for it. This is for the 560. I'm about four years away. It's $62-63,000. That's too much right now."

But can it be too far away? For the second season in a row, Clark was the receiver the Redskins most wanted to show off. He made more clutch catches than anyone else on the team. He finished this season with 56 catches and 1,066 receiving yards, and was there when Art Monk faltered, then got injured.

This Sunday at 6 p.m. at Jack Murphy Stadium, Clark again will be the most important receiver in Doug Williams' long gaze. No matter what happens to Monk, whether he plays a lot or a little, the Redskins will rely first and foremost on Clark, at 25 one of the finest young receivers in the NFL.

"I'll be a nervous wreck," Clark said. "I'll be drinking a bottle of Pepto-Bismol before the game."

That's no exaggeration. Before the biggest games, the ones against Dallas and the New York Giants and the ones in the playoffs, Clark gets a nervous stomach. He takes the medication and feels better. " 'Coats and soothes,' as they say," Clark says. "The bigger the game the more I need it.

Few outside the Redskins' inner circle know Clark. Although he has been selected to two consecutive Pro Bowls, he is a star waiting for the spotlight to shine in his eyes. He has a ready smile and cheery disposition, unless you catch him just after he has dropped a pass. Although some of his teammates avoid the media, he welcomes questions.

"Can you go live with us at 8:30 p.m.?"

"Can you get up early to do our radio show?"

"Can you . . ."

Clark usually says yes. "Sure, why not?"

But if he doesn't catch a pass, he turns mean. Hands on hips. Head down. A sulking walk back to the huddle.

"Dropping a pass that's catchable is the most inexcusable thing that you can do," Clark said today. "You have a right to be hard on yourself. You have to do it, at least I do. It's bad in a way, because I get my own self depressed to a point. But then I bring myself out of it. I'm ready to go again and then I try to go out and make something happen. It makes my intensity rise. I just hope it doesn't rise too much and make me crazy."

For weeks after it happened, Clark shook his head and winced at the thought of the potential touchdown pass he dropped in last season's NFC title game at the Meadowlands. He hated that he missed Jay Schroeder's final desperation pass in an earlier game against the Giants. And, most recently, when he dropped one touchdown pass and couldn't stay in bounds with another in the NFC championship game at RFK Stadium. He was angry at only one person -- himself.

"I think as you go along, you get a little harder on yourself because you think people expect more. The more success you have, the more people expect of you and the more you expect from yourself. I tell myself, 'I'm supposed to make this play. I've made this play before, so I should make it this time, I should make it every time.' "

Redskins assistant Emmitt Thomas worked with Clark during the 1986 season before switching to the defensive backs this year.

"He gives you the appearance of being down, but when he goes to the next play, all that's behind him," Thomas said. "He curses and shouts and, when he is giving interviews, he says he can't run or do this or that, but he can. He's got great competitive speed and quickness. He's a hard worker and he loves to compete.

"He just puts an extra burden on himself. As a coach, you can't teach that. He came ready with that. I think that's a great asset."

If you were looking for Clark on the football field, your first glance should be at the inside edge of the yard-line numbers, about 15 yards downfield. That's where Clark roams, where most of his catches are made. X marks his spot; he is the team's X receiver, the man who lines up on the weak side, on the opposite side of the field from the strong safety. Monk or Ricky Sanders usually are the Z receiver. If you're wondering about Y, that's the tight end.

Clark says there is no secret to finding a hole in the defense, usually just inside those numbers painted on the field, where he gets some personal space.

"I'm not very fast so my main thing is I try to give out illusions to the defensive backs. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I hope I deceive them 70 percent of the time; they hope they know 70 percent of the time."

Clark is just 5 foot 9 and weighs 173, which is a fine size for a high school point guard, but not so good for the NFL.

"By not being as fast or not being as big, I've got to do extra things. I've got to work out harder in the offseason. My body takes a beating. I get a lot of bumps and bruises out there."

Clark sells himself short sometimes. He says he's slow. He's not.

"He's not a very big speed guy, but he's got great quickness," said Thomas. "It comes into play when he gets off the line of scrimmage and gets in and out of breaks {in pass routes}. He's a 4.5 guy, but when he gets out of his break, he's like a Darrell Green."

Without Monk, Clark has taken on the role of possession receiver, a killer of a title for a little guy.

Said Thomas, admiringly, "He's a little man with no fear in his heart whatsoever."