SAN DIEGO, JAN. 31 -- A secret for 36 months, rookie Timmy Smith stepped into a nation's consciousness here tonight, borrowing John Riggins' play and John Riggins' moment.

Smith sneaked onto this Super Bowl field disguised as a special teams player, though he ended up being special all right.

If the Washington Redskins were anything here, they were con men, actually ordering George Rogers to run through 100 blue balloons as the alleged starting running back. The joke was on the Denver Broncos, because Smith started, and Smith finished, setting a Super Bowl record with 204 yards rushing in the Redskins' 42-10 rout of the Broncos.

It was running back coach Don Breaux who whispered in Smith's ear just minutes before kickoff. "You're starting," he said, "but George'll be announced."

Apparently, the Broncos were expecting Rogers' inside runs, but what they got were Smith's "counter gaps," a play never more appropriately named because those definitely were gaps out there.

He counter-gapped for a 58-yard touchdown, and he counter-gapped for a 43-yard run that set up Clint Didier's touchdown. He counter-gapped for 32 more yards in the second half. Apparently, the play kind of worked.

Line coach Joe Bugel says the play used to be known as "Counter-Trey," which John Riggins used to run regularly when he was in his diesel-days.

Bugel says it has evolved into counter gap for no particular reason, although Smith runs it a little differently than Riggins did.

While the Redskins used to attack offenses off tackle with Riggins -- letting him read his holes -- they run stricter plays with Smith. In other words, he is told where to run, and, if he disobeys, "We chew him out," Bugel says.

Bugel stood in an interview tent here tonight diagramming Smith's 58-yard touchdown. Left guard Raleigh McKenzie and left tackle Joe Jacoby pull to their right, while Smith gives a little jab step to the left before he moves right for the handoff.

From there, Bugel said McKenzie is the "trapper." He pushes a linebacker or defensive end outside. Jacoby, on the other hand, is supposed to "clean up any loose luggage," Bugel said. Once he did on this particular play, Smith was free to travel.

"We put that {play} in about three, four years ago," Bugel said. "When we go out scouting, we look at a lot of college film, and we see things. Nebraska runs it. Those college boys did a good job. You can pick some things up."

The Redskins picked Smith up out of college, too, but nobody knew him. At Texas Tech, he started out promisingly as a freshman and sophomore, but he played a total of two games in his junior and senior seasons because of knee and ankle injuries, respectively.

Redskins General Manager Bobby Beathard found him, but Beathard also had found Troy Stradford of Boston College and planned to pick him in the fourth round of last year's draft. Miami, however, pulled a fast one and chose Stradford before the Redskins could.

"We probably should've traded down to get Stradford," Redskins' assistant general manager Charlie Casserly has said on occasion.

In a way, Smith -- taken in the fifth round -- was their booby prize, though there's nothing booby about it now.

Smith prided himself on being a speed back early in his college career, but he admitted he "lost a step" after the two injuries. Beefed up now, he ran inside on the Broncos here, though he also showed some get-up-and-go on his 58-yard run.

"I'm really happy," he said tonight, "because of my ups and downs in college."

If he had shown the Redskins anything before this, he'd shown them his cool. "I'm an easy-going man, man," he had said this week. But the Redskins still were fearful of his nerves, which is another reason why they announced Rogers as the starter.

Rogers' left ankle wasn't 100 percent, Bugel said, and the team knew that. But it just didn't make sense to them to occupy Smith's mind with the burden of a starting assignment.

"We just didn't want to rattle him," Bugel said. "We wanted him to enjoy the trip over and think he'd get in for five or six plays."

He carried 22 times.

At halftime, he had 131 yards.

Riggins once held the Super Bowl rushing record, but now it belongs to Smith, who doesn't quite know what to do with it. Two years ago, he admitted he wondered if he'd play football again, though he remembers his parents telling him to "keep the faith."

"I had no idea I was near it {the Super Bowl rushing record}," said Smith, a native of Hobbs, N.M. "Somebody told me how many yards I had at halftime. Listen, I hadn't had a game like this since high school."

One other good thing about Smith is his ability to keep the ball. That's another Riggins trait. Smith, who didn't fumble all season, even wore a shirt tonight that said: "Get a grip on the ball." Asked to explain all of this, Smith came up with something about him being short and how defenses can't see over his mammoth offensive line -- otherwise known as Hogs -- to find him.

This is how he ran out the clock tonight, running inside and underneath everyone. That was Timmy Smith out there, that's who, running the Riggo Drill.