When Doug Williams left El Segundo, Calif., after a workout with the Los Angeles Raiders last spring, he thought he might have one more fling with the NFL. His untimely release from the Washington Redskins had surprised him and left a slightly sour taste in his mouth about the organization he led to a Super Bowl championship two seasons ago; but if the Raiders could use him, he would be ready.

Williams recalls that the Raiders told him they would be in touch within a couple of weeks. "After three or four weeks," Williams said yesterday, "I said to myself, 'Go on with your life; there is life after football.' "

So this is the afterlife for Doug Williams, rising no later than 7 a.m. -- "I'm a country boy, remember, I can't stand to miss much of the day" -- playing 18 holes of golf, looking after daughter Ashley, fishing with longtime buddies, taking his daughter and eight of her friends to the M.C. Hammer concert and "cutting a lot of grass."

If you don't count 1983, when he missed a season while jumping to the U.S. Football League, this is the first late summer he hasn't been working out in preparation for the upcoming football season.

When Williams was cut -- more like dumped -- in that tacky way by the Redskins at the end of March, it was widely assumed he would surface somewhere. The Raiders needed a quarterback -- still do. The Saints could use a quarterback. They signed Tommy Kramer. Tommy Kramer? Please. "I guess it was kind of tough for the Saints to get in touch with me," Williams said, speaking from his home in Zachary, La., less than a two-hour drive from the Superdome. The Patriots need a quarterback. The Seahawks. The Chiefs. The Bears. The Redskins (Rip's a great fellow, but last time we looked nobody was confusing him with Joe Montana).

"I don't want to hear from them," Williams said of the Redskins. "It's not that they let me go, it's the way it was done. To say something about a youth movement, but nobody is let go but me. . . . I don't think any youth movement exists. Coach {Joe} Gibbs said he couldn't face me, with me being a third-string quarterback. I guess some people have a short memory. When they called me in 1986, I came as a third-stringer. Did it sting? Without a doubt it did. I've got some feelings about a lot of things, but if I say too much, people will figure, 'Awwww, that's just Doug Williams whining again.' "

Asked about his friendship with Gibbs, with whom he had become close back in Tampa, Williams paused. Clearly the friendship is strained. "I know players get cut," he said. "I just thought it would be done a lot differently. Our friendship? I don't know what to say. It's a difficult situation."

Williams doesn't say so, but it is clear that he would have played for half the $1.2 million he was making. And it is just as evident that the Redskins could use his leadership in the locker room, if not on the field. Regardless, Doug Williams no longer waits for the phone to ring. Is he sad? Is he going through withdrawal? Will he play again?

"Will I play again? You want the answer of the optimist or the answer of the pessimist? Truthfully, I don't think the phone will ring. Anyway, I refuse to put myself in the position of setting myself up for a letdown if it doesn't. I had a goal of playing 10 years, so I was lucky to get the chance to play for the Redskins and I guess they were sort of lucky to have me when they did. We both got a chance to pat each other on the back."

He says he will miss the competition and the District of Columbia. "Not the monuments and the White House and all the fancy parties, although that was fun too," he said. "I mean the streets behind all the fancy stuff. For four years that city took me in and that made me feel great, with all I had been through. I miss that part, the streets, the kids, the schools. I got a lot of positive publicity out of doing stuff in certain communities, but I went there a hell of a lot more than the cameras followed me. Those kids can't pay their way into RFK, they can't get to Virginia {to Redskin Park} or to Carlisle. They want to talk to a pro athlete just like the kids whose parents can afford to bring them to the games or to Carlisle.

"It's really funny how the NFL wants so much positive publicity, wants their image to be a certain way. . . . Then, the teams treat players just the opposite of that and it makes you wonder if any of it really matters to them. Maybe you expect too much."

Doug Williams played nine years in the NFL, plus a couple of seasons in the USFL. He never got as much as he gave, but that would have been expecting too much. There is always the possibility he will coach at Grambling, his alma mater, and there have been exploratory conversations with friends around the league about the possibility of scouting. His statistics will not send him to the Hall of Fame, yet his career was full of achievement despite being sentenced to play with Tampa Bay for half of it.

This town is better off having had Doug Williams for four seasons, one of them magical. The Redskins are better off, so is Williams. Perhaps the most special quality an athlete can exhibit is endurance and he has demonstrated that time and again. Doug Williams is 35 years old; his life is just beginning.