Joe Bugel let just a little bit of feeling show. Perhaps he felt he owed a bit of reticence to his Phoenix Cardinals, who were on the wrong end of a 31-0 drubbing by the Washington Redskins yesterday. For the most part, he kept whatever feelings he had about his return to RFK Stadium to himself.

But not all.

"It's tough to downplay it when you're coming back to your old stomping grounds," said Bugel, the longtime line coach and assistant head coach/offense for Washington.

"I personally wanted to do better for our football team," he said. "They worked so hard for this game. I wanted the outcome to be a little bit different than it was. I feel bad for the team, I really do."

"He's such a great guy," Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said. "Everyone on our teams loves and cares for him a lot. I wish he was in the other conference, at least another division, so we wouldn't have to do this twice."

Bugel said he "loved every minute" of being the head man on the Cardinals sideline. He was proud of his team and saw things in their performance that the layman couldn't see. He saw promise in quarterback Timm Rosenbach and running back Johnny Johnson.

And he had history. The 1981 Redskins went 0-5 out of the chute, and everything down to the color of the new uniforms was second-guessed. Bugel wanted to talk more about his new team, but when the game ended, some of his former fellow coaches came across the field to remind him about just those days.

"We went through a lot of things together," he said. "They said, 'Hey, remember back in '81, partner. You're on the right track. Don't let anybody tell you you're not.' That made you feel good."

Saturday night, when the Cardinals arrived in town, there was no carousing with the old crowd. Bugel stayed at his hotel, in his room, went to bed early. Sunday morning, there was no wrong turn to the home locker room. Almost all of his thoughts were on the game and how to stop those things he helped implement so long ago.

It was his "counter gap" and his three-wideout sets and his dash patterns he saw being used against him.

The Redskins went to three tight end packages, splitting them out and keeping Art Monk and Gary Clark on the bench. Bugel said it was the old "heavy" package. Washington isolated Ricky Sanders on linebacker Ken Harvey in the second quarter for a 37-yard score, but Bugel said it was more a result of formation than surprise.

"They didn't do anything we didn't know they were going to do," he said. "It was just a matter of covering. There's times when they're going to get you in some matchups you don't like . . . if you double Clark, Sanders is open. You double Sanders, Clark's open. You have to make a choice."

He didn't criticize his young quarterback, who threw four interceptions. He praised him for a scramble in the first half. He talked about his team's having cut down on the penalties.

"We're young at positions," he said. "We're going to be very patient with our football team. We're not going to surrender, we're not going to panic, and we're going to play and play hard until we win a football game. We're not panicking. We're not even close to that stage, believe me."

"Buges will be down for about 10 minutes," Rosenbach said. "And by the time we're on the plane, he'll be thinking about next week."

The old Hogs felt for their guy, who had stood up for them in the bad days. But only to a point. "I know it's a rough day for him," said tackle Joe Jacoby, a Hog original. "It was real different seeing him on the other sideline. But once the game started, we were playing the Cardinals, not Joe Bugel."

Said guard Mark Schlereth: "I don't think it makes a whole lot of difference who we play. But he played a big part in everybody's career and you want to play well against him."

Washington called off the dogs as soon as it was possible. And once it was over, Bugel's old linemen came across the field to say hello and offer encouragement.

"They're my friends," he said. "They've been through some tough times too. They understand. I think that's when your friends come to the forefront. We're going through some pains of losing. You know, because I hate to lose. It's a bad feeling. And they understand that."