Martin Mayhew slipped through training camp, participating in every practice, starting every preseason game and turning down virtually every interview request.

While the Washington Redskins fretted about trading for a proven cornerback, finding a diamond-in-the-rough free agent and getting Brian Davis healthy, Mayhew put together a string of solid games and practices, throwing all of his 5-foot-8, 172-pound frame into the fray and staying respectably close to receivers, many of whom were bigger and faster.

His policy was to talk about his teammates, not himself. He gave the answer with a shrug and a smile, a gesture that said: "There's not that much to talk about anyway."

So one of the NFL's better stories again went untold and pretty much unnoticed, until Mayhew intercepted a pair of passes as the Redskins defeated the Phoenix Cardinals, 31-0, in Sunday's season opener at RFK Stadium.

Pressed this week, he finally has begun to talk about a career that has been nothing if not interesting -- and unknown. When the Redskins offered him a $65,000 signing bonus to leave the Buffalo Bills two winters ago, Mayhew took the money and put it in a three-month certificate of deposit.

Three months later he invested in a south Florida land deal with his father, bought his mother a car and put the rest in mutual funds and money-market accounts. He has phoned his stock broker during breaks at Redskin Park and has his eyes set on law school.

Mayhew graduated from Florida State a semester early and was working at First Union Bank in Charlotte, N.C., in the weeks before the 1989 draft. Some teams suspected he preferred banking or law school to football.

If he occasionally seems to be hidden in the shadow of Darrell Green, that is nothing compared with the eclipse created by the cornerback opposite him in college -- Deion Sanders.

"He was kind of quiet when he first got there," Mayhew said. "I guess he grew out of his shyness."

No matter to Mayhew, who prefers to go unnoticed.

"I've always been the 'other' guy," he said. "That didn't bother me in college and it doesn't bother me now. It's how you perceive yourself."

It does bother Green, who said: "It's not fair to him. He's better than that. He's young and tough and he's going to get nothing but better. He doesn't have to be compared to anyone but Martin Mayhew."

Mayhew grew up in Tallahassee and attended Florida High School, a lab school on the Florida State campus. It has a small enrollment and only about 35 boys went out for the football team.

"Did I play defense?" Mayhew said, smiling. "I played offense, defense, special teams. I played almost everything except cornerback."

Florida High was not high on many recruiting lists, but Florida State coaches did stroll over to see a few games. It was there in the fall of 1984 that secondary coach Mickey Andrews noticed a defensive back who intrigued him.

"An overachiever," Andrews said. "He wasn't supposed to be able to play in college. He's not supposed to be in the NFL. He has a lot of competitiveness and a lot of intelligence."

Mayhew interested Andrews so much that, when he found out he was graduating a semester early, he encouraged him to enroll at Florida State in the spring of '85 and to come out for spring football. Mayhew did, all 5 feet 8, 153 pounds of him.

"I didn't have many other choices," he said. "Florida and Florida A&M had talked to me, but didn't offer a scholarship."

Florida State did offer, and by his sophomore year, Mayhew was a starter. Injuries sidelined him much of his junior year, but after his senior year, the Buffalo Bills used a 10th-round draft pick on him.

No one blinked. Dozens of pro teams had seen the Seminoles and considered Mayhew. But scouts apparently believed he was not quick enough to play cornerback, not big enough to play safety. Some pro teams may still believe that, and with Green on the opposite side of the field, Mayhew will have to pass many tests.

An injury sidelined him early in his first training camp, but the Bills liked him and had projected him as perhaps a starting safety in 1989. That may be why they were so stunned to learn that, when he was left unprotected, the Redskins had offered a $65,000 signing bonus and a two-year, $405,000 contract -- big money for a guy who never had played a pro game.

Mayhew maybe was the last of Bobby Beathard's sleeper finds. He began his first Redskins training camp as perhaps the sixth cornerback and ended up making the team because of his special teams play.

He proved to be invaluable last year after Green broke a wrist, Barry Wilburn was suspended and Davis had a midseason slump. His first start was against Randall Cunningham and the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 10 and he was awarded a game ball for his performance. He also was in the lineup down the stretch as the Redskins finished 6-1.

His biggest play came against San Diego, when he broke up a fourth-down pass in the end zone to preserve a 26-21 victory. In a reunion against the Atlanta Falcons and former teammate Sanders, it was Mayhew who turned in a Prime Time performance: 13 tackles, two pass deflections.

"Last year I was really surprised to be starting," he said. "I look back now and think that a lot of guys pulled me along. The toughest thing was just getting ready for every game. It's easier when you're in and out of there, but being out there one-on-one with someone . . . it's tough. You just go out there and learn a little bit more every week. Every week is a different kind of challenge."

The challenge this week is the San Francisco 49ers. They virtually rewrote the book on offense in the 1980s and Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs spends a portion of each offseason examining how the NFL's top teams move the ball.

He cannot remember specifics, but said that over the last several years he has stolen a pass route or two from the 49ers. San Francisco is the only team to win more games than Washington in the '80s and last season was the lone team to gain more yardage (16 yards more).

"I don't know if they have a weakness," Gibbs said. "You've got to have great effort and hope things go your way."

Mayhew has had bigger challenges. "When a lot of people think you don't belong here," he said, "it's easy to think of every team as the Super Bowl champion."