When the Redskins in the early 1970s were not so good, Larry Brown was great; when the Redskins in 1972 were very good, Larry Brown was the best player in the National Football League.

This comes to mind because while the Redskins are not playing today, a fair number of them -- past and present -- will be at RFK Stadium at 4 p.m. to honor Brown. And to benefit a number of charities, including the Deafness Research Foundation.

The occasion serves as a celebration of No. 43 having recently turned 43 -- and as a reminder to a national panel of voters that Larry Brown is overdue for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Happily for those who recall Brown as the toughest runner they ever saw -- and who more than once scolded George Allen for overworking him -- his knees 14 years after his final NFL game are quite good. That's in contrast to many football retirees, whose joints a decade or so after much punishment act as rusty gates.

"At one point not long after I'd retired" during 1977 training camp, "I couldn't walk a block without having to hail a cab," Brown said. "Some people a few years later recommended a therapist in Philadelphia. But it sounded like crystal ball gazing, something I'd use as a last resort.

"Turned out that's what it was -- a last resort. I started being treated by him about four years ago. He'd come to town for me and some other patients about once a month. The treatment lasted about a year -- and I can now run some and play golf with less pain" -- though not without using a cart. "Two weeks ago I played softball -- and the only pain I experienced was from being out of shape."

Brown requested No. 43 from the Redskins because he'd been inspired by a former No. 43 with the Dallas Cowboys, Don Perkins, an undersized fullback who kept running farther and blocking better than most in the NFL had anticipated. Brown was an eighth-round draftee in 1969, a native of Pittsburgh who earned a scholarship to Kansas State after attending Dodge City Junior College when the big-time schools passed on him.

"My mom never wanted me to play football at all, so this will be one time where watching me in a stadium will be fun for her," Brown said of today's festivities.

So how did Brown coax her into allowing him to play?

"I didn't," he said, smiling. "I just did it."

As Perkins convinced Brown he belonged in the NFL, Brown helped a recent Hall of Fame inductee, Franco Harris, appreciate a few football virtues.

"Here was a guy who played with so much intensity," the former Steelers fullback told a Pittsburgh newspaper. "I couldn't believe how much he wanted it. Every inch he could get, he just wanted it very badly. Yes, it did have an impact on me.

"It kind of made me realize that to be effective in the pros, I would have to play differently than I did {at Penn State}. In college, you have a certain ability and can go through the motions and get by. You can't do that up here. He gave me some insight for what you have to do here, not only play after play, but year after year."

"Franco couldn't get over Larry Brown," Steelers Coach Chuck Noll said. "He just sat there and watched him in awe. It really had an effect on him."

Harris's rookie season with the Steelers, 1972, was Brown's best with the Redskins. Brown averaged 100 yards a game -- and almost surely would have won the NFL rushing title had he not sat out the final two games to prepare for the playoffs. His NFC-leading 1,216 yards were 35 shy of O.J. Simpson's.

Aiding Brown's bid for the Hall of Fame is the fact that he either amassed far more yards or was more efficient than all but a few runners already in the Hall. For instance, he averaged 469 more yards a season than Paul Hornung and about 300 more than Frank Gifford.

Steve Van Buren played the same number of seasons as Brown, eight. Gale Sayers and Doak Walker lasted only five and six years, respectively.

Brown has no regrets that Allen ran him so much. It was said that each time Brown got hit, his fans also hurt. No gains no glory, he reasons, adding, "If you don't touch the ball, you don't get any visibility."

In support of Brown's quest for the Hall of Fame, Buffalo Bills Coach Marv Levy, a Redskins aide in the early 1970s, wrote: "He had a considerable hearing deficiency and he joined a team which had experienced a long skein of losing seasons. He emerged as a fierce and courageous competitor.

"It has been said that while football may not build character it does reveal character. Never was that premise more true than in the case of Larry Brown."

A still-vivid example is Oct. 29, 1972. Brown had his best game as a Redskin (191 yards on 29 carries) in the opposition city he most wanted to impress (New York) and at a time the team needed it most (Sonny Jurgensen having limped off the field early with a torn Achilles' tendon).

"Got a can of beer thrown at me after the game," he recalled. "I was disappointed because it wasn't my brand."

Of his style, at 5 feet 11 and about 200 pounds, Brown said: "I always thought that if I inflicted a more punishing blow on someone else than he gave me I'd eventually have an advantage. . . . Defenses usually don't concentrate on runners who can't get away from the first two tackles; they save that gang tackling for the greater threat."

The decline for Brown started as he was gaining his most yardage -- and fame. "The crucial injury was when I fell on a sideline marker in Philadelphia in the '72 regular season," he said. "My {right} knee was totally bent, and I landed on it. Very hard. With tacklers probably hanging on. That really was the damaging {career} blow, the beginning of the end, because the blow damaged some ligaments and later caused cartilage problems that required surgery in '74.

"I couldn't re-adjust. I'd compensated for the hurt left knee by using the stronger right one for most of two seasons. . . . Now I had two bad knees. That's when you become in a bind mentally, when you start to think about giving up this game because you can't defend yourself."

With Xerox, Brown serves on boards and committees dealing with public issues and remains highly visible at fund-raising events. He sees his job as "deciding where our presence is needed." With more sadness than he ought to show, Brown sees the Hall of Fame as "the last hurrah, really." As usual, he's uncomfortable with the ball in someone else's hands.