Citing an obscure codicil in the NFL rulebook, a group of Washington Redskins veterans has petitioned Paul Tagliabue to excuse the Redskins from any further games against the New York Giants.

The codicil, known as "The Double-Secret Veterans Make-A-Wish Rule," allows NFL players who've put in at least 10 years with the same team to have one wish granted by the commissioner. Traditionally, players ask for a second helping of potatoes or a new golf bag.

Yesterday, a group of tenured Redskins -- Monte Coleman, Don Warren, Art Monk, Jeff Bostic, Russ Grimm, Darryl Grant, Joe Jacoby -- pooled their wishes and asked Tagliabue for mercy.

"Please don't make us play the Giants anymore," they wrote in a letter obtained by The Washington Post. "As a season ticket holder at RFK you have seen what they do to us. It's cruel and unusual punishment. Please grant us all this one wish for our combined 76 seasons: Give us the Cardinals instead."

A spokesman for Tagliabue said the matter is under review.

Apparently, Instant Replay Scheduling Officials are looking for "conclusive proof" the Redskins cannot beat the Giants and should be granted amnesty from the game two weeks hence at the Meadowlands and any possible playoff game. They are studying films of:

Five in a row.

Eight out of nine since 1985, not counting the 38-12 Scab Ball game.

"They've gotta be wiping their brows, saying 'I can't believe it, we pulled it off again,' " a befuddled Charles Mann offered shortly after the Redskins had lost another close one Sunday. "We played well enough to win it. Unfortunately, they brought their leprechaun with them." (A Redskins source says the leprechaun is leased to the Giants, and Jack Kent Cooke is working on a buyout.)

One time it's a last-second field goal.

Another time it's terrible wind.

Sunday, it's a freak punt.

True, Roseanne, it's always something. Usually, Simms and LT.

"A typical Giants team," Bostic said of the 1990 version. "They play good defense. They don't give up a lot of big stuff. And Simms makes enough plays for their offense to score points." Three big-play passes worth 204 yards and, directly, 21 points, enough to win.

There are other quarterbacks whose names pop to mind quicker -- Elway, Marino, Montana, they're going to Canton. But Simms is to the Redskins what Frank Lary once was to the Yankees. "If you take what he does in that system, he's a great quarterback. He makes the plays," Grimm said in praise of Simms, pointing out that although the Giants were on the field for only 11 minutes in the first half, they nonetheless led.

Indeed, you could argue that the difference in the game was at quarterback, where the Giants had a 12-year veteran and the Redskins had a kid starting his second game. Stan Humphries is the most exciting quarterback the Redskins have had since Theismann. Every snap he takes, you can see his sparkle. Had he taken the Redskins the length of the field with 2 1/2 minutes to play, had he made his bones on one of those magazine cover drives, like Elway, Marino and Montana (and sure, Sonny) have made, Humphries would have been Quarterback For Life. But the one thing you can't rush is experience. Humphries tried to be too fine with a pass he might better have lobbed into Section 103. He isn't Simms yet.

Great quarterbacks and great teams make those drives; Montana and the 49ers graze on them. "That last drive, we had to go out and win the ballgame. That's the job right there," Jim Lachey said. "We had 2 1/2 minutes, that's enough time. We couldn't get it done."

Having already played the two finest teams in the league -- the Giants and the 49ers -- the Redskins are in position to compare them. "The only comparison we can make," Grimm said, "is that we lost to both of them." Some say the Redskins can take solace knowing they came close. But Lachey said disapprovingly: "There are a lot of teams that can come close. We don't want that."

Ask yourself the hard questions about these Redskins.

When was the last time they won a big game against a good team?

How many of their key players are truly at their peak? And how many, even if it's just by a half-step, are on the near or far side? Is this a team that can accelerate its pace enough to catch the sprinters?

Right now are the Redskins going any further than the wild-card game?

They've beaten teams that are among the dregs of the league, Dallas and the Cardinals. They've lost to the rising cream. Montana and Simms exploited their secondary; their pass rush managed but one sack, total, in those games. At home against the Giants, who were without their best offensive lineman, leading receiver and best defensive back, the Redskins performed about as well as could be expected with a rookie quarterback, and lost.

The loss to the Giants is particularly irksome because this is the team the Redskins have been obsessed with since 1986. You'll recall Hog coach Joe Bugel booting Bostic out of the starting lineup in 1987 so he could wedge in another elephant, declaring Bostic was too light to stop Jim Burt. It's always the Giants who haunt them. They conjure up Simms, pale as bones, and shudder. They spent 10 days having somebody masquerade as LT so they could feel him nearing. The Redskins are Scrooge, and the Giants are Marley's ghost.