GREEN BAY, WIS. -- The baseball card-sized picture is stuck inconspicuously on the top of Don Majkowski's locker in the Green Bay Packers' dressing room. It is a color print that shows him throwing a football back at the University of Virginia not so many years ago, when he was a cocky kid quarterback trying to make a name for himself.

When he was asked the other day if he was following the exploits of his alma mater, the nation's top-ranked college football team, Don Majkowski managed a wan smile. Times have been tough for him this fall in Packerland, and people say he seems a bit tense and testy at times.

But just thinking about his old friends in Charlottesville allowed him to escape for a moment into sweet reminiscence.

"No, I don't get to see them much at all; they don't exactly carry a lot of ACC games out here on TV," he said. "But I'm so happy for them. When I was there {he graduated in 1986}, we got to the Peach Bowl my sophomore year. Even then, we thought we could play with the very best teams. These guys now are just proving it. That town must be going wild."

Here in this town, they are wild about the Green Bay Packers, although the ardor directed toward a player who burst into prominence a year ago as "The Magic Man" has cooled somewhat in the wake of a dismal 2-4 start.

A year ago, the Pack seemed almost all the way back, with a 10-6 record that marked its best showing since the 1972 season. Majkowski was directly responsible, rallying his team five times in the fourth quarter to stunning come-from-behind victories that made him a hero from Madison to Manitowoc.

But now, the Pack seems to be backsliding as it prepares to take on the equally woebegone Minnesota Vikings Sunday in Milwaukee. And the Magic Man of a year ago has been the Mortal Man of 1990. Because he held out for a $1.5 million contract and did not report until four days before the season opener, he also is being blamed in some quarters for the team's slow start.

The grumbling already has started, much of it directed toward Majkowski, an intense young man who zealously guards his privacy and seems uncomfortable in the role of star quarterback in the fish bowl that is small-town Green Bay. Last year things got so bad he hardly ever left his little apartment with the rented furniture not far from Lambeau Field, where the Packers practice and play.

"There is no question that people are pretty intense about the Packers," he said after a recent practice. "They came into this season with all these expectations, but I had expectations too. It's not just the fans. I'm disappointed at what's happened, but I'm only one guy. This is a team game, and there are 10 other guys out there too.

"No one wants to win more than we do, and I still think we can get it done. I have to learn to play a little more relaxed, let things fall where they may. I may have put too much pressure on myself the first couple of games, and that's part of it. But I'm getting more comfortable, and I think we can turn this thing around."

Because he came to camp so late, Majkowski sat out the first game, a surprise 36-24 victory over the Los Angeles Rams engineered by his second-year backup, Anthony Dilweg, a graduate of Whitman High in Bethesda and Duke who was making his first start. Dilweg started the second game against the Bears and was replaced by Majkowski late in the contest, a 31-13 loss. The next week Majkowski was the starter again, and Dilweg went back to clipboard duty.

But this is not the Pro Bowl Majkowski of 1989, when he led the league in pass attempts (599), completions (353) snd passing yards (4,318) and threw for 27 touchdowns, third highest total in the NFL.

This year his quarterback rating has plummeted, from a mark of 82.3 to a 59.7 so far, with only five touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. Turnovers, in fact, are destroying this team, the Packers having committed 18 in their last four games.

"They're just killing us," said Dilweg of all those fumbles and interceptions, not to mention the missed blocks, dropped passes and untimely penalties that also have plagued the Packers.

No one in the Packers' locker room is pointing fingers at Majkowski. Despite his big money and his flowing blond rock-star locks, he is popular in the locker room. His teammates know him as a strong, silent type in public, a cocky leader on the field who is absolutely fearless in the face of 240-pound linebackers trying to knock his spats off.

"I want to play, and I want to play badly," said Dilweg. "But I watch him out there and he does some amazing things. I learn from him every day, especially when he improvises and starts scrambling. He's a great talent, no question, and a good guy too. He knows how I feel as a backup, because he did it himself when I was playing. We empathize with each other, and we're good friends. We have no problems here."

Majkowski also is widely admired by his peers around the National Football League. Last April, he and seven other veteran players agreed to serve as plaintiffs in an antitrust suit against the league on the issue of free agency.

Majkowski had become a conditional free agent at the end of the 1989 season, meaning that another team could have signed him as long as the Packers were compensated with two No. 1 draft choices. Considering his numbers last season, surely someone might have been interested. But not one of the 274 players whose contracts had expired on Feb. 1 got an offer, leading to the lawsuit that is supported by a number of nationally known agents and funded by the NFL Players Association.

"I think this suit might be advantageous to me in the long run, and a lot of other guys too," Majkowski said. "That's why I did it. It was something I was willing to stand up for. I believe in the issue, and it might help a lot of people down the line."

Majkowski and his agent, Randy Vataha, also stood up for their beliefs in an often bitter contract dispute that lasted 45 days. A year ago, Majkowski earned $600,000; his opening proposal was for $22.5 million over six years, an average of $3.75 million a year. The Packers opened with $1.4 million over two years. By the end of the summer, Majkowski accepted a $1.5 million one-year deal, with incentives that could provide an extra $250,000 for performance achievements, and another $300,000 if the team reaches the Super Bowl.

"It was a long summer staying out," said Majkowski, who also had to contend with a family crisis when his father suffered a debilitating stroke in late July.

Four of the Packers' linemen also were holding out at various times this summer, one more reason Green Bay has floundered so far. The team has yielded 21 sacks in six games and there are times when the protection seems nonexistent.

Still, Green Bay Coach Lindy Infante remains optimistic that the extra week off since losing to Tampa Bay on Oct. 14 may be just what the doctor ordered to help Majkowski's bruised ribs, as well as the general health of his football team.

"It's hard for me to calculate the effect of his holdout," Infante said, "but I don't think it's ever possible to miss a training camp and get things done. You can't get the guy enough repetitions. Earlier there were some shabby technique, his confidence level and his quickness at reading things weren't quite there. But that was expected.

"Whether he was trying to do too much by himself, only Don can answer that. He's made a few mistakes, as any quarterback does. I think he's trying to play the game the best way he can. I still think he's an extremely capable quarterback, and not by any stretch of the imagination is he the sole reason we're doing badly. That's not close. He can't catch the balls, he can't block. It's just been a combination of a lot of things. We all have a lot of faith in Don, and I still believe he will go on to have a great year."

No one has more faith in Majkowski than Majkowski himself.

"I'm a confident person," he said. "I know what I can do. When I got here as a rookie, I knew inside I could play this game, and I knew sooner or later it would happen to me. Last year was not a big surprise, at least not to me. And it was a lot of fun.

"We're trying to get that same feeling back. It's been tough. But I can feel things starting to come around, I really can. I guess it all starts Sunday with Minnesota. We'll just have to wait and see."

Don Majkowski's first pass of season doesn't go as planned as Bears' Richard Dent, left, hits his throwing arm. Trace Armstrong closes in.