The most glamorous job in Washington, outdistancing president of the United States and chief justice of the Supreme Court, is quarterback of the Washington Redskins. With time, great leaders and wise men fall from favor here. Old quarterbacks just grow larger every year. That's why gentlemanly, unpretentious, four-square Mark Rypien, who grew up in that other down-to-earth Washington out west, is so wonderfully out of place on a throne that has been held by such colorful, folklore figures as Sammy Baugh, Sonny Jurgensen, Billy Kilmer and Joe Theismann.

In its quarterbacks, the Nation's Capital is accustomed to tall Texans who throw perfect spirals or tough guys named "Whiskey" or pudgy redheaded playboys or even yappy little scramblers who also return punts. Redskins quarterbacks have, for more than 50 years, tended to be easy subjects for myth. Eddie LeBaron led the NFL in passing despite being 5 feet 8. Doug Williams, self-proclaimed "Quarterblack," won a Super Bowl that shamed fiction. Now along comes Rypien, who as he leaves the locker room ties the earflaps of his deerstalker cap under his chinny chin chin.

Every time Rypien shreds the Miami Dolphins' defense for 42 points, or throws five interceptions to the Chicago Bears the next week, Redskins fans say, "Yes, he's a great guy. But is he leading us to the Super Bowl or oblivion?"

Six days a week, Rypien would be anybody's favorite NFL quarterback. He is smart, friendly, honest, big as a house and has An Arm that will knock you down. If you went on vacation, he would be the neighbor you'd want to watch your house -- because he'd actually do it, not just say that he would.

But on the seventh day, Rypien makes you, and himself, a little crazy. He can be heroic, coming back from a knee injury in a month and throwing four touchdowns in his first game out of the box, as he did against the Saints last month. Or he can fumble 14 times in one season, as he did in 1989. Just when you think you have him pinned down -- QB of the '90s or Get Somebody Else -- he escapes a final evaluation. After most of three seasons, and more than 900 NFL passes, you would think you'd know. But you probably don't.

For instance, Sunday's game against the Bears will be cited by many as the perfect illustration that Rypien simply isn't consistent enough to be one of the league's 10 best quarterbacks. And, if you aren't even in that category, can you hold the job for such a long-heralded and still-talented franchise?

How could anyone be worse than five interceptions?

Well, wouldn't it be worse if, just before kickoff, you told the coach you were suddenly too ill to play? On Sunday morning, Rypien got sick "four or five times," according to his agent, before he left home. Once at the park, the dehydrated and exhausted Rypien decided to tough it out. No wonder three of his interceptions were on underthrown passes. (Another interception hit a receiver in the face mask and one hit a receiver in both hands.) After the game, Rypien collapsed in the trainers' room.

However, when Rypien faced the press -- and, as usual, took more than full responsibility for his failures -- he forgot to mention his flu. If others hadn't brought it up, it would still be Rypien's secret. Both by upbringing in Spokane and by exposure to Doug Williams, Rypien has developed an old-school style that blends the homilies of team-firstism with the rub-and-spit theory that if you can walk, you can play.

This season, Rypien has not always been exemplary on the field. He's ranked sixth among NFC quarterbacks with an 82.3 rating, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions on 230 throws. His conduct off it, however, is utterly consistent.

When he and the Redskins could not agree on a new contract, Rypien decided to play out his option, even though his $275,000 base salary ranks him ahead of only Rodney Peete among NFL starting quarterbacks. Next summer, if he and the Redskins have more trouble reaching agreement, Rypien knows that he might watch from the sideline as Stan Humphries gets a free shot at his job. Despite the tension in this situation, Rypien has not complained and has risked himself with a rapid return to the lineup after his knee injury.

When the Redskins lost to the world champion 49ers, Rypien sought out blame, saying, "We had people open all day and I didn't get the ball there."

When he was injured against the Cowboys and his friend Humphries got the job -- maybe for a month or maybe permanently -- Rypien said: "If holding a clipboard is what I can do to help the team win, that's what I'll do. I'm not going to sulk or go stand on the 20-yard line with my arms folded. That's not me. I want to play, but I won't forget this is a team game."

Rypien could not possibly have missed the near-glee with which some Redskins fans awaited Humphries' unveiling. Many think that while Rypien has an NFL star's head and arm, Humphries has the arm, the feet and the pizazz.

Finally, last week, Theismann took a shot at Rypien, saying, "He throws four touchdown passes, then disappears the next week." Rypien refused to answer.

Gradually, the Redskins may be closing behind Rypien's personality, if not his on-field leadership. If he won't take up the cudgels for himself, others will. Yesterday, owner Jack Kent Cooke said: "Too bad about Joe {Theismann}. He's a particular friend of mine. But it was a bloody shame he said all that."

Curiously, Redskins fans always seem convinced that Rypien is an evolving commodity. Isn't it just as likely that he is fairly close to the finished product -- and a good enough product at that?

In three years, his stats have been virtual Xerox copies of each other. His career touchdown-to-interception ratio (53-30) is one of the best, especially for a youngish quarterback. His completion percentage (58) and average yards per pass (7.7) are slightly above the league average. He's smart, durable, unselfish and throws deep. When he's hot, he can scald a top defense. He's also immobile, stoic, may not have fumbled for the last time and, occasionally, has a wildly inaccurate game. He's not Randall Cunningham. But maybe he's not Norm Snead either.

The remainder of this season may be the fairest testing ground that Rypien will have. After beating the Dolphins impressively and the Bears fortuitously, the Redskins have both morale and momentum for the first time since the Super Bowl season of '87-'88. If Rypien can mirror the team's new fire and enthusiasm, and take them a fair piece in the playoffs, he may suddenly discover that, in the '90s, substance can pass as style.

However, a couple of more games like Sunday, flu or no flu, and Stan Humphries may be a very popular Washingtonian next August.