There is no swagger in his step, no swearing in his speech. Instead of being cocky and outgoing, he is modest, reserved and polite. He prefers throwing footballs to throwing tantrums.

In the macho world of pro football, Marc Wilson is a genuinely nice guy. Perhaps too nice.If Steve Grogan is General Patton, then Wilson is Captain Kangaroo. His disposition seems to have neither peaks nor valleys, only vast, tranquil plains. He is as colorful as a white shirt.

If you wanted to be as nice as he is, you could call him bland. If not, then boring wouldn't be wildly off base.

The fact is, Wilson seems better suited to Mr. Roger's Neighborhood than the National Football League. Yet beneath that placid exterior, Wilson would have us believe, he is a raging inferno.

Just listen to what he had to say Thursday while discussing the likelihood that he will step in for the injured Grogan at quarterback Sunday in Cincinnati against the unbeaten Bengals.

"I lose my temper periodically," Wilson insisted. "It's a tension-release thing. It happened this summer during training camp."

Really, Marc? No kidding? What did you do to cut loose?

"I don't really want to say any more about it," Wilson said.

And so the world is spared the ugly details of how, perhaps, one day at lunch, Wilson, incensed that there was too much garlic in the spaghetti sauce, slammed the salt-and-pepper shaker on the table in full view of the entire team.

Talk about shocking. And you wonder why this guy never really fit in with the Los Angeles Raiders?

Part of the problem with the Raiders, of course, was that they already had Jim Plunkett when they drafted Wilson in the first round in 1980 out of - where else? - Brigham Young.

Plunkett, who had overcome adversity throughout his career - beginning with having been drafted by the New England Patriots in 1971 - had a habit of winning Super Bowls which endeared him to Raider fans.

Wilson had a habit of losing playoff games and, as a result, the confidence and support of the fans, as well. Plunkett led the Raiders to a Super Bowl victory in 1980, and again in 1983.

"There's no question," Wilson said, "that there was a mystique about Jim Plunkett and the playoffs. Those Super Bowl years, nobody in the league played better than Plunkett. Everybody felt Jim had a rabbit's foot in his pocket when it came playoff time."

That luck ran out in '84 when, after Wilson had put the Raiders in the playoffs while starting 10 games, Plunkett got the nod in the postseason and the Raiders wound up being blown out by Seattle.

So the next year, after Wilson led L.A. to the division title, winning 11 of 13 starts, he started against the Patriots in the playoffs in the Coliseum.

"That game was a disaster for the Raiders," Wilson recalled. "We lost (27-20) on a fumbled kickoff that the Patriots recovered in the end zone. But all anyone in L.A. remembers about the game is that Marc Wilson was the quarterback."

But not even that injustice is enough to upset the placid Wilson.

"I've been criticized for not being a fiery kind of guy," he said Thursday before practice. "But, inwardly, I'm very much like that. It's a constant struggle for me to restrain those emotions."

Wilson says he keeps his emotions in check because he wants to be logical, not emotional, in the heat of a game.

"I play better, I think better, when I'm calm, quiet and under control," he said. "It dawned on me my second or third year of college that that was the best way for me to approach the game.

"You have to have the confidence to know that what you're doing is right. You can't pay attention to the way others say you should play."

Wilson says he is excited about having a chance to play Sunday.

"Whatever they need me to do, I'm here to do," he said.

Wilson seemed to have a slight edge on Grogan at the start of training camp, but fell behind when he injured the thumb on his throwing hand and missed several weeks, including two preseason games.

"Conceptually," Wilson said Thursday, "I'm very comfortable with the new offense. Intellectually, I know what I'm doing. Physically, I'm not sure, because I haven't played that much."

Wilson has played well when he has had the chance.

He started the final two preseason games, and came off the bench in the season opener against Miami when Grogan was shaken up.

The Patriots were in a 3rd-and-19 situation deep in their own territory when Grogan had to go to the sidelines after being hit. But Wilson, without benefit of warmup, fired a strike out of the end zone over the middle to Sammy Martin for what would have been a first down - except that Martin dropped the ball.

Knowing that he's going to play Sunday makes it easier on Wilson.

"It's hard (being a backup) because there's always uncertainty about whether you're going to play," he said. "You wonder every time the starter gets hit if you're going to be going in. It's not very relaxing. If I know I'm going to start, it relieves the anxiety."

Wilson's only concern this week is that he plays as well against the Bengals as Grogan did against Miami and the Colts.

"I still want to play really well, as well as I ever have, said Wilson. But this is not a selfish deal. I just want to find a way to contribute. If I do that, I'll feel very satisfied."