Of the roughly 3 million people who live in this metropolitan area, at least 4 million know Joe Holman -- favorably.

In recent years, Joe Holman has made his living as a publicity man, especially for sporting events and most especially for boxing shows.

In his younger days, however, he was a newspaperman, best known as a sportswriter, and a very good one. His peers held young Holman in high esteem and kept a protective eye on him as he traveled to exciting new places with one athletic team or another.

When the young writer was occasionally indisposed at deadline time, he had no trouble getting a colleague to wire in a story under his byline. His problem was that he had too many friends, with the result that his office back here in Washington would sometimes receive two or even three versions of the same ball game, all signed with Joe's name but all written by men who worked for other papers. That's what's known as having friends.

Joe is a big man in more ways than one. Physically, he's about the size of the Pentagon; or perhaps the Merchandise Mart would be a better comparison because it is taller, and Joe Holman is a man who can walk tall even when he's slouched over. What endears him to so many of us is that he has a heart that's perfectly proportioned for a giant-sized man. Joe's capacity for caring is as big as Joe is.

For example, 13 years ago, Joe and his beloved bride, Marie, were getting into their auto on a bitter winter day when a nondescript young dog leaped into the vehicle with them.

Marie was somewhat startled, but Joe understood at once. "He doesn't mean us any harm," he said. "He's just cold and hungry."

"You're right," Marie said. "Let's take him home and feed him."

So they took him home and fed him that day, and the next, and the next. By that time, the dog's name was Arf, because he looked like Sandy, Little Orphan Annie's dog, whose comment "Arf" indicated his agreement with profound pronouncements from Annie and Oliver Warbucks.

After a while, it came to the attention of the owner of the apartment house in which the Holmes lived that Arf had moved in with them, strictly contrary to the rules of the establishment. Arf would have to go, he said.

Joe and Marie are gentle souls. When the man said Arf would have to go, it didn't even occur to them to argue the matter. Neither did it occur to them that Arf would go alone. They went, too. They found a house that suited all three of them, and lived there happily until a few days ago when Arf passed on to that Warm Kennel in the Sky at age 13-plus. To the Holmes, Arf's death was a staggering blow.

So a few nights later I was pleased to see Joe loping through The Washington Post's newsroom, press release in hand. I stopped him to say hello. "I'm glad to see that you have your mind back on business again," I said. "I know how much Arf meant to you."

"Yes, he did," the big man said. "But there's something coming up at the Touchdown Club on Thursday that I just have to get some publicity for because its for two of the nicest people I have ever known -- Frank Harden and Jackson Weaver of WMAL."

"I never heard of either of them," I said.

Joe just ignored me. "They're being honored for all they've done for Children's Hospital," he said.

"Never heard of Children's Hospital, either."

"And your old buddy, Bill Mayhugh, whose all-night program precedes Harden and Weaver, will be the master of ceremonies."

"Don't mention Mayhugh's name to me," I said. "I could have been a rich man today if I had never let him talk me into that first 10-cent golf bet. Is the Harden and Weaver luncheon a closed Touchdown Club affair or is the public invited to attend?"

"The public is invited," Holman said. "Tickets are $8.50 each. the time in noon. The place is the Touchdown Club at 2000 L St. NW., and the phone number for reservations is 223-1542. You ought to write a column telling Harden-and-Weaver fans about this wonderful opportunity to break bread with their idols."

"I'm sorry, Joe," I said. "But I never write plugs for affairs of this kind. There are a hundred luncheons in this town every day."

"Of course," Joe said. "I should have known that. I'm getting very forgetful in my old age, but listen, if you've got a minute I'd like to tell you something that Arf did one day while we were still living in the apartment house."

"I have time," I said, "but first tell me -- do you think Arf would mind if I'd write an obituary on him?"

Joe's eyes twinkled. "Oh, I don't think he'd mind at all," he said. "In fact, we found out right off that Arf got along just fine with newspapers."

I'll bet you that Holman brings home a doggie bag from the Harden and Weaver luncheon, just out of force of habit.