It started off as a regular Sunday. My huband awoke at his usual time, got up and put a pot of coffee on the stove.About a half an hour later I staggered out of bed and went downstairs to join him in reading the Sunday paper.

As I always do on a Sunday morning, I took all the supplements and arranged them in the order I like to read them in: Parade first, next the glossy ads from Woodies and Penney's, followed by the drugstore ads and finishing with The Magazine. As I poured my second cup of coffee, I began with the Style sections, worked my way into Business and Financial and closed with the front page. This method of reading the Sunday paper may seem a bit backward, but I've found that by the time I hit the front page I am usually awake enough to comprehend what I'm reading.

After getting dressed and cleaning up the breakfast dishes, I took the roast out of the freezer for Sunday dinner. I hurriedly did the vacuuming and other household chores I had saved up for today, not consciously knowing why I was hurrying, what deadline I was trying to meet.

We had our usual Sunday-noon repast, my husband with his date-nut-raisin yogurt, hard-boiled egg and whole-wheat bread (he believes that good diet and his daily workouts are going to help him look like Arnold Schwartzenegger) and I with my peanut-butter sandwich and bottle of beer (I personally like Pete Rose's body). We cleaned up the crumbs and started the ritual that had been a part of our Sundays since late August. I would gather my mending or other little sewing projects and settle onto the end cushion of the sofa in the den. My husband would get some cheese and put it on a cutting board with a knife and settle into his rocker, feet propped on the ottoman. I'd turn to him as he picked up the TV listings and ask, "Who's playing this afternoon?" He'd read me the lineup, then turn on the tube and settle in for an afternoon of strenuous living-room quarterbacking.

But this Sunday was different. Like that fateful Sunday that comes every February, we had to face our first bout of the year of "Withdrawal Sunday."

For the past five months our Sundays had been built around football as the Pilgrims' had been built aroun church. As in trying to break any habit, the tension and aggravation are sometimes too much to bear.

For a few awkward seconds after settling into our Sunday seats and then realizing that there would be no fourth downs, tackles or cheerleaders in our den today, we looked at each other. Now what do we do, punt?

Every year we have faced Withdrawal Sunday, each year as ill-prepared as the past. Perhaps we should plan our vacation then, leave the country or go camping, anywhere but in our den to look at the naked tube. Oh, sure, the networks try to make up for Withdrawal Sunday: They give us Superstars, or their best oldie movie, but it doesn't help.

What do other people do on Withdrawal Sunday? Certainly we aren't the only two people in the world seated before their TV sets waiting for football season to begin again.

We went to our neighbors' house, only to be greeted at the door by a very upset wife. Harry had refused to admit to himself that football season was over. He was seated in front of his TV set with a can of beer and a bowl of freshly popped corn, waiting for the Dallas cheerleaders to line up in front of the goalposts he was visualizing on his blackened TV screen.

The scene was too depressing. We realized that that could be us in a year or two. We quickly left and went for a long walk; fresh air and exercise are good for you. The walk did do us good, but we were still anxious and somewhat disoriented. The TV was there in den, waiting for us to run in, turn it on and sit in front of it. But the tragic vision of Harry was still fresh in our minds, so we fought the urge.

What about Bob and Marcia? What were they doing? We'd spent many a Sunday afternoon with them enjoying the games. They must be suffering withdrawal, too. We got into the car and drove to their house. From the outside all appeared quiet and normal. As we knocked on the front door, though, we could hear Bob yelling, "Throw it, throw it, you fool!" Oh, God, Bob's worse off than Harry! Marcia opened the door. She appeared calm. The yelling grew louder, "Throw it, throw it!"

She took our coats. We were bewildered by her normal behavior -- she didn't seem anxious or upset. Just then Bob stuck his head out from their living-room door and greeted us.

"Glad you're here. Marcia, get tham a couple of beers. Hurry up, you're missing a great game."

"Oh, my God," I thought, "they've both flipped out. They've OD'd -- they actually think it's still football season."

Marcia brought two more beers from the kitchen and gestured that we follow her into the living room to join Bob.

"It's a great game," she said. My husband and I looked at each other: It was going to be a long, rough afternoon. But we had to help our two friends survive Withdrawal Sunday and return to normal.

As we entered the living room Bob was yelling again, this time something about a bad call. But it wasn't his yealling that caused us to stop short. Were we hallucinating? Had it finally gotten to us? There was a football game on their TV. Yes, it was a game, it was real. But how?

Obviously, our shock was apparent to Bob and Marcia. They quickly helped

"It's all right," Marcia said. "You're not imagining things. There is a football game on TV. You see, Bob discovered a cure for Withdrawal Sunday: He bought a videotape machine and taped all the games. We're reliving the season, every Sunday in our own living room."

Videotaped the games. What an ingenious idea. Bob has actually found a cure for Withdrawal Sunday.

We settled back into our chairs, took a f ew more swallows on our beers and before long we too were yelling at the ref and telling the coaches what to do next. It no longer seemed a cold, dull February ysunday -- it was November again, with a nip in the air, red and gold leaves on the trees and helmets crashing n the tube.