Should the professional football season get off the ground, Joanne Ham, wife of Pittsburgh Steelers' linebacker Jack Ham, wants women to know they will not be alone as football widows. Here, she says, are the telltale signs:

* "Pets lost under leaves piled up on the lawn.

* "Beer delivery trucks automatically honking when they pass your house.

* "Children testing fathers' inattentiveness by hanging old Christmas decorations off their ears."

Ham's suggestions: "Acceptance . . . work on being understanding. Join 'em -- many women don't get involved because they just don't understand the game."

But the true football widow has long ago rejected those possibilities and must find solace in her last two suggestions:

1. "Indulge yourself." Tea at the Four Seasons, a champagne brunch with a friend followed by a movie the Football Fan has refused to see, matinees at the Kennedy Center, museum trips, antiquing tours of the nearby countryside with friends, followed by a sherry and biscuits. (And the children have a built-in, if inattentive baby sitter.)

2. "Entertain." Many women cringe at the thought. There is The Football Fan in the living room, eyes fixed on the screen, emitting an occasional grunt, stumbling into the kitchen for another beer, letting loose a happy roar when his team scores a touchdown.

"I wouldn't dream," says one woman, "of inviting people over during a football game. All the men gravitate to the TV set."

But that is just the point. Football Sundays are the ideal time to entertain the couples you like only half of.

The half you don't like will disappear to join your mate in glazed appreciation of an endless blitz. Set out potato chips and pretzels for them, and for your side, a formal luncheon, your best linen and silverware.

Or rent the video-cassette player and show a weepy, 1930s movie in the dining room. Or pop popcorn, or make fudge.

Punt.