The Rose Bowl looms up like a great vowel, a mouth opened in the shape of an O, a permanent hoot and holler built into the dirt and boulders of the old river bed called Arroya Seca.

Now, on a morning before the game is to begin, its 105,000 seats are empty. Above the lip of the Bowl, the San Gabriel Mountains rise, white in their gullies. Close by, beyond the end zone, the tops of palms tip close, like the heads of curious giraffes.

It is a very long way down to the field itself, and the arcade of aluminum seats slopes down like the runway of a ski jump. How extraordinarily different it is from Washington's RFK Stadium, that tight battlement. The Rose Bowl is wide and shallow and vast, and its air is balmy with ghosts.

From far, far down the empty slopes comes an otherworldly roar, and in the blink of an eye the uncountable seats are filled with phantoms: perhaps the golf-capped, hip-flasked thousands of Jan. 1, 1923, when the University of Pennsylvania whipped Penn State here 14-3 . . . or, on the grass, Knute Rockne, the Four Horsemen, Jim Plunkett, O.J. Simpson . . . There have been so many contests that the Bowl is never empty of memory.

But this roar is the roar of machines. Two teams of four men each, wending through the galleries with gasoline-powered blowers on their backs, sweep the stadium clean with man-made 100-mile-an-hour winds. Up in the press box, where television cameras are being rigged, comes the snap, snap of stapling guns as Redskins and Dolphins banners are fixed in place. In the background is the rustle of cypress leaves in the morning breeze.

There is something ancient about this scene, this stadium, something that primitively explains the enthusiasm of Washington for its team and Miami for its. The explanation is in the power of the field itself. Had there been no Persia, would there have been an Alexander? The stadium is a magnetic force. To sit in its circular empty resonance is to feel that pull.

The seats are many! The turf is well-drained! The television hookups are ready! The parking is ample! The hot dogs await!

To this call, millions will respond. Some will come from Washington today on a one-day charter (five hours in the air; an hour to the stadium; three hours of football; an hour to the plane; almost five hours home; a round trip in one day of more than 5,000 miles). They will come from Miami, too. Here in Pasadena, a few miles northeast of Los Angeles, the counterman of the Lucky Box Char-Broiled Burger on South Arroyo Street will be there too, if his pal can get him tickets. During the time of the game today, toilets will flush across the nation in concert with commercial interruptions of the game, and on the long-lines routing board in Bedminster, N.J., the phone company will know the outcome by the wave of telephone calls generated to and from one city: either Washington or Miami. Losers do not telephone.

Now, in this suspended time before the contest is begun, the men with the blowers depart, disappearing into the 28 tunnels that pierce the sides of the Bowl, and the stadium is silent again. Above, neat stucco houses with red tile roofs gaze down, pinioned into the uncertain hillside. The vast parking lots they overlook are empty. They will begin to fill soon.

What calls from this empty place is spectacle. The Rose Bowl, well-groomed but vacant, is like a natural vacuum that must be filled. On this day, the spectacle will be professional football. In Pasadena in 1903, it was chariot-racing. Inspired by the book "Ben-Hur," drivers in togas sent two-wheeled Roman chariots pulled by four-horse teams speeding around the old Tournament Park here.

But the spectacle of football proved a greater one. In 1922 the first Rose Bowl was built, a horseshoe-shaped stadium that could seat 56,000, about the same as RFK can today. Within six years, its capacity had been expanded to 76,000. In 1932 it jumped to 83,000. In 1949 to nearly 101,000. In 1972 to 105,000. But by 1952, when the first college football game went out in nationwide black-and-white, the real expansion of the spectacle by television had begun.

The shape of the Rose Bowl is an international shape of excitement. It is the shape of the bull rings of Andalusia. Although it is impossible to imagine such a thing at RFK Stadium, here it would not seem strange if a 1,500-pound bull appeared far below to be met by its matador. But the sound of a bullfight crowd, the sound of a soccer crowd in North Africa, the sound of a basketball crowd in a steamy New Jersey gym, differ only in the consonants. Always, when there is excitement, there is the sound of the round vowel.

That is the shape of the Rose Bowl, as it was of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, as it is of the face of the vowel itself and its pronouncer, all in the single round paradigm of spectacle:

O!