It was 15 minutes before the Washington Redskins were to play Detroit last Sunday, and outside the gates of RFK Stadium stood John Ward of Great Falls -- a happy man.

Why shouldn't he be? The Skins, by whose fortunes John lives and dies, seemed to be back on track. Several of John's good friends were going to the game with him. "I really felt great," John recalls.

But first, a chore. Another friend had given John his four tickets to the game because he wasn't going to be able to use them. The friend asked John to sell the tickets to someone in the pregame throng -- for face value if possible, for whatever he could get if not.

John hardly felt like a criminal. "I was just doing a favor for a friend," he says. "I wasn't trying to make a killing. All I wanted was for my friend to make back his money if he could, and for somebody to see the game."

But the police saw it differently. No sooner had John held the four tickets over his head than a police officer walked up and arrested him.

The charge was soliciting on public property. As his friends yelled out that they'd have a beer ready for him when he got back, John was placed in a paddy wagon and driven to a police station in Southwest. There, he forfeited $50 bond, hailed a cab and hightailed it back to RFK. By the time he arrived, the first half was almost over.

"I am a serious Redskins fan," John explained. "The toughest part about all this is that getting arrested meant that we scored 17 points I never saw, and never will see."

Officer Jim Battle of the D.C. police public information branch says John violated a provision that reads: "No person shall sell or offer to sell tickets from the sidewalks, streets, or public spaces anywhere in the District of Columbia for any excursion, theater performance, opera, ball game or any entertainment of any kind."

Jim points out that this law applies to tickets sold at any price, regardless of whether it's greater or smaller than the face value of the tickets. Jim also notes that the key word in the law is "public." "Selling in your home is your thing," he said. "There's no law against that."

But there are no signs outside RFK that warn ticket-sellers about this law, either. Jim says the police sometimes issue warnings through the news media before big concerts and Redskin playoff games. But he agreed that routine warnings are not posted or broadcast outside RFK before regular-season Redskins games.

Certainly, routine warnings should be issued. Just as certainly, there should be a way for the John Wards of this world -- who don't have larceny in their hearts -- to see that their tickets are used rather than wasted.

Can't the Redskins set up a window that would receive surplus tickets just before game time and hand them out (or sell them) to would-be fans on a first come, first served basis?

This town is full of people -- many of them kids -- who would go gaga over the chance to watch the Skins. If there had been a "surplus window," John Ward would not have missed his 17 points -- or his $50.

Marathon runners never seem to have a reason for their passion that makes sense.

"I do it to test myself," some say. But crossword puzzles test you, too -- without causing shin splints, blisters or total exhaustion.

"I do it for the sheer joy of running," others say. Sheer joy? How joyous do marathoners ever look at the finish line?

But at last, there's a 26-miler with a reason that stands up -- even if, at the finish, he might not. He's Jim Chamberlin of Northwest, who runs marathons to raise money for, of all people, his employer.

Jim is in charge of lung disease programs for the D.C. Lung Association. For the last four years, he has entered the local Marine Corps Marathon for DCLA's benefit. Thanks to his efforts, DCLA is more than $7,000 richer.

The 1985 Marine Marathon will be held Nov. 3, and this will be Jim's last time around. "He feels he's getting physically worn out," says DCLA communications director Marisa Sandifer. That's hardly a surprise. By the time the race begins, Jim will have run 1,505 miles since Jan. 1 to train for it. I would have relapsed to beer and pretzels long before. On about Jan. 2, for example.

If you'd like to congratulate Jim -- or what's left of him -- DCLA will hold a party in his honor, beginning at 1 p.m. on race day, near the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, which is the finish line.

And if you'd like to help a devoted guy do his part for a good cause, checks and pledges should be made out to DCLA and sent to 475 H St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20001.

From Ben Harrison of Northwest:

The only thing harder than starting from scratch is starting without any.