SAN DIEGO, JAN. 29 -- Let's hear it for the Big Guys of America, all of whom, apparently, are here for the Super Bowl.

Not just the players, though God knows they're big enough, like Dempster Dumpsters with blow-dried haircuts, and though the Big Guys certainly like to be around the players, walk past them in hotel lobbies, give them tidy little clenched-fist salutes and say, "Sunday, baby," that kind of thing.

Not just the team owners or coaches, though both the Broncos' Dan Reeves and the Redskins' Joe Gibbs have that square-headed look that Big Guys go for, that mesomorphic bulk that means you swing your arms and legs out from your body a little when you walk.

Not just the sportscasters like Frank Gifford (the class-guy Big Guy) or John Madden (the good-guy Big Guy) or entertainers like all-time Big Guys Bob Hope or Frank Sinatra, who are in town for the game (Big Guys always refer to cities as "towns").

Not just businessmen and civic types like Washington's Andy Ockershausen, general manager of Channel 50, who flew in for the game on Jack Kent Cooke's chartered 747 and was out at the stadium this morning doing a lot of Big Guy kidding around with Dick Fleming, president of the Denver Chamber of Commerce.

Ockershausen opened with a sharp jab about Washington getting a baseball team before Denver does, but Fleming came back with a killer uppercut of Washington Senators trivia: "I remember back to Clint Courtney -- didn't he hit the first home run in Memorial Stadium over in Baltimore?"

"Scrap Iron," Ockershausen said, coming up with Courtney's nickname, but then these Big Guys backed off and established a bet between the Denver Chamber and the D.C. Board of Trade, a week of skiing (symbolized by the red plastic boots Fleming was clomping around in) and dinner for two on the grounds of the Washington Monument, symbolized by a strange little model made out of tallow, which cost Washington a few Big Guy points, no doubt.

Then everybody toured a bunch of tents that have been set up by corporations on the stadium grounds to entertain friends and clients -- tents with chandeliers, in classic American Big Guy style, as it happens.

But you don't have to be rich, famous, powerful or even big to be a Big Guy. It's a whole way of life.

Consider New York firefighter Michael DeGregorio and heavy equipment operator Robert McCusker sitting in the lounge of the Marriott, watching all the Big Guys saying "Heheheheheh" as they shake hands with other Big Guys.

"I've been to every Super Bowl since '76," said DeGregorio, which in itself was not quite enough to qualify him as a Big Guy. But asked how he got tickets, he pointed to McCusker and said: "He knows a guy in the NFL." Big Guys know guys. Especially guys who can get what Big Guys call "tough tickets."

Last night, the Big Guys of the Big Guys gathered at the toughest ticket in town -- the NFL party in an aircraft hangar across the bay from San Diego. Guests rode in past the aircraft carrier USS Ranger, but the ultimate evocation of Big Guy American might didn't come until they got inside the party, where the theme was the all-time Big Guy decade: the '40s.

Though the photographs of Howdy Doody and Amos 'n' Andy near the door might have been unsettling, the '40s theme really got rolling inside with Les Brown's Band of Renown and Tex Beneke's Glenn Miller-style band pumping out the sounds of a lost America. There were pictures of old athletic greats like pitcher Warren Spahn and running back Elroy (Crazy Legs) Hirsch.

The Biggest Guys of all, of course, were the NFL team owners, who got to carouse in their own little compound, sealed off by bodyguards who were outnumbered only by the shrimp at the buffet tables. Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke did great slow spins of delight, throwing hugs, smiles and handshakes at all who came near. Of course, some couldn't get near.

"Carl, we've got to get in there," said syndicated columnist Betty Beale to columnist Carl Rowan, who had flown west in Cooke's plane.

"I don't want to be in there," Rowan said. "I want to go home early."

Surrounding Cooke were such luminaries as Watergate Judge John Sirica and former senator Edmund Muskie.

It was all so huge and splendid that even Big Guys looked like regular guys -- or was it just the fact that they were wearing neckties?

Big Guys are a species found nowhere else in the world. Australia keeps trying, first with Paul Hogan (the " 'Crocodile' Dundee" guy) and Jacko the battery salesman, but America, especially in a town with the Super Bowl, is where the Big Guys are -- these men who, taken as a whole, seem to exemplify a physical ideal that's a combination of Mr. Goodwrench, Spuds MacKenzie, Sonny Jurgensen with his big, cool grin flexing around a Temple Hall cigar the size of that tallow Washington Monument, and the men who used to pose for the underwear ads in the Sears catalogue.

Big Guys are apt to show you a lot of Rolex watches, tasseled loafers, sweaters with the names of country clubs on them, haircuts that look like they came out of a spray can, and chest hair. They tend to have bank credit cards with their favorite team's emblem on them and cars with cruise control. They shoot their jaws out a lot, and their ostrich skin cowboy boots, little jabs at the other Big Guys in the world. They like carrying big lumps of cash, but they like freebies too, a sign of that all-important Big Guy virtue, "class." Big guys who know guys can get a lot of freebies in San Diego -- at a private party at Sea World, they were even giving away free smelt at the dolphin petting pond. How classy can you get? Big Guys like restaurants with varnished fish and LeRoy Neiman paintings on the walls. Their religion is valet parking, and their idea of an afterlife is to have a golf tournament named after them, like the Bob Hope Desert Classic.

Big Guydom is democratic, but only to a point.

Out at the Rancho Bernardo Inn the night before a celebrity golf tournament sponsored by Buick (official car of Super Bowl XXII), Jimmy LaPorte of Elmwood Park, N.J., talks about playing golf with the Mag, pronounced "madge," as in Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper, the all-time class guy, husband of Marilyn Monroe, bigger than all the Big Guys put together.

"See that guy in the red shirt, over there by DiMaggio?" says LaPorte, who owns an industrial supply company. "That guy is an undertaker. We played golf one day with the Mag, and that guy just followed us around, he felt he was lucky to be there with him."

LaPorte knows a lot of Big Guys. "Don Shula {the Miami Dolphins' coach}, we met him in the Via Veneto in Rome, my 10-year-old recognized him from the Super Bowl, runs down the street after him. Shula says, 'I love this kid, he's the only one in Europe who recognized me.' "

And isn't that former Bears great and now actor Dick Butkus drawing a crowd out in the middle of the room, big as an upended couch in a Neiman-Marcus sport shirt and hair slicked back in the Big Guy style from the 1950s, like Robert Mitchum, say? What's remarkable is that most of the guys clustering around him look just like him, the serious bulk, the human-Buick look that's a big-guy specialty.

"Yeah?" says Butkus when confronted with the look-alike hypothesis. "Hey."

And in the purple sweater, over by the wall with former Dolphins strong safety Dick Anderson is Sergio Pereira, county manager of Dade County, Fla., smoking a fairly major cigar. "This cigar?" Pereira says. Big guys always hit you with a little jab but if you wait a few seconds, they seem to get a little embarrassed and then they talk to you, guy to guy. "Every Saturday, I go select the filler and the wrapper for these cigars, we've got a lot of cigar making in Miami, they do it by hand. You smoke cigars?"

Well, once to every man and nation comes a moment to decide. "I'll get you one, you can smoke it later."

Why later? In any case, it turns out to be an exceptionally fine cigar in the Cuban tradition, not quite as much flavor as a Partagas, but not as much bite, either.

None of this, however, is necessary for Big Guydom. Consider the profound self-esteem that surrounds Washington's Lee Cunningham, Buttercup Taylor, Billy Roberts and Napoleon Walton, four buddies who eat a ritual good-luck breakfast of red beans and rice before every Redskins game; who flew out to San Diego with no tickets to the game but utter certainty that they will get them, a sense that their presence is necessary for the Skins' success, and the great electric calm of true Big Guys at the Super Bowl.

"I'm decked out," says Cunningham, a Pentagon employee who has augmented his Redskins sweat suit with a gold-and-diamond Rolex, a gold pendant with the inscription "1 Oz." and a gold bracelet. "That's six ounces," he says.

Football is the ultimate Big Guy game, the Super Bowl is the ultimate football. There's something so elemental about it that Big Guys can't often put it into words.

Walter Waters, an investment counselor who played for the Atlanta Falcons from '76 to '83, stares around a hotel lobby full of Big Guys and says: "You have people who want to be around football players of that size."