Football is war. Comic George Carlin pointed this out 20 years ago: A squad(ron) of helmeted men acquires territory, advances ground. Bombs are thrown. Blitzes are launched.

And now -- the ultimate turnabout -- war is football.

George Bush says James Baker was "stiff-armed" by Tariq Aziz. At a press conference, UPI's Helen Thomas asks if any peace initiatives were seen as an attempt to make an "end run" around the U.S. military. A Scud missile, it is reported, was "intercepted" by a Patriot.

Pilots taking off from Saudi Arabia were just "like the Dallas Cowboys football team. They weren't a real emotional team," said base chief maintenance officer Col. Ray Davies. And after leading an air attack over Iraq on Thursday, Lt. Col. Don Kline, commander of the 27th Tactical Fighter Squadron, said: "We had one good morning. You sting 'em quick, you're winning 7-0 but ... you get overconfident and they beat you."

And you can watch it on TV.

No-Win Situation

Good news: Iraq cannot win, on cardboard.

The game is called Gulf Strike, or to be exact, Gulf Strike With Desert Shield, and it's been devised by Baltimore-based Avalon Hill, the leading maker of commercial war games. The biggest seller since Dr. Ruth's Game of Good Sex, the Desert Shield game is sold out , but more copies are supposed to be shipped to storesMonday.

"The Americans overwhelmingly win," says Jack Dott, a company spokesman. "The game is heavily favored toward the Americans. This is more of a simulation than a game."

Avalon Hill originally put out Gulf Strike in 1983, based on the Iran-Iraq War, but this fall it was modified to allow players to simulate the current conflict between the U.S.-led allies and Iraq.

This isn't a game like Monopoly, in which one player ends up owning all the properties, or Risk, in which one player conquers every square inch of the board, including Kamchatka. Victory in Gulf Strike has a flexible definition. The American player may decide that only a certain number of casualties, or a certain duration of the war, is acceptable; failure to meet those goals would mean a defeat of sorts. But there's no doubt about who is going to win on the battlefield.

"If you have a very competent Iraqi player in the game, versus a very incompetent American player, you could deny the Americans a political victory," says Mark Herman, a Pentagon consultant who designed the game for Avalon Hill.

Harmon won't talk about his Pentagon consulting work, other than to say that officials there are very much interested in war games. He says that a smart player definitely uses air strikes before going in on the ground.

"Bayonet to bayonet, Iraqis are tough, and you don't want to fight them that way."

Impulse Buy Military surplus stores in the Washington area reported a run on gas masks yesterday following Thursday's televised reports -- later proven false -- that chemical weapons had exploded in Israel.

"One lady -- she was really in a panic," said Antonio Flores, manager of the Super Surplus Store in Bethesda. Flores said his store received a large number of calls Thursday night after newscasters were seen wearing gas masks.

Gas masks at Annandale Surplus "are almost gone" because of a sudden rush in sales, said store owner Conway Thorne yesterday morning. "People are putting survival kits together."

The masks range from $20 to $80. If you can find them.

Helpful Hints

At the federal courthouse in Washington, U.S. marshals have issued helpful hints on what a person should do if he or she handles a bomb threat over the telephone:

1. Try to keep the caller on the line long enough to trace the call and to obtain further information.

2. Record in writing or by recorder the exact words of the caller. Attempt to determine the exact location of the bomb, the type of device, its appearance and the detonation time.

3. Attempt to determine the sex, age and mental attitude of the caller, the reasons for placing the bomb.

4. Note any accent or peculiarity of speech, which may help identify the caller, as well as any background noise that may provide a clue to the caller's location.

5. Ask the caller, "Who is calling, please?" The caller may unthinkingly reply.

Sure.

("Yasser Arafat here.")

Also contributing to this report were staff writers Martha Sherrill, Steve Bates and Tracy Thompson.