Black Washington businessman Calvin Rolark, who can remember when the Redskins were the only team in the league without a black player, used to go to the stadium to root for "anybody but the 'Skins." But this week he's headed for San Diego to pull for his home team.

Albert Preston, a black school administrator who will be watching the Super Bowl game at home, bought his Redskins season tickets the year the team integrated. He has been a proud fan ever since.

The Washington Redskins, once a source of racial division here, now unify a region increasingly marked by diversity. At least 16 times a year, blacks and whites, urbanites and suburbanites, the New Right and the old Left put their differences aside and root for the Redskins.

Perhaps it's just that Washington loves a winner. Or that weary from the wars of the week, its citizens yearn for something on which to agree. Or maybe, in a place where the industry is politics and picking the wrong side can end your career, rooting for the Redskins is the only risk-free game in town.

"It surely is a unifier," said Roger Wilkins, a George Mason University professor and civil rights activist. "It unifies white and black, rich and poor . . . . For a moment everybody is focused on the team and people are slamming each other on the back in ways that class and racial differences would preclude in most other settings."

The Redskins may be this region's common denominator. They are the talk of Joe's Unisex Barber Shop in Landover and Bill Casey's BP station in the Middleburg hunt country. On Sunday afternoons, local television screens are tuned to one thing, whether in the saloons of Georgetown or Mitch Snyder's homeless shelter on Second Street NW.

Few seem immune to the Redskins' powers of unification.

Bob Beckel, Walter Mondale's one-time campaign manager and now a political commentator on television, first consorted with Republicans -- and found them to be human -- at a Washington Redskins game. Beckel was in the midst of the 1984 presidential race when he stepped into a box at RFK Stadium and was suddenly surrounded by Republicans.

"My skin began to crawl," Beckel recalls. "But once the game started, we found ourselves high-fiving each other . . . . Any other place we would have been in a serious brawl."

What the Redskins join together, even distance cannot divide. Montgomery County lawyer Robert Linowes recently found he had something in common with a store clerk in Beverly Hills, Calif. When he asked her to send a package to his Chevy Chase home, she announced, "Hey, I'm from Fairfax. But I guess we're both from Redskins country."

And the Redskins transcend more than geography. "There is no question that when you start talking Redskins, the color factor goes out the window," said Ben Dudley, news director of WOL radio. "Either you're a Redskins fan or you ain't."

It hasn't always been that way.

Ask almost any Washingtonian who is male, over 40 and black, and he can talk about the Redskins of the 1950s. Pete Crawford says he hears it all the time in his barber chair at Joe's. "You mention the Redskins," says Crawford, "and they say, 'Hmphh, I remember when,' and then the story starts."

In those days, there was no team in Atlanta. No Miami Dolphins. No Dallas Cowboys. And then-Redskins owner George Preston Marshall took advantage of the void. He built a radio and television network that carried his team deep into Mobile, Ala., and Memphis, and billed the Redskins as "the team of the South."

In Washington, a segregated city itself then, the fans came to the games at old Griffith Stadium to wave flags that were Confederate and root for players who were white.

Through the 1940s, only a handful of black players were in the National Football League. But in the 1950s, teams began to recruit black athletes, and many of them became stars. There was Jim Brown in the Cleveland Browns backfield, and Lenny Moore with the Baltimore Colts. Other teams opened their rosters, too. All except Washington.

Dudley, then a child of 11 in Greenville, N.C., remembers watching the Redskins on TV. "They had no black players, and that was a sore point among middle-class blacks in the South," he said. That's why Dudley's father didn't like them.

Dudley had his own reasons: "They were losers. The only question about the outcome was, how bad are they going to get beaten."

Some blacks boycotted the games. Former D.C. Council chairman Sterling Tucker, then new to the District and head of the Washington Urban League, remembers carrying homemade protest signs outside Griffith Stadium.

Others relished the games. Rolark said he and his friends would go to the stadium when the Redskins played teams with top black players. Then, said Rolark, they'd root for the opponents, "hoping that they'd beat the crap out of the Redskins."

By 1961, the Redskins were the only team in the league with no blacks, and Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich had taken to writing that their colors were "burgundy, gold and Caucasian."

That was the year they moved to RFK, and the year the federal government, which owned the stadium, threatened eviction, if Marshall didn't recruit blacks.

That was the year Marshall traded for Cleveland Browns halfback Bobby Mitchell, who was black. And that was the year "when blacks started to pour to the stadium, after word hit that Bobby was there," Rolark recalled. "He was a role model, an image maker . . . . He was our Jackie Robinson."

Preston bought his ticket in 1961. "I felt I was being represented out there, with someone to look up to," he recalled. "It did make a difference." Tucker and others bought season tickets, too. Lucky for them. On Oct. 9, 1966, the stadium was sold out for the season. It has been ever since.

There are some who will never forget the old days. "We get the diehards," said WHUR radio sportscaster Glenn Harris."They wouldn't root for the Redskins if they went to the Super Duper Bowl. But even some of the hard-liners are easing over now that {black quarterback} Doug Williams is playing."

In a recent Washington Post-ABC News national survey, 61 percent of the black fans interviewed said they would root for the Redskins in the Super Bowl. Another 36 percent said they favored Denver, while the remainder said they had no favorite.

Some Washingtonians trace the region's Redskins love affair to 1969 and the arrival of the legendary Vince Lombardi. "When Lombardi put together a winning season . . . and then George Allen came {as coach} and put us on the map," said former Redskin Larry Brown, "that was the point when the city and team came together."

Others say the region loves the Redskins even when they lose, and point to deeper psychological reasons.

The Rev. A. Knighton Stanley, of Peoples Congregational Church in the Petworth neighborhood in Northwest, said so much of the area's identity is tied up with being "the seat of the federal government . . . and we share that with the nation. But the Redskins are unique. They are local. They are ours."

Or perhaps they offer the only harmless cheerleading this city's professional partisans can find. Ann Lewis, former political director of the Democratic National Committee, said it is the "one form of partisanship . . . that you don't have to defend at parties. If my presidential candidate drops the ball in a debate, I have to defend him. But if one of the Redskins drops the ball, everyone consoles each other. It's quite a refreshing change."

Lawyer Stanley Brand believes that this city has so many "tension points, Democrats vs. Republicans, ins vs. outs, Congress vs. the executive, private sector vs. government, there is always a risk in choosing sides. The nice thing about the Redskins, is that there's no downside risk."

With so much in their favor, the Redskins make for some pretty strange bedfellows. Feuding restaurateurs Duke Zeibert and Mel Krupin, who haven't spoken in years, sit six seats apart at RFK and root for the Redskins. U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova and D.C. Mayor Marion Barry are both big fans. Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.), the District's nemesis in Congress, has season tickets and figures the team should be called "the Virginia-Maryland-Washington-Baltimore Redskins."

New Right leader Paul Weyrich says he ended up in a friendly chat in the Annandale Giant store with a young, liberal couple before the Vikings game two Sundays ago. The couple "was damning" Ronald Reagan and Fawn Hall, he recalled.

"My blood was boiling, my knuckles were white, and I was just about to intervene, when the checkout person said something about the Redskins," said Weyrich. "I forgot everything, and we all started to talk."

Says Dudley: "The Redskins are not going to eliminate the differences between people. But for a moment they do bring us together . . . and maybe it can be expanded to an hour, a day or a week. It's a start."