Eight years ago this spring, if one of them poked a head out the door, a crowd of reporters and cameramen would gather. If he or she jumped on an elevator in the Capitol, so many people would follow that the cable was in danger of snapping.

They were the members of the House Judiciary Committee, engaged in the historic task of preparing impeachment charges against President Richard M. Nixon. When they began their formal hearings, a rapt nation watched.

But it is one of the ironies of history that few of the 38 men and women who served as Nixon's jurors have seen their own subsequent political careers flourish. Eight of the 38 were defeated for re-election or in bids for other offices within months of Nixon's own departure. Six more have met with subsequent political defeats and eight have retired--voluntarily or otherwise.

The latest two casualties came just last week, when Rep. Robert McClory (R-Ill.) yielded his district without a fight to a younger Republican redistricted into his territory, and Rep. Tom Railsback (R-Ill.) lost renomination to a conservative challenger.

By the end of this year, not more than 13 of the 38 will be left in Congress. Sens. William S. Cohen (R-Maine) and Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) are the only ones who have been able to move to the other side of the Capitol, and Sarbanes faces a fight for re-election. Eleven others are seeking re-election, among them four of the five senior Democrats on the impeachment panel: Chairman Peter Rodino Jr. of New Jersey and Jack Brooks of Texas, Robert W. Kastenmeier of Wisconsin and Don Edwards of California. Also still in the House are three junior Democrats, Reps. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, John F. Seiberling Jr. of Ohio and Charles B. Rangel of New York.

But by the end of the year only four of the 17 Republicans will remain: Hamilton Fish Jr. of New York, Trent Lott of Mississippi, Carlos J. Moorhead of California and Delbert L. Latta of Ohio.

Three alumni are on the bench. William L. Hungate, a Missouri Democrat who retired in 1976, is a federal district judge. Harold V. Froehlich, one of the Republicans defeated in 1974, is a Wisconsin circuit judge. Democratic Rep. George E. Danielson has just been picked for the California court of appeals.

But the surprising thing is how poor a springboard the Watergate fame was to higher office. Four Democrats have failed in their bids for the Senate: Walter Flowers in Alabama, Ray Thornton in Arkansas, Elizabeth Holtzman in New York and Wayne Owens in Utah.

Holtzman recouped by winning election as Brooklyn district attorney, and others have kept a foot in the door of politics or public service. Edward Mezvinsky, the Iowa Democrat who was defeated in 1976, has changed states and become chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. Lawrence J. Hogan, the Maryland Republican who was beaten in the 1974 gubernatorial primary, is now Prince George's County executive and a contender for the senatorial nomination to oppose Sarbanes. Jerome R. Waldie, who was unsuccessful in a bid for the Democratic nomination for governor of California in 1974, now serves on the state's Agriculture Labor Relations Board. Robert F. Drinan of Massachusetts, who left Congress in 1980, now heads the Americans for Democratic Action. Henry P. Smith III, a New York Republican who retired in 1974, is running the Federal Union, Inc., an organization promoting international cooperation.

Academia has claimed some of them. Drinan teaches law at Georgetown, Thornton is president of Arkansas State University at Jonesboro, and Democrat Barbara Jordan is on the faculty of the University of Texas.

Republican Edward Hutchinson of Michigan and Democrat Harold D. Donohue of Massachusetts are retired. Flowers heads the Washington office of an energy firm. Law practices provide the livelihoods for retired or defeated Democrats Owens and James R. Mann of South Carolina and Republicans Charles E. Wiggins of California, David W. Dennis of Indiana, Wiley Mayne of Iowa, and Charles W. Sandman Jr. and Joseph J. Maraziti of New Jersey. M. Caldwell Butler of Virginia will join them after his retirement at the end of this Congress.

But that employment is not available to Joshua Eilberg, the Pennsylvania Democrat, who was defeated in 1978 and convicted of conflict of interest charges. He was disbarred by the Pennsylvania supreme court in 1979.

It is, on the whole, not an extraordinary history. But that is not disturbing. Congress is a representative body. And these representatives--no better or worse than most, as their careers show--stepped up and met their historic responsibility admirably.