The capital is at a critical juncture. I am not talking about the nuclear arms race, tax reform, trade wars, runaway deficits or other such trivia. I am talking about the Big T -- the transition from baseball to football.

Each year, on this particular Sunday, America's sports fans go through a wrenching readjustment, far worse than the end of Daylight Savings Time or sending the last child off to kindergarten or college. Those other landmarks measure nothing more than the flutter of the calendar's turning pages, the passage of the days of our years. The shift from baseball to football is a traumatic lurch from the age of tranquillity to the age of anxiety.

It poisons the political atmosphere, damages dinner-table decorum and generally louses things up -- especially in Washington.

Washington, as you know, does not have a baseball team. That is a crime, but like some other crimes, it does pay. The payoff for Washington in the empty baseball stadium is that everyone is free to root for his or her home-town team.

The denizens of the capital, instead of suffering the psychological isolation that separates them from the nation "beyond the Beltway," are joined in spiritual kinship to the home folks, sharing their enthusiasm for the Tigers, the Twins, the Astros or, in my case, the Cubs.

From spring until fall, Washingtonians feel a mystic unity with the country they are attempting to govern. Federalism is no dead-word concept, but a living reality that is reconfirmed each day as we pore over the box scores of last night's games in Cleveland, Kansas City or San Diego. The news we find there is sometimes good and sometimes bad, but there is a built-in balance of pleasure and pain that allows the city to maintain its spiritual equilibrium. For every loser, there is a winner.

Those of us who are not New Yorkers may wonder why a city so lacking in taste that it is about to reelect Ed Koch as its mayor deserves to have contending teams in both leagues. But our bile is offset by the pleasure of the Mets and Yankees, Dodgers, Royals, Angels and Cardinals fans, to say nothing of the giddy Canadians and their Blue Jays. The emotional accounts balance.

And then comes football, and things go to hell. Washington has a football team, as you might have heard, called the Redskins. Hail to the Redskins.

There is no room for pluralism or dissent or diversity where Redskin fandom is concerned. Even the American Civil Liberties Union office requires its employees to pledge allegiance to the Hogs and pray for John Riggins' soul.

There is no separation of powers either. On any Sunday that the Redskins are at home at RFK Stadium, leaders of the executive, legislative and judicial branches commingle shamelessly in the owner's box.

There is no bonding between Washington and America during the football season. It's us against the world -- and especially against cities like San Francisco and Chicago and Miami, which we otherwise esteem.

The city's spirits rise or fall with the Redskins. The city's eyes open and close on the Redskins. Tomorrow night, when the Redskins open against the hated rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, no scramble-phone calls will be made, no top-secret briefing papers read.

Between 9 p.m. and midnight, while that game is on TV, the whole city will be as distracted as the president. The Russians could kidnap George Bush at 9:01 p.m. and no one -- probably not even Barbara Bush -- would notice until midnight. No work will be done between 9 a.m. and noon on Tuesday, either, because all of us will be fully occupied analyzing and replaying the Monday night game.

That is one cost of football replacing baseball, but it is by no means the most serious. The Redskins have the bad habit of winning. Two of the last three years, they have been in the Super Bowl and each year, they participate in the post-season playoffs. This strange pattern wreaks psychological havoc on baseball fans, whose psyches are carefully tuned to adjust for failure. We can't cope with success. We get weird.

That is why Congress must adjourn at least three weeks before the end of the National Football League regular season and must not return until after the playoffs.

If the members of Congress were around while the Redskins were performing their late-season heroics, why, they might suffer a seizure and balance the budget on a bipartisan basis and carry Ronald Reagan down Pennsylvania Avenue on their shoulders. You can see why football is such a threat.