AT BOWIE STATE College, they call their football team the Bulldogs, and for good reason. In recent times they've shown a tenacity that would be beyond the abilities of any lesser breed. For when they opened this season, the Bulldogs hadn't won a game in three years. A player who came to Bowie State as a freshman for the 1984 season could have begun his senior year this month without once having tasted victory.

The wonder is that the bunch of them hadn't given up the game altogether. In fact, that's what John Nabinett did. He had come to Bowie State as an all-star from Ballou High, someone who was used to winning. After the team went 0-10 in 1984, he got discouraged and sat out the 1985 season. Last year, he rejoined the squad under a new coach, Dave Dolch, but found himself on the second team. "I had attitude problems," he told a reporter for this paper. ". . . But coach sat me down and talked to me. Looking back, I feel like I grew up about 10 feet since then."

That sort of growing is supposed to be why college kids play these games. John Nabinett and teammates stuck with it through the winless season of '86, and into '87, by which time the losing streak had reached 32 and was bringing Bowie State a certain amount of unwanted national attention. Then a week ago Saturday, against Cheyney State, the Bulldogs had the lead. But with under four minutes to play, Cheyney went ahead, 12-9. John Nabinett, now one of three team captains, took turns with two others advancing the ball to the Cheyney State 17-yard line, and from there a pass play and a run put it into the end zone. Bowie State 16, Cheyney 12.

After the game, the Bulldogs made a hesitant start at singing the school victory song; the trouble was that hardly anyone could remember the words. But a few did, and soon the institutional memory was refreshed with a new rendition of the old tune. This past weekend Bowie State lost again, but who's counting? Can't win 'em all.