Few strikes have yielded so many paradoxes as that of the National Football League Players Association: 1) striking players reviling their nonunion replacements outside the stadiums while depending on the "scabs" to win the football game for the sake of the standings; 2) the Teamsters lining up in solidarity with millionaire athletes; 3) the management of several teams (i.e., the L.A. Raiders and San Francisco 49ers) urging would-be strikebreakers to go back to the picket line in the interest of maintaining team unity; 4) NBC-TV sportscasters Bob Costas and Frank Deford aligning themselves with the strikers, criticizing the nonunion games and not so subtly encouraging viewers not to watch, while paying little heed to the fact that NBC's own NABET technicians have been on strike for several months.

Perhaps the most unexpected paradox of all, however, was that a ragtag group of castoff football players could demonstrate something profound about the nature of sport.

While the replacement players had a variety of motives for playing Oct. 4, notable among them severe economic need, the same overriding theme emerged in interviews with them: the belief that they could perform up to a certain level of excellence and the intense, even anguished, desire to prove that to all doubters. These hapless, down-on-their-luck, alienated (or, in many cases, unemployed) workers certainly embodied the essence of sport: the setting of a goal in defiance of the odds and the summoning of all one's resources to reach that goal, if only for one afternoon.

Given their lack of familiarity with one another, the absence of preparation time and the bizarre atmosphere of the games, the performance of the Redskins' replacement team (as well as those of the Seattle Seahawks, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers and others) was not just good -- it was phenomenal. One couldn't help being moved by the elation of these players in postgame interviews. More than pride, they gave a sense that they had been vindicated as human beings. I suspect that they far exceeded their own idea of what they could accomplish -- another fundamental feature of sport.

This leads me to the final paradox: while I never again would like to see such a team line up for the Redskins, I believe the game deserves to go down as one of the most memorable ever played.

JEFFREY ROWAN Washington