IN THE first quarter of Sunday night's football game in San Diego, with the Redskins trailing by seven points and about to fall behind by 10, one of the TV sportscasters noted that never in the history of the Super Bowl had a team overcome a deficit of seven points or more. Never! It had an awfully final ring to it, as if the iron door of historical inevitability had clanged shut on the hopes of Redskins fans everywhere and it was time to turn off the TV and take the dog for a walk.

But most decided to stick it out just in case, which proved to be not a bad idea. For as the evening went on, other "nevers" began accumulating at a rapid pace. Never, for example, in the history of the Super Bowl had a quarterback with a hurt knee come back on the field to pass for 340 yards and four touchdowns; never had a running back gained 204 yards; never had a team scored five touchdowns in one quarter; and never had offensive and defensive lines gone so quickly from looking so inept to being so dominant as the Redskins' did Sunday evening.

It was, said a local radio sportscaster on the morning after, "a history-type game," which seems as good a way as any to describe what may well be the best moment ever for Washington's favorite sports team. It marked the culmination of many wise moves by the front office, of a brilliant two-thirds of a decade of coaching by Joe Gibbs and of an inspiring postseason performance by just about everyone, including especially the rookie running back, Timmy Smith.

But it's not unfair this week to make a special fuss over Doug Williams, as everyone is. Because, as Post sports columnist Ken Denlinger wrote Monday morning, if Doug Williams had failed, everyone would have failed: "Four times Redskins broke free for certain touchdowns if Williams' arm was strong and true. It was."

This city is rightly proud that Doug Williams was the first black man to lead a team to the championship of pro football, and not just because of his performance on the field, which was sufficient in itself. In his career, Mr. Williams has played for some poor teams and taken some bad raps. He suffered a shattering personal loss when his wife died of a brain tumor. He weathered the ups and downs of this past season with exceptional grace, and responded patiently and intelligently to the unceasing pregame interrogation in San Diego last week.

There was a time when football was seen as a character-building game, a source of moral instruction and an important part of the education of young men. White men, of course; the popular writers of the time who celebrated football heroes in boys' novels never envisioned a Doug Williams as a team's leader. Nor could they have foreseen that one day, in an era when the game had become grossly commercialized, he would be the one best example that football could still on occasion be the sport of gentlemen.