OFFICIALS of the National Football League agonized almost up to game time Sunday over whether to let the two conference championship games go ahead on schedule. They should spare themselves a similar exercise before this coming Sunday's Super Bowl: unless there's a catastrophic development in the Persian Gulf or a serious security threat, just play the game.

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue's position last Friday was that if it seemed likely the networks covering the two games were going to preempt football for war coverage, then the games would not be played. Mr. Tagliabue said a decision to cancel would depend not upon commercial considerations but rather on such things as "the sense of proportion and the sense of priority."

Well, football, to give it its due proportion, is an amusement. It's like movies, plays, ballet, opera and horse racing -- all of which have gone on pretty much as usual since the war erupted last week. It's one of the more popular amusements, to be sure, but not essential to the country's morale, although there have been times in the Super Bowl's 25-year history when the NFL and various promoters and politicians seemed to think otherwise, judging by all the flag-waving, presidential phone calls, military flybys and silly "this is war" bluster that have surrounded some of the games.

This Sunday there will probably be a stadium full of people in Tampa who have come to see a football game. If it's really not guided by commercial considerations, then the NFL should let the Bills and the Giants play, regardless of whether all or most the game is likely to go untelevised. That would be a good way for the league to emphasize that this is, indeed, just a game, and also to show that football isn't ruled by television, that it still has some ties (and recognizes some obligations) to the paying customers. As for the rest of the country, we'd miss our annual Super Bowl get-togethers and the fun of seeing the biggest game of the year "live," but it would hardly qualify as one of the greatest hardships of wartime.