TODAY IS IT -- puff-up-and-strut time for the "baddest" band in the land, live as can be from the 1981 Tournament of Roses in Pasadena. Surely you know of what we speak, because it has been the best local story of the last year: it is all about a groundswell of community pride and support that rallied around the 160 talented young men and women in the award-winning Cardozo High School Band and sent them on a dream trip to the Rose Bowl.

"Baddest," for any of today's estimated 125 million television viewers around the country who may not be up on urban high school lingo, is your basic highest rating -- and to watch is to understand why. Cardozo's "Crowd-Pleasin' Band" is the product of years of hard work under the inspired guidance of director Robert Gill; it has meant hours of serious practice, before classes, during lunch periods, after school, in the evenings and on weekends. It also has meant music scholarships and a well-earned sense of importance for its members -- young, gifted black achievers, most of whom live in and around the riot-scarred corridor of 14th Street, lower Shaw and other less-than-fancy neighborhoods.

Parents, friends and fellow students have worked furiously to raise money for the band, which grew from a cluster of students in windbreakers and white pants to star performers in the Bicentennial parade on the Fourth of July '76. This and other knockout performances led to the Rose Bowl invitation and the biggest challenge -- raising the money to outfit transport and cover the band members for the trip. The response was nothing short of beautiful: the whole metropolitan area -- every corner of the community -- coalesced for the cause and came up with the necessary $119,000 to do it right.

That the band members will do it right today is without question -- and Washington will well up with pride and gratitude for the spirit they have brought to this city. We love them.