THE CAMPAIGN to keep the Caps had been drifting in the August dog dogs, but yesterday it shook off the torpor and bounded forward like a greyhound with the vision of a rabbit gleaming in its eye. Well, pretty much. Four Washington-area businesses--Hecht's, the Washington Toyota dealers, Ogden Food Service Corporation (the Capital Centre concessionaire) and The Washington Post--undertook to guarantee a sellout of four of the first five games. This puts owner Abe Pollin near shooting distance of one of the major conditions, a sellout of the first 10 games, that he has set to keep the Washington Capitals playing hockey in Largo. His deadline is two weeks from today, which is cutting it awfully fine, considering that training camp opens in September and the season itself on Oct. 9.

Now that four businesses have recognized in a most tangible way the value of a National Hockey League franchise to their own operations and to their community, cannot at least six more come to center ice? A bit of boosterism is at work here, and we think it is a fine thing. The Caps are not--not yet, anyway--a great hockey team, although we are cultivating our private garden of hopes. It is, however, great to have the Caps in town. To lose the Caps? That would be sad--and unthinkable. Companies may perceive different degrees of direct financial interest in a hockey team, but they should be able to share an understanding of the importance of a diverse and zesty public life for the area as a whole.

It is out of the question to keep expecting one public-spirited owner to carry the full load of the Caps. Abe Pollin has reported finding at least four other investors who are prepared to share the risks. But he needs, in addition to the early sellouts, a hefty sale of season tickets to individual fans, a rent reduction (in the works) and a county tax concession (hoped for). The real game clock is ticking, and it runs out Aug. 20.