For three hours yesterday afternoon, most streets and stores of Washington stood strangely silent as the city turned its collective attention to vanquishing the cursed footballers from Dallas.

The White House put a lid on all news just before the opening kickoff, and the Secret Service huddled around a press-room television set. Shoppers in a Chevy Chase Safeway who had been six-deep in the check-out lines suddenly disappeared. The emergency room at Arlington Hospital, busy all morning, emptied of sick people. At Lorton Reformatory, 1,237 inmates crowded around 25 TV sets and yelled as one. There was quiet concentration in suburban homes.

"No one's having parties for this one," said one Bethesda man. "It's much too important."

When it was finished, when the Redskins had rolled 31-17 over the Texas interlopers who dared call themselves "America's Team," Washington erupted with joy.

Tens of thousands of jubilant fans spilled out of RFK Stadium to a symphony of horns, cowbells and sirens. Downtown, car horns honked amid yells of "Go Get 'Em, Hogs." In Metro subway stations, fans screamed and stomped their feet, heaping verbal abuse on isolated but unyielding Dallas fans.

Sleet and snow began falling almost as soon as the game ended, prompting one fan outside RFK to point heavenward and exclaim, "Look, even the angels are throwing confetti."

In Georgetown, Redskins rooters drunk with victory poured into the streets. Some played football at the intersection of Wisconsin and M streets, throwing soft foam balls to each other. Redskin pennants waved above the bumper-to-bumper traffic. Some people, painted up like Indians, rode on top of their cars and trucks, cheering into the sleet.

Police, anticipating that the crowds would grow more exurberant as the night progressed, sent in reinforcements from precincts throughout the city, including those specially trained in crowd control.

By midnight, police reported about two dozen persons had been arrested for disorderly conduct and many others had been arrested for driving while intoxicated.

The informal center for the festivities remained in the heart of Georgetown at Wisconsin and M streets NW throughout the night as clusters of fans gathered on each corner and sometimes blocked the intersection altogether. Police said they expected that many more fans would join that crowd as bars in the area closed early this morning.

"Most of the people couldn't care less what happens in Pasadena where the Redskins will play next Sunday in Super Bowl XVII . Beating Dallas is what's important," said Mike Kipp, manager of the Market Inn on E Street SW, a favorite watering hole for Redskins fans since the 1930s.

Thousands of people in this city of the highly educated and the strait-laced headed for bars.

"We are just three PhD's and one master's degree. We'll get drunk," said David Mabon, a historian for the State Department who was walking side by side with another historian, a defense analyst and an editor.

At the Hawk and Dove Restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue, Redskins supporters stood on tabletops and chairs in the bar to sing "Hail to the Redskins, Hail Victory, Braves on the Warpath, Fight for Old D.C."

The day that ended with jubilation began, for some, with the jitters. Dallas, after all, had beaten the Redskins six times in a row and handed Washington its only defeat this season.

"I had to bring my tranquilizers with me," said Dale Summerbell, who had to postpone his football libations at the Market Inn. "I'm going to take one before the game and won't even be able to drink before the second half."

Some fans simply refused to let their business get in the way of watching the Redskins.

The Alexandria City Council, two hours into its monthly Saturday meeting, was struck with a paralyzing case of Redskin fever. Without explanation or apology, the council recessed for two hours starting at kick-off time.

Angus Olsen, executive director of the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, had had to give up two game tickets to attend the meeting. But he didn't seem to mind the recess, having brought a radio and headset with him to the meeting.

Council member Donald Casey had ducked out two hours earlier, missing his first council meeting in two terms of office. "Urgent business in Washington. Front row, balcony," he said as he disappeared from City Hall.

Outside RFK Stadium yesterday, scalpers showed up from as far away as the West Coast trying to make a fast buck. They were asking as much as $100 a ticket, but those prices declined steadily as a growing roar from the stadium announced that the game was already under way. Five minutes into the first quarter a man who said he had flown out from San Francisco to buy tickets and sell them at inflated prices was still trying to break even.

Two students from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., who had driven all night in hopes of getting a seat at RFK, paid nearly $100 for two grandstand tickets, which they purchased only a few feet from D.C. police officers.

"After a few beers, you'll do just about anything," said Dennis Allory.

Among those who couldn't get inside the stadium yesterday was John Mann, an American Bell Company employe from Burke, Va. He brought a TV set to the grassy mall outside RFK so he could watch his team with the crowd noise as backdrop.

"I was here 10 years ago, right in front of that stadium," said Mann, referring to the 1972 NFC championship game when the Redskins also drubbed the Cowboys. The score that day was 26-3.

"You get more spirit here than you do in a room somewhere," said Mann, who drew a crowd of rubberneckers to his six-inch screen.

Yesterday was not a pleasant day in Washington for those who professed faith or financial interest in the Cowboys.

At the Metro bus barn at 14th and Kennedy streets NW, one wayward Dallas fan flashed $30 and asked: "Any true believers? I got something here says you ain't got no faith in them 'Deadskins.' "

Two men jumped for the bet, one holding a chicken wing in his mouth as he dug into his pockets for money. "Don't make me have to break your turkey neck to get my money when my team wins," announced a fan who wouldn't disclose his name.

In Adams-Morgan, in the Carlos Gardel Restaurant, Hector Rodriguez struggled to understand the game that transfixed the city. He knew about football from his days in Mexico. But this was different. So much more throwing and so little kicking.

With about seven minutes left in the game, it apparently all came together for him. Cowboy substitute quarterback Gary Hogeboom was attempting to pass, but it was blocked and intercepted by defensive tackle Darryl Grant, who ran for a touchdown. "Man, that's bad," exclaimed Rodriguez. When Redskin fans stared at him, fire in their eyes, wondering what he meant, Rodriguez explained confidently:

"That means good."