THAT STORY AT the firehouse sort of told it all: here was a bunch of Washingtonians who spend most of their waking hours and a few of the other kind, too, in the same work place, and whose special moments of togetherness, pride and relaxation revolve around an intense passion for the Redskins. While others in every corner of Greater Washington were hanging banners, helmets and Bears-in-effigy and plotting ways to get to Palo Alto for the Super Bowl, the members of Engine Company No. 8 in Southeast had their own little outburst of Redskins spirit -- a special sign mounted on the firehouse. On it was the department logo, which was fine, but with a Redskins hog head painted in the center, which was not. Before the game, the sign had to go. And by game's end, so did all hopes of a longer Redskin season.

Now, we're not prepared to state that had that sign been allowed to stay up, the 'Skins might have prevailed. But the acting deputy fire chief who called to order that the sign be covered or taken down must not recognize high morale when he sees it. As for matters of taste and decorum, it is a well-known fact across most of the country by now that the hog is not a symbol of derision in this town.

So no hail to that chief. But a solid one still for the team that even in defeat captures the heart of this region as nothing else quite does. As we keep noticing, the Redskins, under the direction of a genuinely interested owner and a canny gentleman coach, are an attractive band of intelligent athletes. Their contributions to Greater Washington extend well beyond the field or the season. This year as last, they at least should know that even in disappointment, their town can offer them thanks.