SAN DIEGO, JAN. 30 -- With no intention whatever of attending the Super Bowl, Sandy Sterling of Laurel flew here to visit relatives. Somehow, she found herself fighting hours of traffic to reach Jack Murphy Stadium to stare at an empty field and buy more than $300 worth of souvenirs.

That done, she drove out to an obscure suburban post office to have her 50 Redskins postcards stamped with the Navajo Drive cancellation. "Navajo, like Redskins," she said. "Get it?"

Sterling does not understand what supernatural force has compelled her to do these things.

"It's like a tidal wave," said Sterling, a Denny's waitress who is not even a heavy-duty football fan. "Everybody's running for the souvenirs. I run with them. I'm so caught up in the excitement. I want everything. I was here. I love the Redskins!"

Clearly, all sanity has evaporated from both coasts of what previously appeared to be a reasonably coherent superpower in the twilight of the 20th century.

In the final hours before the Super Bowl, it is considered unremarkable for people on the streets of San Diego to walk around with pig snouts attached to their faces.

In Washington, it is considered logical that Giant supermarkets will close at 5 p.m. in observance of a ball game, and that Sutton Place Gourmet in Northwest would offer its customers gold-colored smoked turkey, burgundy-hued glazed ham and a selection of jellybeans in Redskin colors.

This is a time for serious people to don silly costumes, a time for silly rivalries to become the stuff of serious bets.

After a last-minute decision to fly out for the game, Casey Crafton, a dental resident at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, spent today on the Pacific ocean front, watching the surfers and shopping for war paint.

"I got my Redskins boxer shorts, I'm getting my paint," he said. "Got to see the boys."

Madness has set in. The San Diego Marriott, the NFL headquarters hotel which hundreds of fans have transformed into a marketplace for tickets and souvenirs, has been so overwhelmed that its valet parking service started losing cars today. Manager Josef Ruckstuhl stationed himself at the front door, inviting customers to "rent a Hertz and bill me."

At the height of the action late last night, as lobby bartenders served up drinks at a furious pace, a well-dressed woman walked in and silenced the place by repeatedly shouting, "Prepare for the coming economic disaster!"

This went on for fully a minute, until finally, in a rare display of unity, Redskins and Broncos fans united to boo the solitary sentinel out the door.

Money seems to have lost its meaning here. Debbie and Jeff Yeagle of Fredericksburg paid $3,750 for a Super Bowl package including a motel room and end zone seats. Meanwhile, over at Jack Murphy Stadium, Billy Roberts of Washington was perfecting his economical approach to the game, patiently waiting for the bottom to drop from the ticket market.

"I'll be out here at the tailgate parties before the game and these people will be so drunk, they'll give me tickets for less than face value," he said. That leaves Roberts free to spend $200 on souvenirs.

As Redskin fans passed the day at the beach, the zoo or the bar, it sometimes seemed like a college reunion.

"I just met a guy I know from Section 520, Row 9 of RFK," said Dave Reynolds of Annandale, a Redskins season ticket holder since 1964. "Ran into him, right here. That's why you come to the game. Sure you can see better on television. But you got to be emotionally involved."

"The fans add three points to the Redskins' score," said Don Derhammer, who came out from Crofton, Md. Derhammer and his wife were among nearly 100,000 tourists and locals at San Diego's largest fireworks display ever Friday night. Introduced by President Reagan on videotape, the show ended in a massive explosion of thousands of pounds of fireworks. Shimmering gold light fell through the sky as pure green lasers played against the clouds.

It was breathtaking. But Shirley Derhammer, all dolled up in her Redskins wardrobe, seemed disappointed by the riot of orange shirts around her.

"We have the spirit," she said, "but I guess we're outnumbered here."

Appearances can be deceiving. On the Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach this afternoon, Mert Joseph and Pat Weil seemed the quintessential Bronco fans in their glaring orange getups.

"But I'm for the Redskins," Weil assured passing Washingtonians. "My son was a replacement player for the Redskins, and like I told them at work back in Denver, blood is thicker than Orange Crush."

Weil's son, Jack, was a punter for the Redskins during the NFL players strike; he stands to get one more paycheck if they win. He couldn't make it to the game so he gave his tickets to Mom, who says she will switch to Redskins garb by game time.

The two friends spent the 1,100 mile drive from Denver squabbling over their loyalties, Joseph said. But he admitted, "We really can't lose. I'm for the Broncos, but if Jack gets another $9,000, that's okay with me."

There is, of course, no problem with excess Bronco fans back home in Washington, where fashions lean to hog snouts, maroon pants and gold sweaters.

Except, that is, at the law firm of Davis, Graham & Stubbs, a Denver firm whose 19th Street NW office has been torn asunder this week.

The firm's internal newsletter, the Davisgram, announced last week that "it shall be firm policy to support the Broncos." The edict from the home office was adamant: No "displays of emotion" for the Redskins would be tolerated. That included "any humming or whistling of three or more notes from Hail to the Redskins" or "the uttering of any slogan containing the word Hogs."

Davis lawyer Mark Colley, a Redskin fan since childhood in Alexandria, declared the decree a "repressionist document." Lawyer Howard Adler of the D.C. office tried to be nice; he sent Denver a message offering to limit Redskins song humming to twice a day.

Finally, the dispute became a betting matter. If the Redskins win, a top partner in Denver will have to stand in front of his downtown office building wearing Redskins boxer shorts over his suit pants, and the firm will have to run an ad in The Washington Post, asking their D.C. colleagues to "forgive our arrogance for thinking that our Denver Broncos could win." If the Broncos win, the Washington lawyers will accept the indignities.

If split loyalties can strain an office, consider what can happen on the home front. Will Ris, a Denver native who has lived in Washington since 1975, remains loyal to the Broncos. Ris has negotiated a treaty with his 8-year-old son Dylan. The boy gets to root loudly for the Redskins, "and I will root very, very, very quietly for the Broncos," Ris said.

Ris did not cave in merely to a child. His entire family -- including his wife and a 4-year-old -- has adopted the Redskins, leaving Dad with major doubts about his professional abilities. Ris works as a lobbyist.

In a more public way of resolving such disputes, the Greater Denver Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Washington Board of Trade made a wager. If the Redskins win, a board member gets a week in Colorado ski country. If the Broncos win, a Denver business leader gets a week in the capital with dinner at the base of the Washington Monument.

Colorado Gov. Roy Romer was on hand to shake on the bet, but Mayor Marion Barry was not. "He wasn't invited," said Board of Trade representative Andrew Ockershausen.

The mayor has been busy. He was leading Redskins chants at the Hyatt here at 1 a.m. today. And this afternoon, he was at National University for a Redskins pep rally attended by 150 local and D.C. government officials and business people. It was there that someone handed Barry a clipping of the Washington weather forecast, a touchy topic for the mayor, who missed a major storm while at last year's Super Bowl.

The forecast this time included not a hint of snow. And the mayor just laughed.

Staff writers Saundra Saperstein Torry and Lynda Richardson in Washington and Tom Sherwood in San Diego contributed to this report.