put 10 area strangers in a room and if they are all sports-minded, one thing eight of them will share is an interest in the Washington Redskins.

The football team's popularity is apparent to those who join in conversations in restaurants, on buses, or even in offices where the conversants are duty-bound to be talking about something else.

A Washington Post telephone survey of area residents 16 years old and older confirmed the prevalence of Redskin mania and showed what the television networks have known for some time, that pro football is by far the nation's capital's favorite past-time.

Furthermore, the survey also showed that the Redskins' sometimes controversial coach and general manager, George Allen, is immensly popular with the great majority of fans.

Despite the Redskin's winning records under Allen, they have reached the Super Bowl only once - and lost. Allen has been criticized for failure to win the big games, for wanton expenditure, for trading away draft choices and for emphasis on dull play. [PARAGRAPH ILLEGIBLE] be rehired or whether a new coach should be sought. While there was a slight falloff of support for Allen in response, to that question, nevertheless three of every four said Allen should be kept on, and only one in five said he should be let go.

Except for a slight edge to basketball among young blacks, football stood alone as the favorite sport in the area, regardless of income, education, sex residence or political preference.

Football ranked No. 1 among 45 per cent of the 1,017 people interviewed, while basketball was a distant second at 16 per cent. Others, in order, were baseball 13, tennis 6, hockey 4, soccer 3, boxing, auto racing, golf and horse racing 2 each, and track and field (ITA, where are you?) and bowling 1 each.

Football was listed as one of the three favorite sports of 82 per cent outdistancing basketball (60 per cent) and baseball (44 per cent).

Football "widows," cast in cartoons as anguished by the loss of male companionship to touchdown mania from August to January, displayed only a modicum of bereavement. A solid 37 per cent of female respondents called football their favorite sport, compared to 51 per cent among males.

The survey, however, which was aimed at guaging interest in and support for professional sports among residents of Washington and the close in Maryland and Virginia suburbs, did not include all women, or all men either, so there may be an untapped core of football haters out there.

The first question asked was whether a person had attended any professional sports contest in the past 10 years. Those who said they had not - some 35 per cent of the more than 1,600 people originally contacted - were not interviewed further, and the great majority of that group were women.

Among women who were included in the survey, many who did not select football listed their favorite sports as tennis, ice hockey, golf and, among black women especially, basketball.

A surprising factor, considering the difficulty in getting tickets to Redskin home games, was the large number of Persons who said they have seen profootball games in person.

Fourof five males surveyed, and two of three females, said they had attended at least one game. If those who say they have not gone to any professional sports contests in the past 10 years are included, then it appears that almost half the close in Washington-area people 16 years old or older have attended at least one pro football game. Some may have gone to games away from Washington, but there seems little doubt that the great bulk have gone to see the Redskins play in RFK Stadium.

A total of 2.4 per cent of the respondents said they attended 10 or more games a year. That would indicate that about half of RFK Stadium is occupied by persons who attend almost every game, with the other half taken by those using a ticket only occasionally, either as part of a group ownership plan, using company tickets or utilizing unwanted tickets for less attractive contests.

While all sports fans indicated a preference for watching in person, rather than a television, there was an unusually high percentage of football fans who preferred TV, probably because of that medium's refinement of the sport's intricacies, via instant replays and instructional aides.

Hockey fans, in contrast, had the lowest TV affinity, possibly because television generally has shown itself incapable of transporting that sport's finer points to the screen.

The support for George Allen cut through every political, economic and social group surveyed. Even though Allen has been associated with Republican causes, he received just as much backing from Democrats. His status was highest among older persons and among those with less education, but it was still strong among those younger and better educated.

A significant item was the preponderance of excellent ratings given Allen by older people and those who have lived in the area more than six years. Perhaps accustomed to losing teams in the past, they appear delighted by Allen's record as a winner. Or, perhaps, older people, who are generally more conservative than the young, respect Allen's disciplined approach to football and his own essentially simple and rigid lifestyle.

At any rate, while those of all ages rate Allen favorably, there is a sharp distinction by age among those giving Allen the most favorable, or "excellent" rating:(TABLE) Age(COLUMN)Per Center Rating Allen's Group(COLUMN)Performance as Excellent 16-25(COLUMN)33 per cent 26-34(COLUMN)37 per cent 35-50(COLUMN)48 per cent 51 or older(COLUMN)55 per cent(END TABLE)

Cross-referencing the Allen questions with the voting for all-time favorite Redskin produced the information that Mike Thomas fans are the most anxious to have Allen fired and rate the coach lower than the others. This is, perhaps, a reaction to the young star running back's current contract negotiations.

No such finding occurred among the many who listed Sonny Jurgensen as their favorite Redskin, despite Jurgensen's retirement having been forced, at least in part, by Allen.

Jurgensen, for one, was not at all surprised by the fact that fans apparently refused to take sides between him and Allen. The fans are knowledegable, Jurgensen said, "they know who should be playing and who shouldn't; they know who should be throwing and who shouldn't . . . and they know that George Allen has been a winner."

As in every survey of this sort, there are anomalies. Seven per cent of those who rated Allen's performance as poor wanted to keep him on as coach; 25 per cent of those who rated him as excellent or good wanted to let him go and get a new coach.

NEXT: Who likes what?