The Heisman Trophy, going to the nation's outstanding college football player, will be presented tonight as the high point of an hour-long television special beginning at 10 o'clock. Costarring with the hunk of metal will be Leslie Uggams, Connie Stevens, Elliott Gould and O. J. Simpson. They'll sing and dance and say funny things.

Really.

I'm atwitter with anticipation.

For 41 seasons, the Downtown Athletic Club of New York City has presented the Heisman at a banquet a week after announcing the results of balloting by sportswriters and sportscasters around the country. The trophy may be the most recognized individual award in sports. Say "Heisman" and you're saying "the best college football player alive."

The old righthanded philosopher, Satchel Paige, warned us. "Don't look back, somebody may be gainin' on you." So it's probably silly to fly off in a blue funk over tonight's public despoiling of the Heisman. The people entrusted with the Heisman's perpetuation say this TV show is progress. Maybe it will be, and maybe I'm silly to knock progress.

"Schmidt," said Donald J. Schmidt, coming on the telephone.He's the chairman of the Heisman Trophy committee and he would answer some questions.

"The majority of our club members are all in favor of the TV show," Schmidt said. "And we have 22 former winners in town and by their presence they seem to be saying it's the right thing to do, that we should share the award with the nation.

"With the number of voters we have (more than 1,000), the Heisman is pretty well known already. But this will further define it."

Some reports said the Downtown Athletic Club was paid $164,000 for lending its trophy to the boob tube.

"That figure is high," Schmidt said. "And the money factor is quite minimal when you figure our agency's fee, expenses and the many, many people we're hosting."

Schmidt acknowledged that some newspaper stories have objected to this Heisman humiliation.

"Most haven't been that favorable," he said. "Eactly why, I don't know. Some stories have compared it to the Miss American show."

That's because the winner will not be announced until 18 candidates - three in each of six position categories - have been introduced. Then the top three vote-getters will be announced. And, finally, the Heisman winner.

Really.

Can't you just see it?

Eighteen guys in bathing suits.

And football cleats.

Only Heisman-quality athletes could walk down those winding steps in football cleats. Instead of smiling (football players don't have lots of teeth), they'll give Elliott Gould a forearm shiver as they turn at the end of the runway.

For the evening-wear competition, the lugs will put on tuxedos bearing their jersey numbers on the back.

To assure male supremacists at home that these players are not adored for their bodies alone, they'll go through a talent demonstration.

For instance, Chris Ward, an offensive lineman from Ohio State, will do a dramatic recitation of his own composition entitled. "Everything Woody Hayes Has Taught Me About Grace in the Face of Adversity." It will be a short recitation.

The true test of any athlete, or a Miss American for that matter, is the champion's ability to think under pressure. That's why Bert Parks asks those questions about pot and abortion. And Elliott Gould tonight will have his questions, such as, "Now, please tell us. Mr. Gridder, why do you want to win the Heisman Trophy?"

"Because I want it for my coach and sixth-grade piano teacher," the nervous running back will say, adding in a quivery voice. "And, besides, my agent said he'll sell my shoulder pads if I don't win it."

Not really.

But you get the idea.

Here's a trophy that over four decades has gained a certain dignity, and now that dignity seems to have been traded for - what? Prestige? Glamour? Money?

The trophy committee chairman, Schmidt, moved to put such fears to rest.

"The Downtown Athletic Club, through its members and our agents dealing with the television people, will do our damnedest to see the show is done tastefully," he said.

Leon Hart hopes so. The old Notre Dame end, later a star with the Detroit Lions, won the Heisman in 1939. He's in New York for the TV show.

"If we thought the TV show was cheapening the award, there wouldn't be 22 of us winners here," he said. "Let's just wait and see how it goes. It's this way. If it gets too much show biz, well, you've got a bunch of practical guys in the audience . . ."

He didn't finish the sentence, but his tone, locker-room cold, seemed to suggest a vigilante group of old men assaulting Elliott Gould with their trophies.