Since it was their night, since it was a game more glorious than they perhaps had dared hope, a legitimate franchise saver, the Dips can strain our imagination this once. General Manager Duncan Hill was so overcome by this cosmic victory over the Cosmos that in the dressing room 20 minutes after it became fact he actually said of the Dips' first-half goal blitz:

"Like the second world war, with Patton leading the onslaught with his tanks."

Of the 3-2 victory, David Bradford said: "We didn't just beat 'em. We absolutely massacred 'em."

"Cosmos moved to Memphis," chirped Paul Cannell.

The one voice of reason actually belonged to wee David, who admitted: "These aren't the Cosmos of old, are they?"

No.

But neither the Dips nor what ought to be a growing flock of fans much cares today. Would the Redskins throw back a victory over a Cowboy team minus three regulars?

Saturday night's game was as important as any might be for the latest Dips. They needed quick credibility, something to show that their 6-3 record was legitimate, that their style of play could entertain more than terminal insomniacs.

There is no more killing judgment of a team, nothing that might force it to take the Express route out of Washington more quickly, than to call it boring. To most Americans, the sport itself is as dicey as tapioca pudding. And to suggest that the Dips play cautiously is an automatic turn-off, a near guarantee that their modest crowds would dwindle.

So the Dips needed something mildly miraculous. They needed not only to beat the best team in the North American Soccer League but also to convince an automatically large crowd in RFK Stadium to come back again. Winning is tough enough, but to do it with elan often is next to impossible.

The Dips achieved that rare double Saturday.

Even the most unsophisticated among the 27,676, those who thought a header was something on a car, knew the first half was special. It was nonstop intensity that produced all the game's goals and some stunning work by Dip players still getting to know one another.

"It reminded me of a good cup game in England," said Washington striker Ross Jenkins. "We were so taken up with the atmosphere of the occasion. I'd like to have had time to enjoy it. Halftime was on us before we knew it."

If soccer were hockey, Jenkins would have gotten an assist on the goal he scored to give Washington the lead 123 seconds into the game. Near midfield, he knocked a pass to Bradford, who dribbled toward the right corner and shot a pass back to Jenkins 15 yards in front of the goal.

The pass from the shortest man in the NASL, the 5-foot-5 Bradford, to the tallest man in the NASL, the 6-6 Jenkins, curved behind a braking Cosmos player. From perhaps 25 yards, it was so accurate that Jenkins smacked it home, with his left foot, almost the instant it arrived.

"As beautiful a goal as you'll see," Bradford said.

The next was a dream goal, by rookie Ole Mikkelsen, a two-time all-America from UCLA making his home debut as a Diplomat.

"I don't know about the others," he said, "but we Americans are able to psyche ourselves up for games like this. Two days beforehand you're dreaming and saying to yourself: 'Here's one move, here's another.' You're dreaming of scoring a goal."

Six minutes after Jenkins' goal, Mikkelsen acted out his fantasy.

"On that corner," he said, "what happens depends on how Jenkins hits the ball with his head. He either can flick it toward the goal, or backward toward someone coming on. I was sitting behind him, waiting, as he and some others (including Cosmos goalkeeper Hubert Birkenmeier) went up for it.

"Then I made a split-second decision to go to a spot -- and there it was (as Jenkins and Birkenmeier fell to the ground). All I had to do was hit it. No thinking, no guessing. The goal was six feet away -- I just let it go with as much velocity as I could."

These first-half Dips were as offense-minded as anyone could expect. The reason, Hill explained, was that the Cosmos allowed them to play.

"Soccer's not like football or basketball," he said. "In those sports, a team just can't sit back and play defense all the time. In soccer, a team can put nine men back there, like Dallas did (Sunday). We played like this first half the first 15 minutes against the Cosmos up there, but we didn't score (and eventually lost on a disputed goal).

"After we didn't get anything out of that effort, there was a letdown, like we were playing the Argentines, the best team in the world -- as though we said, 'My God,' and froze a bit. Tonight, we attacked. I was glad we could show the people of Washington that we can play as offensively as anyone."

Still, Coach Ken Furphy has some George Allen in him. The Dips were cautious early in the second half -- and understandably obsessed with defense when Bradford was ejected from the game with 18 minutes left. Having established flair, it was time for heroic caution -- and luck.

"We were thinking about sending to the dressing room for oxygen," Hill said of the mood in the owner's box during that 10-on-11 stretch against a team with one of the most skilled scorers in the sport, Giorgio Chinaglia, who had a goal or an assist in each of his previous 20 games. That streak has ended.

"Sometimes you play better with 10," sweeper Malcom Walldron said, "because everyone knows he has to work a little bit harder."

Goalkeeper Jim Brown made spectabular saves.And one shot by the Cosmos hit the post. Furphy thought the Dips could have played smarter near the end, but was ecstatic about the overall result.

As was NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam, attending the game. He knows there is a result beyond victory on the field.