President Reagan paid tribute to his old college football coach and the sport itself last night before a crowd of 2,000 diners at the Sheraton Washington Hotel at the Washington Touchdown Club's 47th annual awards dinner.

"Football has played a special part in my life," Reagan said. "We like all sports, but football is more than a game. It is the only thing left short of war where a man can throw his body at another person with no intent to hurt or maim."

Reagan, who played offensive and defensive right guard on the Eureka College football team in Illinois in 1929-31, presented a special Timmy Award to Ralph McKinzie, 87, who coached him at Eureka and who has coached college football in the Midwest almost continually since 1921.

Reagan also presented the Club's Mr. Sam Award--named for the late House speaker Sam Rayburn--to Secretary of State Alexander Haig.

"Al Haig did some quarterbacking at West Point," the president said, joking. "Even then he would call plays where he would get to carry the ball himself."

Recalling Reagan as a player, McKinzie said earlier: "He didn't do all the things he did when he was George Gipp in that movie about Knute Rockne. But he was a hard worker. He was a leader and you could depend on him. He was easy to coach. We didn't have a platoon system back then. Everybody played defense and offense, and it was a good thing, because we didn't have enough players to do it any other way. We were the smallest school in our conference."

McKinzie, still an assistant at Eureka, has kept in touch with his former player.

"I had lunch with him just last May, and of course I was at the inauguration," McKinzie said.

As the recipient of one of five Timmie awards--with Redskin running back Joe Washington and kick returner Mike Nelms, WMAL radio's Bill Mayhugh and amateur golf star Marty West III--McKinzie was among more than two dozen athletes, coaches and teams honored.

Honorees from the sporting world ranged from San Francisco 49ers Coach Bill Walsh (NFL coach of year), Dallas Cowboy Coach Tom Landry, running back Tony Dorsett (National Football Conference player of the year) and Cincinnati Bengal quarterback Ken Anderson (in absentia as AFC player of the year) to Californians Kevin Wilhite (football) and Cheryl Miller (basketball), the Dial high school athletes of the year.