" . . . Monday, of course, will be the critical day, very likely the most tense and uncertain time in the history of the Republic. Surely, the president has alerted our allies to brace themselves, for chaos in the streets of Washington, for the probability that the government of the free world will teeter near collapse and thus trigger panic in every corner of the globe . . . "

Humankind beyond the Beltway cannot fathom what we know, that Washington never has been faced with such a crisis. It has survived wars and worries nearly as massive the last 45 years; its ability to endure a Sunday without the Redskins has not yet been tested.

The planet may be doomed.

Face it. Nobody gives much of a public hoot about anything around here except the Redskins. The rest of the country might have winter, spring, summer and fall, but Washingtonians have just two seasons: exhibition and regular. The Redskins R Us!

Sages have preached for years that life would be eternal spring if only the Redskins could win a world championship each decade. Statesmen would be civil, leaders of each branch of government wise and magnanimous. Everybody here realizes it takes the movers and shakers two days just to recover from a Redskins loss.

No Redskins; no hope.

" . . . And over there, maybe you can still see it through all those giant cobwebs, is what they call RFK Stadium. Helluva place, before the National Football League petered out, 'cause everybody got too greedy, and the Redskins died. Washington became a ghost town, as you can see, lifeless except for a nerd or two who worship soccer . . . . "

So how do we make do during this strike? It could not have come at a worse time, the Redskins being 2-0, on the road, and off to their best start since 1978. Having flogged Philly and slogged past Tampa Bay, the Redskins could have gotten themselves -- and undoubtedly the economy -- rolling in overdrive the next two weeks. St. Louis and Cleveland at home would have been cinch Ws. The Cardinals could scarcely organize a play from scrimmage several times against Dallas last week. And Washington has beaten them six of the last seven games in RFK. The Browns are a mere .500 team after two games, beating only sorry Seattle.

Which brings us to the fifth game -- and the reason for all this calamity.

Oh, you didn't know who's behind the strike?

The Cowboys.

Yep, it's a Cowboys conspiracy.

Joe Gibbs hinted as much.

"The only rumor I've heard (about what will happen when the strike ends)," the Redskin coach said, "is that the people on the competition committee said if we only miss two games, we'll skip them . . . You better check who is on that committee. There are some obvious reasons why they would do it . . . "

The president of the Cowboys, Tex Schramm, is on the NFL competition committee. Some say Schramm is the competition committee, such a league force that whatever enters his mind later leaves Pete Rozelle's mouth.

Anyway, losing two games to a strike would mean that the Cowboys would not have to play the Giants. They could beat the Giants, and get partially crippled in the process. The Gibbs theory would have them healthy -- and at home -- against a Redskin team just getting to know each other coming off two weeks of inactivity.

Seems an almost plausible scenario, unless you happen to imagine . . .

"Coach Landry was on line two, Mr. Schramm. Said he didn't have time to wait, but wondered if you could arrange for all 1,500 players to go on strike for the next two games so he'd have longer to prepare for the Redskins."

No coach can be expected to think rationally these days, naturally, but the essential Gibbs point is well taken: he doesn't want any disadvantage against Dallas when/if the players and owners achieve peace in our time. That will be the great poststrike bellow, coaches calling the resumption format unfair, that it kills their playoff chances.

Sporting gourmets are not at all displeased by this fall folly, for it gives them a chance to more fully savor other entrees: torrid pennant races in three divisions, pro basketball and hockey starting in about a month. College football, which many of us have been arguing for years is a better buy than the NFL anyway.

We'll see collegiate greed run rampant if the NFL players hit the streets, instead of each other, for long. Games will be switched from Saturdays to Sundays, or Mondays, or whenever windfall profits can be gobbled most easily. With no recovery day, even the slightly wounded will be limping to class.

For NFL junkies, about all that remains is to get intensely irritated. How dare these ungrateful money grabbers ignore every bit of logic, such as binding arbitration, that would keep the games going, that would not hurt anyone and in the long run benefit everyone. May all of them sometime be forced to watch films of themselves in these most foolish days.

This will end, eventually, although if both sides are as determined as they claim the fighting will be fierce and protracted. If the owners are going to totally bend after two weeks, as lots of players seem to believe, they would not have let the strike start at all.

Would they?

Nobody is sure of anything just now.

Except that Washingtonians know exactly what should happen when the mess gets settled. The Redskins are unbeaten in the National Football Conference and have played a vastly more difficult schedule than the other 2-0 teams, the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers; every right-thinking person would anoint them NFC champs.

There would be a playoff among the four unbeaten AFC teams, and then the Super Bowl. Washington versus whomever. Unfair? Anyone who wants America to get cracking again had better consider it.