No one ever promised kindness to the Washington Federals. Last week they won for the first time, 22-16 in overtime, against the rather tame Michigan Panthers, but they did so in an unrelenting rain and against an unforgiving competitor--the NCAA basketball tournament.

Today the tournament takes a break, and the Federals play their first nationally televised game (WJLA-TV-7, 1:30) against one of the U.S. Football League's best teams, the Philadelphia Stars.

The Federals will travel to Veterans Stadium without running back Craig James and quarterback Mike Hohensee, whose 3-week-old injuries will keep both out of action until next week at the earliest.

The Stars, favored by a touchdown today, defeated Denver, New Jersey and Birmingham before losing, 27-22, last week to Tampa Bay. Until last night's loss to Chicago, the Bandits were the league's only unbeaten team.

The matchup between New Jersey running back Herschel Walker and Philadelphia rookie Kelvin Bryant of North Carolina in USFL's second week proved that while it is all well and good to earn an oilman's ransom in salary, it is perhaps just as good, and healthier, to run behind a competent offensive line.

"Bryant running behind that line looks awfully good," Federals Coach Ray Jauch remarked. "Offensively, Philadelphia looks as good as any team we've seen."

The Stars' offensive line is powered by 280-pound tackle Irv Eatman, a rookie from UCLA who would have been a first- or second-round draft choice in the NFL. It is further strengthened by center Bart Oates and tackle Brad Oates, brothers who attended Brigham Young.

Fourteen of the Stars' 26 territorial picks came from Penn State. Quarterback Chuck Fusina, who backed up Doug Williams with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers for three years, and receivers Scott Fitzkee and Tom Donovan are all graduates of Joe Paterno football.

Bryant's league-leading running game provides the Stars consistency but Fusina's passing can be erratic. Last week, before he was knocked from the game with a hip pointer, Fusina completed two of 11 passes for 33 yards. Fusina was replaced by Jim Krohn but is expected to play.

The defense has been less effective than the offense; the secondary was riddled by Tampa Bay passer John Reaves. Rookie defensive back Antonio Gibson, however, is said to be the most promising defensive player on the team.

The Stars' coach is Jim Mora, who used to coach the New England Patriots' defense after working under Dick Vermeil at UCLA.

The Stars' running game has shown that in the USFL if a team can excel at one aspect of the game and manage reasonably well at the others, it can win. Similarly, Tampa Bay is undefeated on the strength of its passing offense and little but competence in other areas.

The Federals, on the other hand, cannot be said to excel in any one aspect of the game and have demonstrated certain often debilitating inconsistencies. On offense, the Federals continue to work without a running game of any consequence, forcing Kim McQuilken to pass to Mike Holmes, Joey Walters or running backs Eric Robinson and Billy Taylor on any down that demands more than a yard or two.

The defense has allowed only three touchdowns in the past 10 quarters; it will have to have an exceptional day to keep Washington in this game. Linebackers Dan Lloyd, a former NFL New York Giant, and Jeff McIntyre, a former St. Louis Cardinal, are both new to the team and up for action against the Stars.

With David Trout, the Stars have an edge in place-kicking experience over Dana Moore, who broke in last week as punter and now also replaces the released Obed Ariri.