PITTSBURGH, JUNE 19 -- Dale Castro's missed drop-kick extra point may have decided the final score of the Washington Commandos' 48-46 loss to the Pittsburgh Gladiators tonight, but the biggest point made was the announced crowd of 12,117 who showed up at Civic Arena for the sport's debut.

The four teams in the Arena Football League are playing a downsized, indoor version of football in a six-game experimental season. Denver plays at Chicago Saturday night in the other season-opening game. Washington's home opener is next Saturday against Denver at Capital Centre.

Castro's drop kick, which would have tied the score, sailed wide right, capping a final Washington rally highlighted by Richard Ingold's 24-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Dwayne Dixon.

"The snap was perfect. The drop was perfect. I just missed it," said Castro, who kicked four field goals, including two from 50 yards. "I told Coach {Bob Harrison} I could make it."

The game's final minutes overshadowed a contest that featured eight touchdown passes, including four by Pittsburgh's Mike Hohensee, the former Washington Federal.

There were 586 yards passing and a touchdown scored off of a missed field goal attempt. According to the league's rules, missed field goals bounce back into play by way of nets attached to the goalposts.

"I thought the game could have been in the 60s," said Harrison, referring to three touchdown opportunites lost when wide-open Commandos were overthrown. "I didn't really think we played that badly."

Hohensee (25 for 39, 354 yards, four touchdowns) threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to running back Mike Powell to give Pittsburgh a 42-34 lead 2:06 into the fourth quarter.

But Castro kicked two field goals of 26 and 50 yards within 3:26 to pull the Commandos within 42-40 with 4:30 left. Then strange things happened.

Pittsburgh's Lee Larson attempted a 36-yard field goal just before the two-minute mark. It went wide right, but the ball bounced over the head of a Commando and was recovered by Federico after a scramble in the end zone with 2:14 left in the game.

That left it up to Castro, who earlier had recovered his free kick following a safety against Washington in the first period.

"I should have run it in, but I was so surprised," Castro said.

Starter Mike Calhoun (4 of 7, 50 yards) threw his only touchdown of the game after the recovery, a nine-yard pass to Richard DuPree that made the score 8-7 after the first quarter. But he was ineffective afterward, prompting the change to Ingold in the second quarter.

Harrison said he planned to use Ingold only for a couple of series, but his performance forced a permanent substitution. Ingold (17 of 32, 182 yards, three touchdowns) threw to Dixon on eight of the nine plays in a 45-yard drive. Dixon's 15-yard touchdown reception tied the score at 22 at halftime.

"I didn't feel I could bring Richard out when he moved the team to a touchdown," Harrison said.

The Commandos took the lead on the first play of the second half when lineman Jon Roehlk tackled Federico for a safety and a 24-22 lead. But Pittsburgh defensive back Rock Richmond put them back on top when he returned an intercepted Ingold pass eight yards for a touchdown midway through the third quarter.

Following a 26-yard field goal by Castro, Hohensee hit Russell Hairston (three touchdown catches) on a 28-yard pass with seven seconds left in the third quarter for a 36-27 lead, setting up the final period's wild moments.

However, the scoreboard's most important statistic came when it flashed the attendance figure. For Jim Foster, who developed the idea of arena football while working for the NFL as a marketing executive, that number was gratifying.

"We're hoping to average about 8,500-9,000 a game," Foster said. Although he acknowledged the "rules in the game that favor the offense," he said the end result justified them. "We didn't want three yards and a cloud of AstroTurf."

Hohensee gave credit to the Commando defensive backs despite his success against them. Noting that the backs are prohibited from playing zone defense, Hohensee said, "They played great defense for what they have to do."

He added that, although the players may not like the funny bounces and rules, they are not the ones arena football has to impress. "It's for the fans," he said.

Washington 7 15 5 19 46 Pittsburgh 11 11 14 12 48

P -- Hairston 42 pass from Hohensee (run failed)

P -- Safety (Holman recovers fumble in end zone)

W -- DuPree 12 pass from Calhoun (Castro kick)

P -- FG 40 Larsen

W -- Creer recovered fumble in end zone (kick failed)

P -- Hairston 36 pass from Hohensee (kick failed)

P -- Safety (Calhoun tackled by Adams)

W -- FG 50 Castro

P -- FG 27 Larsen

W -- Dixon 15 pass from Ingold (kick failed)

W -- Safety (Federico tackled in end zone by Roehlk)

P -- Richmond 8 interception return (kick failed)

W -- FG 26 Castro

P -- Hairston 28 pass from Hohensee (Hairston pass from Hohensee)

W -- Dixon 20 pass from Ingold (Castro kick)

P -- Powell 35 pass from Hohensee (kick failed)

W -- FG 26 Castro

W -- FG 50 Castro

P -- Federico recovered missed FG in end zone (kick failed)

W -- Dixon 24 pass from Ingold (drop kick failed)

A -- 12,117

Commandos Gladiators First downs 15 17 Rushes-yards 12-18 4-(-9) Passing yards 239 369 Return yards 59 86 Passing 21-39-2 25-39-1 Fumbles-lost 2-0 2-2 INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING -- Washington: Calhoun 4-5 yards, Holman 3-5, Wilson 2-5, DuPree 2-3. Pittsburgh: Stoops 1-3, Federico 1-minus 5, Hohensee 2-minus 1.

PASSING -- Washington: Calhoun 4-7-1, 50 yards, Ingold 17-32-1, 182. Pittsburgh: Hohensee 25-39-1, 354.

RECEIVING -- Washington: DuPree 4-35, Taylor 4-40, Dixon 11-135, Creer 1-11. Pittsburgh: Hairston 12-224, Federico 1-8, Rafferty 5-44, Powell 2-43, Stoops 4-36.