At 8 p.m. on Friday, traffic on East Capitol Street was backed up past Cookman Park. Horns blew as far as the ear could hear and adults leaned out their car windows to jaw with police. Serious business. Somebody might miss the kickoff. Of the exhibition season.

Now that the Burgundy-and-Gold are playing, the world of Washington sports can have true meaning once more. After 213 days of Redskinless misery, the city has reason to live again.

Folks know and care about strange things where the Redskins are concerned. For instance, that 23-17 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers may have seemed humble; but for Joe Gibbs, whose teams start slowly in August, it was the best first game in seven years here -- most points and largest victory margin.

Silly, but noted. Oh, give us an omen, any omen. Like the way the Redskins caused a fumble on the first play of the year. Like the way the crowd booed on the home team's first incomplete pass. Seriously now, 52,266 people hadn't been waiting since Jan. 11 to critique Jay Schroeder's zero-points showing against the Giants. Had they?

The big surprise Friday was that 3,397 tickets were unused. Holy zone coverage, where could those fans be? Hidden on injured reserve? Coach Gibbs better not find out you people were at the beach. Or he'll crack down on you, just like the Five O'Clock Club.

Already the Redskins universe is atwitter with momentous issues. And not a moment too soon. The Iranamok show has been over for at least five minutes. What would the town do without the 40-second clock to get exercised about?

You didn't know about the 40-second clock? Run extra laps after practice. It threatens Washington life as we know it. This miserable experimental clock endangers nickel backs and men in motion, not to mention the TV time of Richie Petitbon and Joe Bugel as they join Gibbs at the hip to wigwag signals.

"I'd like to make one point about the new clock," Gibbs said Friday. That's the clock that starts after each play in an attempt to deprive us of four-hour games. "It's a disaster. One of the worst things I've ever seen. It's awful, awful . . . ridiculous."

If adopted by league vote in three weeks, it might hurt the Redskins more than any NFL team. How much? It could scrub half of Gibbs' complex system of substitutions, situation role players, men in motion and play calling by the head coach. In short, it would significantly reduce the Gibbs edge.

"There's no time to do anything. It's a circus. The TV pressure {to speed up games} has everybody going bonkers. It's driving everybody crazy," said Gibbs.

"The Redskins will be one of the first to send off a {critical} letter. You're leery about subs. You don't even want to send a man in motion. It takes a lot of things out that you work so hard to put in. If we gotta cut something out {of the game}, take out the point after touchdown. Take out anything. But this is . . . "

Did we mention awful, ridiculous, crazy and a disaster? If the new clock (which is a two-touchdown underdog in the early line) gets adopted, coaching staffs might not be able to sleep at the park during the week, putting in that vital extra 60 hours of preparation. You might have to line up the same 11 men, play after play, with no shifting or motion, and let the quarterback call his own plays. Remember Lombardi football?

The other guaranteed hot topic for the next month from Mel's and Duke's to Carlisle is the chance of A Big Trade. Doug Williams, Jeff Bostic and the Smurf of Al Davis' choice for a Los Angeles Raiders linebacker -- hopefully Matt Millen, if the gods of hogbladder have any sense of fair play and remember Calvin Muhammad and Malcolm Barnwell.

"Jeff Bostic walked past me the other day," said Williams, "and said, 'If we've got to go somewhere together, then let's not go to . . . ' And he named a town which I won't name." That couldn't be Indianapolis, home of the Dolts, could it, Jeff?

Williams doesn't want to be traded. Not much. All he needs is a baton so he can orchestrate this deal a little better.

"I've got to roll with the punches, abide by the rules," said Williams, 32, who threw one pass (incomplete) in the entire 1986 season. That, in a footnote history will love, got him a rating of 39.6 under the NFL's logarithm system of quarterback evaluation.

"But if I had a choice about where I'd be traded . . . well, I'd like to be able to have that problem."

Williams awaits the next few weeks with relish. As more and more Redskins linebackers get hurt, the Doug Williams As Insurance Policy theory may seem less pressing than the Linebacker Attrition reality. Williams loves the way the puzzle pieces fit together to give him and Bostic an escape route.

"We've got a lot of good receivers like Derek Holloway, Eric Yarber and Rickey Sanders. One of them could go somewhere {in trade}. Next week, {third-string quarterback} Mark Rypien will probably play and he's looked very good. He might add some more to the situation," Williams said Friday night after playing for two quarters -- his longest stint in two years.

When you've thrown 93 touchdown passes at Grambling, 73 in the NFL and dozens in the USFL, your competitive juices bubble after you go eight for 16 for 102 yards and a game-winning touchdown.

A dozen NFL scouts watched the Redskins, many of them drawn by Williams and Bostic, the one-time Pro Bowl center who's 28 and healthy but deemed too tiny at 260 pounds. What would they fetch on the market? Especially if Rusty Hilger doesn't pan out as the Raiders' quarterback?

"I don't think the Redskins could get a top linebacker for two second-stringers," said New York Giants General Manager George Young, scouting his rivals. "I wouldn't be interested in a deal like that. I don't think anybody else would either."

Or does the head Giant just hope that nobody else would either?

It's August. Redskins mania is upon us. With clocks and trades to discuss, with Joe Theismann's memoirs to read and sprained knees to fret over, it's enough to make a person refill the old tranquilizer prescription. How will we stand it when the real games start?