Is it true that the granddaddy of Washington football clubs, the Touchdown Club, has fallen on hard times?

What exactly is the Quarterback Club? And where is the Quarterback Club Hall of Fame?

What's the secret to success enjoyed by the Pigskin Club, which holds its 50th black-tie awards dinner Friday night at the Capital Hilton?

This is the time of year when sports fans break bread in a big way. Following the Pigskin dinner, the Touchdown Club is expecting a sellout for its 53rd awards dinner Jan. 23 at the Omni Shoreham. And Feb. 27, the Quarterback Club, which has existed since 1965, will hold its third awards dinner at the Washington Hilton. They'll all be sparkling evenings, featuring spotlighted football stars of the 1987 season, a Hollywood personality here and a famous politician there, and fans all dressed up.

The Touchdown Club's problems center not on its big night but the other days of the year. According to members, a decreasing membership and a hefty rent and other overhead at the club's 2000 L St. NW headquarters are posing big problems.

"We used to have to shut off the membership back in the old days," said longtime club member John O'Brien. At its peak, he said, membership was about 1,100, but it has sunk to about 350 local members (corporate and junior memberships and out-of-town members bring the total to about 600).

In the last two months, a sense of urgency has arisen among Touchdown Club members that two things must be done: raise membership and make the clubhouse profitable -- and soon. Said a member, "It is imperative."

Meanwhile, the Quarterback Club has grown from a few men sitting around talking with a Redskin one evening in 1965 in a College Park restaurant to a flourishing twice-a-month luncheon gathering each fall, usually at a hotel. A crucial fact about the Quarterback Club: it has no headquarters.

"When you have a physical place like {the Touchdown Club} and you've got that kind of overhead, you've got to depend on the members," said Quarterback Club founder Bob Geoghan, a local sports promoter who for a time held his Quarterback Club luncheons at the Touchdown Club. "One of the things I found when I was down there was that you can't get people to come back downtown after {working} hours."

Geoghan, 53, who says he loves putting on luncheons and talking sports, draws big lunch crowds during football season, usually to the Capital Hilton, to hear Redskins discuss the state of the team. Meanwhile, the Touchdown Club has its own luncheons, with Redskins, too. Sometimes, the luncheons occur on the same day. It's hard to say the two clubs are not in competition.

Recently, Geoghan held a Quarterback Club luncheon at the Touchdown Club, where many members were happy to see him back because the club could use the money. But Geoghan said he only needed a place that day and won't return on a permanent basis. In fact, he said, at his season's last lunch, next Tuesday at the Capital Hilton, during which Gary Clark will be honored as Redskins player of the year, Geoghan will announce a membership drive for his Quarterback Club. Until now, his club has had no formal membership but, as he said, he "packs them in" with a season-ticket luncheon plan. (He said he has 225 season-ticket holders and a mailing list of more than 500.) Now he's hoping to line up 1,000 official members.

Geoghan's membership drive will come at the same time the Touchdown Club is planning to put on a drive of its own for members.

As the dueling lunches continue and the membership drives mount, the third organization, the Pigskin Club, moves along in a business-as-usual fashion. A predominantly black club formed in the late '30s when the Touchdown Club was all-white, it has its long-running, highly respected black-tie dinner, an ample schedule of social activities thoughout the year and a membership of 600. Like the Quarterback Club, it doesn't have a headquarters and feels no need for one.

Touchdown Club President Mitchell Hazam said recently that he is trying to get the Pigskin Club and Quarterback Club to have more functions at the Touchdown Club. He may have more luck with the Pigskin Club, which is on good terms with the Touchdowners.

One thing's for certain, says the Pigskin Club's president since 1975, Col. John Posey: the Pigskin Club supports its functions. Take last July, when Pigskinners and their wives descended on Carlisle, Pa., for their annual Redskins training camp visit. Rolling into town came a record 23 busloads! True fans. Bergman Began It All

It seemed a natural idea in 1935 when Dutch Bergman, who played football at Notre Dame and coached Catholic University and the Redskins, founded the Touchdown Club. Football players could get together at the Willard and hash over games. Eventually, fans were allowed in, membership grew and a headquarters was added -- above a strip joint on I Street NW. Famous sports personalities found their way to the club over the years. The club's prestige grew. In the late '60s it moved into a high-rent district, at 20th and L streets NW. With its oil paintings of football immortals dating to Walter Camp, and its Dutch Bergman Room, other trappings and everything that's happened there, it would be "a terrible shock" to many members, said O'Brien, if the club had to give up its space. "We'd hate to lose all that.

"But from a practical standpoint," O'Brien added, "unless we can build the membership up we can't afford it."

O'Brien, for one, has set about making every effort to help increase the membership and attract people from the area to have lunch at the club on a daily basis. As vice president, he stood to be the club's next president, starting in January (the club has a new president every year; in 1986, it had its first woman president, Lela Foreman). But last week, to the surprise of club members, O'Brien took himself out of the running, saying he is in his 70s and the job would take too much time from his family. Some members are attempting to talk O'Brien out of withdrawing. In any event, O'Brien says he'll continue heading a committee that is looking into ways to breathe new life into the club.

"Things change," said O'Brien. "It's no longer the only place in town where you can go to get a drink. The restaurant and bar has cost us a fortune. The overhead's killing us."

"I think the Touchdown Club is in the same position as a lot of corporations and unions are today, redefining themselves in the face of a changing marketplace," said Marty Walsh, a United Way of America director of corporate projects, asked by O'Brien to help him in making proposals to the club's board of governors. "You just can't do business as usual. It causes some trauma for the people who have been attached to the organization for a long time."

Walsh describes O'Brien as "like a prophet out in the desert, saying here's what we have to do."

O'Brien says the club (initiation fee is $150, plus monthly dues of $35) will continue its lunches, its awards dinner and its charitable work -- Touchdown Club Charities Inc. supports scholarships for students and other good works and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years. But he's bent on doing everything he can to help the club keep its L Street space.

"I feel very strongly about it," he said. "I want to make {the club} back like it was."

But the Touchdown Club would have clearer sailing in its membership drive if it weren't for the Quarterback Club and Bob Geoghan. "There's been sort of a real competitive feeling," said O'Brien.

Geoghan said he isn't in competition with the Touchdown Club. "If people want to think the Quarterback Club luncheons are better than the Touchdown Club luncheons, that doesn't give me a lot of satisfaction. I'm not trying to beat them at anything. I just want you to feel that my luncheons are good. It's part of my personality to create something and see people come to it."

But the success he continues to have with his lunches, which cost $25, irritates some Touchdown Club members. "They've constantly tried to pull people away from us," O'Brien said.

Geoghan's club began this way: "Back in 1965 I was one of the typical Monday morning quarterbacks around town. After a game, we'd sit around and shoot the breeze. 'Why'd they punt on this down?' I said, 'Hey, there's no sense in us asking ourselves these questions, we ought to get a player.' So I called the Redskins."

They sent him injured Preston Carpenter, and he spoke to "25 guys who had each put up $2. The next day I got a couple of calls from guys who said, 'I heard about that party you had last night. Why didn't you invite me?' "

The Monday Morning Quarterback Club was born. By 1967, Geoghan had more or less organized, and held his luncheons at the Mayflower. "In 1970, we moved our show to the Touchdown Club," he said. "Pro football started getting bigger and bigger. Our luncheons started getting bigger and bigger."

The name was shortened to Quarterback Club several years ago when the Redskins changed their off day from Monday to Tuesday, making them unavailable for any "Monday Morning Quarterbacking." But, to this day, the Redskins are very much in evidence at noontime on Tuesdays; they're paid for their appearances at both the Touchdown Club and Quarterback Club. Geoghan, in fact, has hired Rick (Doc) Walker; Walker lines up the guest Redskins for the Quarterback Club and has them chauffeured into town for the luncheons in a limo -- "which does ease my mind," said Geoghan.

What's more, "because we have the freedom to do our luncheons anywhere," Geoghan has held a few in the suburbs -- Rockville, Tysons Corner -- "which demonstrated to me that we could take these luncheons around the Beltway."

Setting up luncheons and similar events "is fun" to Geoghan. "It's not work to me. It kind of gives you an entree that you would never have. Not that I'm star-struck or that I have to be around jocks to make myself happy. But there are generally nice people you meet in the sports world, like a Bart Starr."

In February, Starr and Johnny Unitas will become inductee numbers five and six into the Quarterback Club Hall of Fame. Where is the Hall of Fame? Said Geoghan, with a laugh, "It's in my mind."

Like the club itself, its Hall of Fame has no headquarters. Geoghan mused: maybe it should be something portable. "You could take it around to small towns, by tractor-trailer. People get in one end, walk through, come out the other end. But we've only inducted four guys. You've got to have something substantial to look at." Learning From the 50th

Geoghan's involvement with the Touchdown Club crested in early 1985. The Touchdown Club asked him to be chairman, no less, of its 50th dinner. He wasn't even a member of the club, which he had to be to be dinner chairman. He accepted, took out a membership and chaired the golden anniversary dinner. After that, he continued his Quarterback Club lunches at the Touchdown Club in 1985. But he said his best aides who helped him on the 50th dinner were excluded from working on the 51st. He resigned from the Touchdown Club, started his own black-tie awards dinner in 1986 and held his 1986 luncheons at the Capital Hilton.

"There was a certain group down there who felt that because I started this dinner I was now in competition with them," said Geoghan. "They all said, 'He learned to do that by doing the 50th.' "

Now he said, "My gut feeling is that now's the time to do a membership {he said membership would be $100 a year} just because over the last five or six years a lot of people keep asking me, 'What is the Quarterback Club? How do you become a member of it?' So the timing might be right. And we do have a lot of support for our organization." The club, he said, will include Quarterback Club Charities Inc.

Charity and youth awards are important to the Pigskin Club. (Its annual membership fee is $100.) According to its president, Posey, two college scholarships are given each year, among other worthy activities, and two dozen high school players will be honored at Friday night's dinner (although a mother of one honoree complained in a letter to this department recently that the price of tickets, tux rental and a gown made it difficult for an honored player's family to attend; still, at $50 a ticket, the Pigskin dinner is $100 less than either the Touchdown Club or Quarterback Club dinners).

The Pigskin Club has thrived ever since 1938 when it was begun by the late Dr. Charles B. Fisher, a one-time star football player for Howard. The club's motto: "Democracy in Sports." It always included white athletes among its honorees, said Posey. About 50 club members are white, but no woman has ever applied, according to Posey. Its awards rank with the nation's most treasured; one of the first athletes honored was Jackie Robinson, when he played football for UCLA. A list of honorees through the years -- John Sirica, Jake Gaither, Jim Brown, Ara Parseghian and on and on -- reads like a Who's Who in athletic and civic achievement.

Similarly, the Touchdown Club has attracted to its dinners presidents, Cabinet members, Capitol Hill legends -- and athletic hall-of-famers. Its "Timmie" awards are among the most prestigious.

Hazam said "everybody was enthusiastic" at a recent meeting to discuss ways to get the club moving again. "Good strategic planning has to take place. We're going to have to start a drive to get 200 members."

He said whoever his successor will be -- and it's wide open at a late date if O'Brien remains out of the picture as possible president -- he will have to put "his whole heart and soul in it." Hazam said all club members will have to "put their shoulders to the wheel."

After all, the club has been part of the city's sports history.