Nearly 18 1/2 years after America put a man on the moon, America put a woman on an NFL game broadcast. Gayle Sierens did the play-by-play on NBC's Seattle-at-Kansas City telecast yesterday. TV antennas did not tumble off roofs, TV sets did not explode and, remarkably, a republic of mostly male football fanatics did not crumble at its core.

One small step for sports, one giant leap for sportscasting.

Whereas women once were viewed with contempt or just ignored altogether by network sports departments, this could mark an era of enlightenment at Manhattan's media towers. Hiring female sportscasters might become fashionable for a while, and, hopefully, after that, it will become fundamental. In fact, NBC's recent hiring of Gayle Gardner as a studio anchor increases that probability.

Sierens, 33, a veteran Tampa, Fla., broadcaster, was solid throughout her ballyhooed debut. Her partner was journeyman Dave Rowe -- can a female NFL analyst be far behind? -- and, together, they sounded pretty much like any other run-of-the-mill NFL broadcasting team.

Except that Sierens, of course, had a woman's voice. But for anyone able to view the game -- which went to about 10 percent of the country, in nine midwestern and western states -- there was no adjustment needed on your TV set, only in your mind set.

Sierens was well prepared by NBC Sports' announcer coach Marty Glickman. She gave a low-keyed, restrained call of the action. She gave Rowe plenty of room to analyze, and she gave the time, score and down-and-yardage situations more frequently than most veteran announcers. In so many ways, she was better than many network veterans because she refrained from telling us things we could see for ourselves.

There were mistakes. At the end of the game, she gave the wrong score (CBS' Pat Summerall did the same thing after Super Bowl XXI). She made some errors on names. She was late sometimes with player identifications. She used the word "important" much too often, and she should toss the expression "still on his feet" out of her repertoire.

Overall, though, she proved that a woman can say, "This kickoff is sponsored by Budweiser, the king of beers," just as well as a man.

"I am pleased," she said. "I knew there would be mistakes, and there were . . . I got the monkey off my back. Everyone wanted to know how this girl would do this football game, and now they know. This is the worst broadcast I'll ever do. That being said, I think it was a pretty darn good broadcast."

The man who hired her, NBC Sports Executive Producer Michael Weisman, said: "It was a remarkable performance. I'm so delighted that we're going to commit to Gayle right now to doing more NFL action on NBC next year."

Weisman's experiment was heavily criticized -- Sierens was unqualified, it was said, because she never had done football play-by-play. But it says here that the symbolic value of the move far outweighs any particulars about her lack of football play-by-play experience.

And it's not as if Weisman hired a Radio City Rockette to maneuver behind the mike; Sierens is a proven professional sportscaster and news anchor.

The keys to TV play-by-play are a broadcast background and knowledge of the sport. Sierens qualified on both counts. With those two elements, a sportscaster can be taught the mechanics of play-by-play; all it takes is an abundance of common sense, another area in which Sierens clearly shines.

Even if this was only a publicity stunt or a ratings gimmick, it figures to spur interest in a job area previously closed to women. It should have a trickle-down effect, with regional cable networks and local stations looking to women on play-by-play for the first time.

"When I go to colleges and speak to broadcasting classes {about a career in sports television}, it's always the same thing," Weisman recalled recently. "Most of the guys say they're interested in being in front of the camera and 99 percent of the gals say they want jobs behind the camera. That's because the opportunities for women {in on-air jobs} haven't been there."

Only time will tell if NBC's late-season gambit turns into a long-term commitment to bringing competent women in the booth.

Sure, NBC could have followed pro sport's example -- as in baseball and football, where management tells blacks to work first as assistants or in the minors, then ends up not hiring them as managers and head coaches. Instead, NBC seized the moment and sent a message from the highest level of the industry to women everywhere -- that the sign on our door has gone from DO NOT DISTURB to HELP WANTED.

And, as some of us could see and hear yesterday from Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium, NBC has made a solid first choice in hiring Sierens. Ride, Gayle, ride.