SAN DIEGO -- Neat as the idea seems, it still hit the mind hard as a Dick Butkus forearm: "The Washington Redskins and the Denver Broncos come together for . . .

"Super Bowl XXII Chapel."

Signs announcing last night's service seemed at once a signal of sporting maturity and yet another of this week's contradictions.

On the one hand, warriors praying together on the eve of battle sends this wonderful message to youngsters who see them as heroes: yes, we might soon be smacking the person next to us in a violent game. But we don't hate each other.

Too often, hate and football seem synonymous. If it isn't ballet out there, the game is safer in the '80s than in any decade ever. That said, it's still difficult to imagine breaking bread with the fellow whose spirit you'll soon be trying to break.

The Redskins' Mark May said he would not be going to Super Chapel, for that very reason, explaining: "As far as I'm concerned, Sunday's going to be a war and they're the enemy. Why collaborate with them beforehand?"

Countered the Broncos' Dennis Smith: "It's a great idea. This is a big game, but it's not life or death. We're not going out there to cut each other's throats."

"Besides," added Denver's Tony Lilly, "we're with them at clubs throughout the week. What's the difference?"

Neither coach, Washington's Joe Gibbs and Denver's Dan Reeves, was making the joint service mandatory for their players.

"If they pray for the same things I do," said NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, "a safe game, good weather and good officiating, I'm all for it."

As Rozelle well knows, peace and good will among players so soon before kickoff of a major championship has not been a prominent football theme. Could you, for instance, imagine the teams in Super Bowl I commingling the night before?

That was the first on-the-field collision between the haughty National Football League and the upstart American Football League. Hate might not have been too strong a description for the emotions league officials felt toward one another.

That surely filtered down to the coaches and players of the respective teams, the winning Green Bay Packers and the losing Kansas City Chiefs.

One of the Chiefs, Fred (The Hammer) Williamson, even had gone public with the decidedly unChristianlike things he planned for the Packers. It was Williamson who ended up being carried off the field.

Not too long before Super Bowl III, the Jets' Joe Namath and the Colts' Lou Michaels were scuffling in a bar. Later, Namath reportedly sent Michaels flowers.

"We regarded the AFL as a semipro league," former Colt Alex Hawkins said of the attitude before the Jets' historic upset. "If you couldn't make it in the NFL, that's where you went."

Former Giant and Redskin Sam Huff said he often dreamed of delivering a blow similar to the one in which a Hall of Fame linebacker (Chuck Bednarik) knocked out a Hall of Fame runner (Frank Gifford).

Many are not comfortable with mixing religion and football. To that uneasiness, add the fact that Gibbs and Reeves have kept their players sheltered as much as possible this week but have extended an open invitation to fans for this free function.

The most significant question, it seems, is this: if Gibbs and Reeves are united in such glowing faith, how come they have shown such obvious distrust for each other?

Both teams have been inordinately cautious this week. Redskins donned different numbers during early week workouts, and offensive formations had 12 and 13 players at times.

Denver investigated what proved to be a couple of harmless fans with home movie cameras and also tightened security around practice.

"When we played the Raiders {in Super Bowl XVIII}," said Washington linebacker Neal Olkewicz, "there was some thought that Al {Davis} had a spy up there. We caught one guy we thought might be a spy.

"And it did seem like they knew a lot of what we were doing {during the 38-9 Raiders rout}."

It's one thing to be cautious, even paranoid, before battle with Davis. Or George Allen. Or George Halas, who may well have brought spying to the NFL. But good-guy Gibbs distrusting the houndstooth clean Reeves?

You . . . just . . . never . . . know.

Even as they were becoming more private in practice, Denver and Washington coaches were preaching that spying is overrated.

"If Joe has friends there {outside the Denver workouts looking in}," said Reeves, "then he has friends."

Redskins defensive coordinator Larry Peccatiello insisted that even if the Broncos managed to get a Washington playbook, it would do them little good. The terminology would be too confusing, he said.

And both coaches will put in some new plays to further confuse matters.

"We want to start with something they haven't seen," Gibbs said. "That's our philosophy. The basic plays are the same. But we want to run them from a different look that their defense isn't accustomed to seeing . . .

"At the first part of the game, we want our game plan to be totally different from what they've seen before."

Something on the order of a 4-4-5 defense might be necessary for the Redskins against John Elway. Happily, at long last, we'll soon see.