WASHINGTON (AP) _ Goodyear blimps, rulers of the skies over America's football stadiums ever since the marriage of sport and television became big business, are facing a new challenge from McBlimp.

McDonald's Corp.'s giant red and yellow flying machine made its nationally televised debut last weekend over Baltimore and Washington in what promises to be the first skirmish of a so-far friendly blimp war.

Spokesmen for both corporations were careful not to draw their swords Monday. After all, McDonald's doesn't sell tires and Goodyear doesn't sell hamburgers.

But both made subtle parries, McDonald's pointing out that its leased airship was a bit bigger while the Goodyear people noted slyly that the budding foe's was built in Germany - deflated, transported and reinflated in the U.S.A.

Bob Keyser, McDonald's director of media relations, said: ''The folks who make the tires have done a good job in helping the sports world. I think there's certainly room for McDonald's to jump in and use McBlimp to offer even more people the same kind of vantage.''

Howard Tolley of Goodyear said: ''We've done our thing in a top-flight, first-class manner. We know what we're about. We'll let the record speak for itself. That's the name of the game. That will set us apart from any competition.''

It's not entirely clear whether McBlimp's weekend attack was of the sneak persuasion, but CBS Sports spokesman Robert Tassie said the deal wasn't closed with CBS Sports until the Thursday before McBlimp hovered over Baltimore Memorial Stadium's Maryland-Miami game Saturday.

The next afternoon, there was McBlimp circling lazily over Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington for the Dallas Cowboy-Washington Redskins game.

Tolley said his Goodyear associates realized McBlimp was on the move from the New Jersey airport it had shared with one of the three U.S.-based Goodyear blimps since the summer, but weren't sure where it was headed.

The presence of the Goodyear blimps over major media events - from football to golf to parades - has been a given for years. Rival tire maker B.F. Goodrich even aired a television commercial pleading with America's viewers to remember that a good blimp maker does not necessarily make the best tire.

Odd as it may seem, Goodyear has no long-term commitment with the nation's television networks for the exposure. Each event is handled as a one-shot deal and, with a multi-million dollar TV advertising budget, McDonald's will be a major force if it chooses to send McBlimp head-to-head against the Goodyear fleet.

And by all accounts, such a confrontation seems to be in the offing. Both CBS's Tessie and Keyser of McDonald's agree that a return engagement by McBlimp at the Maryland-Clemson game next Saturday in South Carolina is a good bet although no firm agreement has been struck.

Walt McClenny, a Goodyear Washington spokesman probably attuned to dealing with the heavier-than-air issues that so often dominate the nation's capital, seemed to maintain a sensible perspective before he passed the matter off to corporate headquarters in Akron, Ohio.

''One of the things we've always thought about blimps is that blimps are fun,'' McClenny said. ''We're not real happy that they're there, but at the same time that's the way it is. Competition is competition and I'm sure we'll hold our own.''