FINAL FOUR FEVER descended on the Seattle area this week, and the news media wasn't slow to notice. Which stood to reason. Even for an area with a Division I university and three major league sports, it doesn't get any bigger than this. "The Main Event" proclaimed the News Tribune of Tacoma. "Final Four, Chapter Three" shouted the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

And that was on the front page of the papers, not the sports sections.It's not as though the Emerald City is a babe in the, er, woods when it comes to hosting major events. Seattle hosted the Final Four in 1984 and 1989 and made money like it was growing on the evergreen trees. Officials estimate the Final Four will bring in $33 million, not counting $250,000 in taxes.

Consequently, nobody's holding back on hype. Final Four banners adorn the street corners throughout downtown. Restaurants feature basketball pictures on the walls. Retail stores are hanging basketballs in their display windows. You can barely walk down the street for a bran muffin and unfiltered fruit juice without running into someone selling Final Four T-shirts.

Everyone, it seems, is geared up for the big weekend. They're polishing the decks and repainting the tour boats down on the waterfront. They're putting on their best all-cotton Eddie Bauer slacks. Downtown at the Westlake Center, a five-story bracket details the journey of each team to the Final Four. The Space Needle is adorned with a giant basketball on top.

Reasons for such preparations are, of course, money, more money and obscene amounts of money. Final Four-type publicity brings fans, who bring credit cards. Such mega-events also bring exposure, which brings tourists, who also bring credit cards.

All things considered, it's as close as you can legally get to printing currency.

Indeed, Seattle seems to be caught up in an unusually festive mood over the prospects. This is a place that wears a gray cloud overcoat most of the year. A good place to be depressed. Yet, this week you won't hear anyone complaining about Californians moving up and paying inflated prices for homes or the logging industry cutting down all the trees. You'd even be hard pressed to find a grunge rocker talking about the futility of life.

People who don't have the slightest idea who the starting center is for North Carolina - or care - are even getting into the act. Private T-shirt vendors can make $200,000 in four days. There are Final Four soft drink cups and Final Four key chains and Final Four snacks and Final Four special mall sales everywhere you look.

Free enterprise at its finest.

If you're planning on attending this year's Final Four by picking up a ticket when you get here, don't bother. All 38,588 tickets are gone, unless you plan to get them from scalpers, who are commanding $3,500 for a courtside seat.

And you thought the smoked salmon was expensive.

That, however, doesn't mean there isn't anything else to do. There's the Final Four Photographic Exhibition at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, the NABC Fan Jam, the stay in school program and the NABC all-star game. You may not get that autograph of Big Country Reeves, but at least you can say you were in his neighborhood.

Then there's the Dick Vitale sound-alike national finals on Sunday.

Nobody ever said big events have to have taste.

This year's Final Four fever has taken hold in a city not noted for its indoor sports fervor. Seattleites would just as soon be jogging around Lake Washington or deep sea fishing off the Puget Sound as watching a game of college hoops. They'd rather carry a backpack than a gym bag; rather wear hiking boots than high-tops. You're more likely to see a bandana than a baseball cap; see a poster of Curt Cobain than Ken Griffey Jr. This is a town where they build their monuments to Jimi Hendrix, not to Jack Sikma.

Though the University of Washington is a perennial football power, the NFL Seahawks and MLB Mariners constantly fend off rumors of being sold or moved. The NBA Sonics always seem to disappoint. This year they even left town to play their games in Tacoma while the Seattle Center Coliseum is rebuilt.

So this year the biggest game in town is the Final Four, and they're pulling out all the stops. Which is easy enough to understand. Everyone in town may not know the number of times Dean Smith has been to the Final Four, but they all know how to count money.