More than three dozen veteran National Football League players crossed striking teammates' picket lines yesterday, bringing to 85 the number of union players who have made themselves eligible to play in this weekend's games.

An estimated 38 players crossed picket lines as the NFL strike reached its 12th day, including five members of the Los Angeles Rams, five Denver Broncos and nine St. Louis Cardinals. Among the big names joining the nonunion players in camp were New England Patriots all-pro cornerback Raymond Clayborn, St. Louis Cardinals linebacker E.J. Junior, Dallas Cowboys defensive end Ed (Too Tall) Jones and Denver Broncos receiver Steve Watson.

A half-dozen other players -- including Los Angeles Raiders all-pro defensive end Howie Long and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana -- said they were ready to return, but were talked into remaining with their striking teammates by team officials.

In Los Angeles, Raiders Managing General Partner Al Davis sent Long and Bill Pickel back to the picket line after they had reported and worked out. In San Francisco, Coach Bill Walsh advised Montana, wide receiver Dwight Clark, running back Roger Craig and a handful of other players to stay together.

To receive their salaries for this weekend's games, players had to return to their teams by 3 p.m. PDT. Despite the defections, 1,500 NFLPA members remain on strike and there are still 14 teams -- including the Washington Redskins, Chicago Bears and New York Giants -- that have not had a single member cross a picket line.

Although Gene Upshaw, executive director of the players union, called Thursday for a resumption of negotiations, no talks have been scheduled and the two sides have not met since Sept. 25. The owners have said that the players' demand for less restrictive free agency is the only issue standing in the way of the signing of a three-year contract.

Yesterday, Upshaw made a personal appeal for solidarity to the St. Louis Cardinals, after which nine players crossed picket lines and returned to practice.

"All they're doing is helping management bust the union," Upshaw said of the Cardinals' action. "They're telling their teammates they don't care about them, that they don't give a damn about anybody but themselves."

Several of the returning players said they didn't believe Upshaw was acting in their best interests. Some were quoted as saying they do not believe in striking for free agency -- the primary sticking point of these negotiations -- and that they can gain improved pension and severance benefits, increased roster sizes and other bargaining priorities through normal negotiations with the owners.

"There are a lot of guys who feel the same way that I do, only they decided to give it one more week," Los Angeles Rams quarterback Steve Dils told reporters on his return. "Basically, I didn't feel that Gene was representing what the players wanted, and that was {his insistence on} sticking on the free agency issue. I had already given {the owners} one paycheck. I didn't see any reason to give them another, based on what Gene was saying as recently as Tuesday night, that he wasn't backing off {free agency}."

"I could spend an hour going back and forth over my reasoning," said the 49ers' Clark. "It seems to me that Gene Upshaw is not fighting for what I want or what the team wants."

Thursday, Upshaw said racism by the league's owners was inhibiting the talks. The Management Council, the owners' bargaining arm, denied the accusation and yesterday one player, former assistant player representative Ron Wooten of the New England Patriots, said Upshaw's statement had prompted his return.

"I've been wavering since we walked out," Wooten said. "When Gene made it public he's making this into a racial issue, I didn't think I could be party to that kind of maneuvering."

Although the union appeared to be struggling, management was also feeling the pinch as this weekend's strike games approached. Nearly 300,000 tickets, more than one-third of the total sold for Sunday's games, have been returned by fans.

Although the Redskins did not release the count of returned tickets or tickets sold, it seemed certain their streak of 159 straight sellouts would end this weekend. James Dalrymple, president of the D.C. Armory Board, which operates RFK Stadium, said between 35,000 and 40,000 fans are expected for Sunday's Redskins-Cardinals game.

Three major auto manufacturers and the Miller Brewing Co. have pulled their ads from the telecasts of the replacement games. "The fans are not buying these second-rate games and neither are the advertisers," said union spokesman Frank Woschitz.

Lawrence Taylor, the star linebacker of the Super Bowl-champion New York Giants, said he considered playing this weekend but also will wait until at least Monday before going back to work. "I'm just thinking of doing what I have to do to retain my sanity," Taylor said. "Hopefully, it can be worked out before I have to make that decision but if not, I'll have to make my own."

Meanwhile, in Dallas, two more Cowboys starters, Jones and wide receiver Mike Renfro, returned to the club, making them the fifth and sixth Cowboys starters to break from the union ranks. New England offensive linemen Sean Farrell and Wooten joined Clayborn in returning to New England.

In New York, where striking Jets fought with picket line-crosser Mark Gastineau earlier this week, three starters returned, including defensive linemen Joe Klecko and Marty Lyons. Defensive lineman Willie Broughton became the third member of the Indianapolis Colts to cross.

Five Denver Broncos came in, including Watson and starting linebacker Jim Ryan. Also joining the replacement team were defensive lineman Walt Bowyer, tight end Bobby Micho and offensive lineman Winford Hood.

And in Anaheim, Calif., five Rams returned, including four defensive starters: safety Nolan Cromwell, linebacker Jim Collins and defensive linemen Shawn Miller and Greg Meisner. Along with punter Dale Hatcher, nine Rams from the regular roster have reported back to camp. The Cardinals reported 14 regulars back. In Atlanta, linebackers Tim Green and Joe Costello became the first two Falcons to cross the line.