Silent Sunday. National Football League stadiums are empty today, and the faithful who usually fill them find it almost impossible to figure out why.

Even if it involved something other than America's fall ritual, the NFL strike would command attention. The class struggle here is decidedly upper, the temporarily rich doing battle with the unimaginably wealthy.

Millionaires man picket lines from Seattle to Tampa, from Foxboro, Mass., to Irving, Tex., to wherever in southern California the nomadic Raiders may be now.

At $900,000, the Redskins' Jay Schroeder this year will earn more than all the residents of entire villages who consider pro football a shared pleasure. And Schroeder's financial statement surely pales against those of many fellow strikers.

Quarterbacks and other stars inflate NFL wages. Management and the union agree that the average salary is $230,000, or about $14,375 per game. But what does that mean?

To the owners, it seems to mean this: Jack Kent Cooke could pay each of the 45 active-roster Redskins $230,000 and still have about $6 million left over before he counted the first penny from the first ticket sold at RFK Stadium.

Because NFL teams share so much, a look at the balance sheet of one allows educated guesses about the others. The Green Bay Packers are publicly held, so some of their general records are available.

Last year, the Packers reported income from television, radio and programs at $16,748,571. The bulk of it came from national television, whose money is split equally among the 28 teams. Probably, local radio and program income also is fairly constant around the league.

So paying a 45-man roster the average salary amounts to a payroll of about $10.3 million. That's against television, radio and program sales of about $16.7 million.

The Packers reported "season expenses" of $15,328,386. This seems to lump the salaries of everyone -- players, coaches, scouts, executives and office staff. But severance pay, an important part of prior union bargaining, amounted to $659,166 last year for the Packers.

Pro football's heavy reliance on television is illustrated by this: Packers gate receipts at home ($3,793,725) and away ($2,541,155) were $10.3 million less than television-dominated revenue.

In all, the Packers reported slightly more than $23 million in regular season income and total income of $27,379,322. After taxes, the net income was $3,081,766, or almost exactly $1 million more than they earned the previous year.

The Packers were tied for the third-worst record in the NFL last year, 4-12. Yet their net income was about 50 percent higher than 1985. This explains why pro football franchises are so immensely valued.

"Football is a true partnership, as opposed to the other sports," said Michael Megna, who works for a Milwaukee firm involved with big-money appraisals. "A large proportion of total revenues in the NFL is shared, so there is a lower risk to the participant {owner}.

"The worst team in football receives the same share of national television money as the best. That's one key advantage of having a football team, as opposed to a baseball team. You can sleep better at night, knowing where more than half your revenue is coming from." A Developing Industry

As a highly visible and highly lucrative industry, the NFL is quite young. Hardly anyone, owners and players, made much before the late '50s and early '60s.

With some important decision makers in between, the Redskins in 51 years have been lateraled from founder George Preston Marshall to Cooke. The late Milton King saw much of it unfold.

"Curly Lambeau used to claim he got the Green Bay Packers for $50," King once recalled, "so I told a group George Marshall was an even better businessman, because he got the Redskins for $25.

"I mentioned the story to Marshall and he shook his head and said: 'I got 'em for nothing . . .' "

In 1961, Cooke bought 25 percent of the Redskins for $350,000. Which meant the team had a value of about $1.4 million 26 years ago. One very productive Redskins passing combination, Schroeder to Art Monk, fetches more than that now.

The value of an NFL franchise hardly is an exact estimate, owing as it does to an prospective owner's ego and penchant for publicity possible in few other ventures.

The purchase price for the San Francisco 49ers in 1978 was $18 million. The most recent NFL franchises sold were the Broncos, Cowboys and Saints, appraiser Megna said, "and the cheapest went for $65 million."

In 1980, the Redskins were valued at about $30 million; they might be worth $80 million right now, even with the major assets parading in protest outside the posh (by pre-'70s standards) training grounds.

So Cooke got himself a staggering return on that initial investment of $350,000. But he and others were involved in considerable risk during the early-'60s war with the Lamar Hunt-led American Football League.

Breathless, somebody mentioned to Hunt's father that AFL teams might lose as much as $1 million a year.

"Well," the legendary H.L. Hunt reportedly replied, "that means he'll be broke in about 150 years."

The exciting possibilities that drive prices of NFL franchises even higher are luxury boxes and cable television, with the latter especially significant.

When more of the country is wired for cable, some observers of sports and broadcasting feel, maverick owners might break off from the league and create their own pay-per-view deals. Individually or collectively, cable is expected to be the next ownership bonanza.

The players, meanwhile, have been grabbing a significant share of all this fresh stash. Their fair share, they argue, since nobody ever paid anything close to serious money to watch an owner own.

If the name Lawson Fiscus means nothing to the casual fan, or player, or owner, he nonetheless is historically significant. Fiscus generally is acknowledged as the first player to openly admit accepting a regular paycheck to play football.

An independent team in Greensburg, Pa., paid him $20 a week in the early 1890s, Fiscus said. Often, teams had to play twice on weekends to earn more than meal money.

In 1925, Red Grange stunned sports by signing a contract that called for $3,000 a game or 30 percent of the gate. The Bears then made him earn every cent by scheduling eight games in 12 days.

Just this year, the NFL began offering old-timer pensions, to players with more than five years' experience prior to 1959. The monthly checks are for $60 times the number of years the player spent in the NFL.

It's more gesture than largesse for the owners. Still, it means that former Redskin Al Demao makes more money 34 years after leaving the NFL than he did in all but one season playing in the NFL.

All of this is relative. If football's owners are making geometrically more, so should football's players. But one reason the players are carrying signs instead of the ball, is another game in flux. Comparisons to Baseball

Time and again, football players can be heard growling about how much better off the baseball guys are. In addition to playing a safer (by far) game, they also have it at least twice as good off the field.

The average salary in baseball is about double that in the NFL. A 10-year veteran in football, at age 55, gets a pension of $1,300 a month; a 10-year veteran in baseball, at the same age, draws $3,000 a month.

Widow's benefits are the same in each sport; dependent children get $50 per month from football; baseball allows $200 per month.

Football seems to offer more for players deemed totally and permanently disabled, a maximum of $4,000 per month versus $3,333.33. But only Darryl Stingley, the players association says, has collected that since 1981.

"Two-thirds of total and permanent applicants are denied {by a board made up of three players and three owners}," said the football union's director of benefits, Miki Yaras. "Very few cases go to arbitration, because the language in the plan is so narrow.

"Total-and-permanent guidelines say you can't work at any occupation. Which means that selling pencils on a street corner from an iron lung is an occupation."

A reasonable person would expect that players making as much as 10 times those in their age group would be able to tuck quite a lot away for life after their brief-career sport. Few do.

"About 88 percent apply for early retirement," Yaras said of a system that allows a player, at age 45, to collect slightly less than half what he would get 10 years later.

For the players, the crux of the matter is whether to settle for money now, in the form of free agency, or money later, in the form of dramatically increased retirement and severance.

A 10-year player who retired in 1985 or last year was entitled to a lump sum of $130,000 in severance pay. But the careers of most players last less than four years.

Negotiations also were simpler several generations ago. In the 1930s, free spirit and future Hall of Famer Johnny Blood was lured from the Pottsville (Pa.) Maroons to the Green Bay Packers for $100 a game.

Lambeau said Blood would get an extra $10 if agreed to stop drinking the Tuesday before each game.

"Make it Wednesday," Blood said.

Wednesday it was.