ST. LOUIS, NOV. 15 -- A conversation overheard this morning at the Busch Stadium ticket window:

Man seeking tickets: "I want the best seats ya' got, two of 'em. How close to the 50{-yard line}?"

Ticket seller: "How 'bout the 45, either 45? Either side of the field. Either deck. You want tickets, we got 'em."

There are plenty of seats available to see St. Louis Cardinals football these days. Worried about parking close to the stadium? Park outside the front gate like two guys from Peoria, Ill., did this morning. If the crowds get any smaller, the Cardinals can provide fans with a coat check.

Right underneath the sign that thanks three million Cardinals baseball fans for coming to see the 1987 National League champions, a Cardinals football employee asks a couple of lost souls, "Anybody for will call? Nobody for will call. Nobody at all? Oh, both of you, great, thank you."

Welcome to practically the emptiest stadium in the NFL, this week, last week, every week. Against Philadelphia on Nov. 1, 24,586 showed up. Last Sunday, only 22,449 watched in person, as the Cardinals beat Tampa Bay.

Today, even though the home team hoped to climb into the race for a wild-card playoff spot, just 27,730 came to Busch, where the Cardinals all but killed their playoff hopes by blowing a 10-point lead and watching the Los Angeles Rams kick a 20-yard field goal as time ran out for a 27-24 victory.

Mike Lansford's kick finished a 23-play drive that consumed an amazing 11 minutes, the final 11:01 to be exact. It was a much-needed lift for the beleaguered Rams (2-7), whose union players won for the first time this season, thanks largely to tailback Charles White's 213 yards rushing.

But the effort was wasted on yet another half-full house in St. Louis. After selling 40,000 season tickets in 1982, the number has dipped to 29,000, worst in the NFL.

And this, among other reasons, is why Cardinals owner William V. Bidwill -- whose family has been in control of the franchise for the last half-century -- has been entertaining offers from Baltimore, Jacksonville and Phoenix in recent weeks to relocate the team.

Bidwill wasn't very visible today; after a death threat against him last week, Bidwill and friends moved out of the owners' private box and into an undisclosed suite elsewhere in Busch. There's plenty of room since nearly half the sky boxes have gone unsold this season.

Bidwill has until Jan. 15, the deadline for him to notify the league, to decide on a move. But club officials said today that a more reasonable timetable for Bidwill is four weeks.

Some people within the league believe Bidwill already has decided, and is simply trying to figure out which city to pick as his new home. "I don't see how he could return," one club executive said. "He's already turned down one proposal. He's never threatened the city or done a lot of posturing. It simply seems like a move is likely."

Others within the league, while not wanting to speculate publicly on what Bidwill might do, feel he will almost certainly move the team to Baltimore. Bidwill has no direct ties to the city, but he is a Georgetown graduate, his son William Jr. is also a Georgetown alumnus, a son Michael currently attends Catholic University and daughter Nicole attends Marymount in Arlington. It's obvious Bidwill is fond of the area.

Making all this more complicated is the fact that the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County, which have different governments, are at odds, with the football Cardinals in the middle.

The county offered a plan for a 70,500-seat open-air stadium in the suburbs, which Bidwill rejected in part because the revenue from the sky boxes and premium seats would help finance the stadium and not go to him.

As a result, County Executive Gene McNary said he will not join the city's save-the-Cardinals campaign. McNary, in effect, told Bidwill to "take a hike", which is something many fans did a while ago.

The Cardinals are supported by western and southern Illinois as much as eastern Missouri, and fans here already were fed up with poor drafting and 17 losing seasons in the club's 27 years here. The Cardinals never have played a home playoff game here.

But Bidwill's plea for a new stadium, which actually began three years ago, finally wore them down. They felt they were being told not only to support the team regardless of its success -- the Cardinals have lost 31 of their last 46 games -- but to do so in increasing numbers if they wanted the team to stay.

Bill and Barbara Thiele, long-time season-ticket holders who drive 120 miles each way to games from Perry, Ill., say they don't want to see the team leave, but hear what others have to say.

Said Barbara Thiele, "The attitude is if he's going to act like this about it, if he's going to ask for a domed stadium when you can't even half-fill this one, then we'll get Bidwill a ticket and get him the hell out."

"But the worst part of it is these fans think they can get Bidwill out of town, then get an expansion franchise in a couple of years," Bob Bohn, a St. Louis cabbie, said. "Listen to the talk shows, and you'll see how mistaken these fans are. The consensus is that he'll move to Baltimore, but that they also don't care. This time next year, they'll care. It'll be the end of pro football as this city knows it."

Bidwill, of course, would be the villain. But those who know him say he is not an impulsive Bob Irsay-type. Bidwill never has complained publicly about the lack of fan support. He is not an absentee owner, again like Irsay with whom he is bound to be compared. He has lived here 27 years, is active in the community, and seems comfortable and settled in St. Louis.

"People don't really understand that it would really be a tough thing for him to move the franchise," one person in the Cardinals' organization said.

But Bidwill has had his chances to make the kind of improvements that would have made the Cardinals a much more attractive team to fans. The Cardinals still don't have a general manager, and have drafted miserably. In the last four years, 13 selections in the first three rounds -- premium draft choices in the NFL -- have resulted in only four starters. Five of those 13 have already been cut.

The 1987 first-round draft choice was another shocker -- quarterback Kelly Stouffer from Colorado State, who was selected against all conventional wisdom. And worst of all, he is the only first-round pick still unsigned.

Bidwill, who personally interviews $20,000-a-year secretaries, didn't interview Stouffer and didn't send any of the club's top brass to interview the quarterback before drafting him.

Those Cardinals in uniform, however, are the ones suffering most. Mark Duda, a defensive lineman who played at the University of Maryland, said, "It's so hard to accept playing in front of these small crowds. All of us played in front of larger crowds than that in college.

"We're not that bad a team. We've been competitive in every game. Everybody figures we're going to move, and it's just a matter of where. And the fans feel sad because the team is going to leave. I know it's not official or for sure, but every player's got his favorite place to go. Me? I'd love to go back to Baltimore, but we're all just waiting for now."

L.A. Rams 14 0 10 3 27 St. Louis 3 14 7 0 24

First Quarter

LA -- White 47 run (Lansford kick), 3:05

STL -- FG Gallery 44, 7:30

LA -- Johnson 10 pass from Everett (Lansford kick), 9:59 Second Quarter

STL -- Mitchell 5 run (Gallery kick), 7:00

STL -- Awalt 19 pass from Lomax (Gallery kick), 14:27 Third Quarter

STL -- McAdoo fumble recovery in end zone (Gallery kick), :11

LA -- Gray blocked punt recovery in end zone (Lansford kick), 8:36

LA -- FG Lansford 28, 14:46 Fourth Quarter

LA -- FG Lansford 20, 15:00

A -- 27,730

Rams Cardinals First downs 21 19 Rushes-yards 44-239 24-124 Passing yards 144 156 Return yards 14 20 Passing 14-26-1 19-29-0 Sacked-yards lost 1-10 3-29 Punts-average 3-37 4-34 Fumbles-lost 3-1 1-1 Penalties-yards 4-15 3-20 Time of possession 33:06

RUSHING -- Los Angeles: White 34-213, Guman 6-20, Everett 3-8, Bell 1-minus 2. St. Louis: Mitchell 14-78, F

PASSING -- Los Angeles: Everett 14-26-1, 154 yards. St. Louis: Lomax 18-27-0, 168, Mitchell 1-2-0, 17.

RECEIVING -- Los Angeles: Brown 3-78, Ellard 3-20, D. Johnson 2-23, Hill 2-13, White 2-8, House 1-7, Guman