LOS ANGELES, SEPT. 5 -- With only three days remaining before the start of the National Football League season, the big question hanging over the Raiders is will they play their home games in Los Angeles or Oakland? Or both?

And don't forget the big money being offered by Sacramento.

Team owner Al Davis, who has more than held his own against the league in court and on the playing field, has everyone -- from Sunday's opponent, the Denver Broncos, to fans in both California cities to the league office -- off balance and out of sorts.

Davis has to make a move quickly, at least in setting the site for Sunday's home game for the Raiders. The other seven Raiders games? One can only guess what Davis has in mind.

Only 25,071 were in attendance Saturday at the L.A. Coliseum for a 34-7 preseason Raiders victory over San Diego. The victory gave Los Angeles its best preseason record since 1976; the sparse crowd was the smallest home turnout -- here or in Oakland -- in more than two decades.

It seems that football has become almost secondary as far as the Raiders are concerned. Geography, while still unclear, is a far more compelling subject.

The Move. That's what everyone has been asking about.

With last week's announcement that Oakland and Alameda County have given themselves a 30-day extension to present a proposal for the Raiders' return to Oakland, it's hard to imagine Davis orchestrating a move in the next few days. The Broncos have made plane reservations for Los Angeles and Oakland, but not Sacramento.

"I don't want to say nobody cares, but as players we have nothing to do with it," said defensive tackle Bob Golic after the victory over San Diego. "Obviously, you don't want to move anywhere in midseason. But what sums this all up is that this is the history of the Raiders.

"It's just another crazy Raiders chapter."

By winning their last four preseason games after a loss to the New Orleans Saints in London, the players have avoided the controversy. The party line in the locker room seems to be that it doesn't matter where the team is, as long as it plays like the Raiders did during the era of Coach Art Shell, who retired in 1983 with two Super Bowl rings and eight Pro Bowl appearances.

For the first time in almost five years, the Raiders are doing just that. With the appointment of Shell last October, Los Angeles began to re-establish its sultry disregard for the opposition, a personality trait that resulted in a 6-0 home record with Shell as coach.

Shell labels home losses as unforgivable -- "Nobody should come into your backyard and beat you there" -- and obviously has made an impression on his players. But who knows where the home field mystique will be in 1990?

"In the beginning, {the players} talked about it so much," Golic said. "This game is too difficult to worry about things out of your control. Playing for the Raiders is the bottom line."

Said running back Vance Mueller: "Art has given us direction. When we played under {Shell's predecessor Mike} Shanahan, we didn't know how we were supposed to be. . . . Wherever we play, we have to be ready for Denver."

If the San Diego game was any indication, the Raiders are ready for the defending AFC champion Broncos.

Los Angeles begins the season with a rejuvenated Jay Schroeder at quarterback, a solid offensive line anchored by three-time Pro Bowler and Plan B signee Max Montoya, and, most importantly, health. Going into 1989, the Raiders were without five injured starters.

"Hopefully, we've arrived as a team," Shell said.

Maybe the Raiders have, and Shell will find that out soon enough. Fan support looms as a bigger, yet less significant, question mark.

Although the Denver game figures to attract a large crowd regardless of venue, it's hard to predict what fan response will be week after week. There is a hope among some players that the sparse turnout during the preseason was due to the nature of the games, not because of a lack of interest.

Whatever the reason, fans here just weren't showing up for the exhibitions, despite a promising start to what many feel could be Los Angeles's first playoff season since 1985.

"It has affected the fans more or less," veteran defensive end Greg Townsend said of the rumored move. "We have a lot of empty seats out there. They're reading so much into what the media is writing.

"That is very frustrating. Playing in a stadium {capacity of 100,000} as large as this and seeing 28 or 30 thousand fans, it seems like there's 20 or 30 people here."

Mueller said: "I suppose {it's frustrating} when you see the numbers dwindle. I can't necessarily blame the fans for it. We haven't put the numbers on the board like the Raiders normally do."

It should prove to be a difficult challenge for the Raiders, dealing with the uncertainty that has been present ever since Irwindale, Calif., expressed interest in housing the Raiders and issued a $10 million advance to Davis a few years back.

So far, though, they've proven successful at avoiding the current distractions.

"It's not like I play well when there's 50,000 people here and bad when there's 20,000," said wide receiver Willie Gault. "It's their choice to be here; they pay the money. We can't be concerned with that.

"It doesn't matter whether there's five people or 55,000. We just have to go out there as football players and do our best, because the field anywhere is 100 yards long."