ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The talks about selling and moving are heating up, even if the Los Angeles Rams aren't.
And at maybe their lowest ebb since the franchise motored down the freeway to Anaheim, John Shaw, the team's most powerful executive, had to be re-asked the question:
Is this club (a) for sale, as widely rumored? Or (b) strongly considering a move to another city?
"The team isn't for sale, I can tell you that," said Shaw, the executive vice president, "but . . ."
And this next comment was perhaps the biggest hit of all for Rams' fans to absorb Sunday when their favorite team was being shut out, 13-0, by the NFL's worst defense (Atlanta) and the paid attendance was the lowest non-strike season figure in the 13 1/2 years the team has played in Anaheim.
". . . at some time, it might make sense to consider other options," Shaw said, hedging somewhat on his original statement of only a few weeks ago.
"Other options" mean Baltimore or another non-expansion city where Shaw and owner Georgia Frontiere think the Rams would be more appreciated.
How anyone could appreciate what unfolded here on a cold, windy November Sunday is something Shaw didn't address. But let's face it, the Rams, now in undisputed last place in the NFC West at 2-7, are in a terrible funk, the worst since their 10-game losing streak two years ago.
Some 3,000 firefighters were presented tickets by team management for the game with Atlanta, which was a well-meaning gesture for those who helped battle the recent Southern California blazes.
All things considered, though, these heroic gentlemen deserved better reward than watching the Rams get reeled in like a limp fire hose.
If Baltimore had called and asked whether this team were available late Sunday afternoon, most of the paying 34,073 non-firefighters in the stands at Anaheim Stadium might have shrieked a resounding, "Yes!"
Take our team -- please. To borrow a variation on an old Henny Youngman line.
Still, the pathetic present state of the franchise pales in what could be a future without any local pro football south of the L.A. Coliseum.
Clearly, Shaw no longer is issuing any strong denials that he is in discussion with Baltimore officials about a possible move. If anything, in fact, he either is making it obvious a move is under consideration for as early as 1995, or he is hinting that he is open to a sweeter deal.
"We have a lease [with Anaheim Stadium] we can get out of for a lot of money," Shaw said Sunday. "That does give us some options."
It won't happen next year.
"I can guarantee you we will play next season here," he said.
Great. But he couldn't guarantee beyond 1994, and if that isn't some kind of a tipoff, nothing is.
Shaw has stated that he and the owner are upset with attendance, and Sunday's record low crowd only reinforces his feelings that Southern California is turning off to pro football as a major attraction.
Of course, winning pro football is a long way from the kind his team is currently dispensing, and one thing we know about this area: It responds to success and abhors failure.
Ask the Lakers. Once the hottest ticket in town, their attendance has fallen off more dramatically than their won-lost record this season.
The key for the Rams might be the NFL's upcoming expansion vote and whether the league decides to announce two more expansion cities to open business a couple of years down the road.
If, on the next ballot, Baltimore, with money to burn, is passed over in favor of St. Louis, and the NFL doesn't designate any other future franchise winners, then look for talks between the Maryland city and Shaw to get more serious.
"Nothing is totally out of the question," he said.
Not off the field, anyway. On the field, it appears totally out of the question that the Rams can turn this season around.