By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch

A week ago at this time, a Rams fan from south St. Louis County looked at his home playoff tickets and said: "Well, I guess I won't need these. Maybe I'll hold them in my hand and look at them while I watch the Seattle game."

Let's hope that fan didn't toss those tickets into the trash. Although it's still a long shot, it's a lot more likely that the Rams can host a playoff game at the Edward Jones Dome than it was a week ago.

The only playoff game the Rams could play at home is the NFC championship game Jan. 23. And only if it's a matchup of the No. 5-seeded Rams and the No. 6-seeded Minnesota Vikings, two teams that finished the regular season at 8-8.

Well, the Rams and Vikings are halfway there. In wild-card play last weekend, the Rams upset No. 4 seed Seattle 27-20 on Saturday, and the Vikings toppled No. 3 Green Bay 31-17 on Sunday.

If the Rams win at Atlanta this Saturday, and if the Vikings win at Philadelphia on Sunday, the NFC title game will be played in St. Louis for the third time in six years. Granted, those are a couple of huge ifs. But if it happens, it will be a chaotic Monday for the Rams' ticket office.

That's because only about 50 percent of the Rams' PSL holders returned invoices for playoff tickets.

"We had just over a 50 percent response," said Michael Naughton, the Rams' vice president of ticket operations. "Now, that's on accounts, not number of seats."

In other words, some accounts may be for four season tickets. Others may be for just one. Overall, there are about 25,000 accounts, encompassing more than 60,000 seats and club seats in the Dome.

But in theory, if the Rams and Vikings both win, about 30,000 tickets could be available Monday morning for the NFC championship game in St. Louis. First come, first served. "We're looking at sales through Ticketmaster, the Internet, phones and outlets, but not at the Dome," Naughton said.

If it comes to that, complete details on a Monday sale will be announced over the weekend, Naughton said.

The NFL requests that teams in playoff contention send out playoff ticket invoices as early as late November or early December. The Rams sent out their invoices Dec. 6, the day after the Rams defeated San Francisco at the Dome. That victory gave the Rams a 6-6 record, in effect giving them the NFC West lead over a Seattle club that was also 6-6 at the time. The Rams held the tiebreaker edge because they swept the season series.

But the deadline for invoices was Dec. 20, or the day after the Arizona game.

"And at that point we were 6-8," Naughton said.

Not only 6-8, but reeling after nightmare losses to Carolina and the Cardinals. Which probably explains the low return rate for playoff tickets.

In most playoff seasons for St. Louis, the Rams have had close to a 100 percent return on playoff invoices.

"We've always been on a pretty good roll heading in, and the expectations were that we were going to be in the playoffs, and we were going to host," Naughton said. "So there was no problem with people putting the money out."

Of course, this is a different set of circumstances this season.

"Very different," Naughton said. "But anytime you're still around in January, you'll take whatever scenario it is."

Although the deadline to mail in invoices has passed, PSL holders can still retain their seats online at Those doing so still have to pay the full invoice price. In other words, a two-game package ranging from $142 (for one ticket for two games), up to $350 for club seats.

Ticket prices are set by the NFL, not the Rams. If there is no home playoff game, or just the NFC title game, any unused money automatically rolls over into that PSL holder's account for the 2005 season. Or PSL holders can request a refund, but only if the request is made in writing.

But the dynamic changes by Sunday afternoon, if the Rams and Vikings win. The tickets then go on the open market Monday.

"If they don't do it before the end of the Minnesota game on Sunday, there's no way we can protect those seats," Naughton said.

The phone number for the Rams' ticket office is 314-425- 8830.