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This is the time in the season when the wheat usually leaves the chaff in the NFL. This year there is almost no chaff, so the turnstiles are whirring as have-nots like San Francisco and Pittsburgh scramble the standings

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When Buddy Parker, the leathery-faced coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, chose a "Meet the Lions" banquet as the place to announce his resignation as coach of the Detroit Lions, he stirred up considerable excitement in the National Football League. Unhappy with a behind-the-scenes tug of war between two factions of owners, Parker quit dramatically, stayed on the sidelines for 16 days, then returned to the coaching wars abruptly as the chief of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has continued to stir up excitement in his new role, too. He shuffled off a pair of first-draft choices for a good quarterback and swapped personnel as enthusiastically as his Texas forebears ever swapped horses. Now, after seven games, the Steelers are in third place, ready for a late run at the leaders in the East, and football interest in Pittsburgh is booming. Although the Cleveland Browns have parlayed their usual tremendous defense into first place (with the help of a surprisingly good performance from Quarterback Tommy O'Connell and some booming running from rookie Fullback Jim Brown), Pittsburgh, a game behind the second-place New York Giants, is still a threat. In the West, just past the halfway mark, the surprising team has been the San Francisco 49ers. No one seems exactly sure what Frankie Albert has done to his warriors to put them in first place, but a few factors are pretty clear. Yelberton Abraham Tittle, the balding 49er quarterback, is having one of his best seasons. One of the reasons for this fine season is a kangaroolike slot-back end named R. C. Owens, who has a special play called the "Alley-oop," designed to take advantage of his ability to leap high in the air and descend with the football in his hands. On this play, Tittle, ignoring any defenders who may be clustered around Owens, heaves the ball high and far down field and Owens simply jumps higher than the defenders and catches it. This particular maneuver has accounted for at least two of the 49er victories. Owens' heroics and the rabid intercity rivalry accounted for the biggest crowd in NFL history Sunday when 102,368 fans packed capacious Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to watch the Rams stop the 49ers, 37-24. It was the biggest week in NFL history, with 312,131 at the six league games.

At the halfway mark in the season Commissioner Bert Bell reported that attendance was running 5% ahead of last season's record figures. As this season goes on, the ability of the underdogs to whomp their betters regularly may insure an even bigger increase in the burgeoning crowds.

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PHOTO

BUDDY PARKER has his Pittsburgh Steelers up close, Steeler fans buying tickets.