Published Jan. 16, 1995
The Chargers … are … go … ing … to … uh … sorry, somebody else will have to type this sentence for me.
The Chargers are going to the Super Bowl.
There. Thank you. That’s better. I’m OK now.
Rarely have any of us sat through something as improbable as this, something so remote — so crazy — that the mere notion of it couldn’t have entered our craniums four months ago.
The Chargers are going to the Super Bowl.
San Diego vs. San Francisco. The first all-California Super Bowl.
And they’re going because of who they are. Absolutely nothing fazes this team. No adversity is too great, no obstacle too high. These guys can walk across the Harbor Freeway at rush hour, blindfolded, and not get a scratch.
Nobody would even honk at them.
They were bad-mouthed all year — one sportswriter’s preseason prognostications ranked them last in the NFL — and bad-mouthed all week here. The Beach Boys. Had to practice in a ballroom, the wimps. The Chargers had beaten the Steelers’ junior varsity on Christmas Eve. The oddsmakers made Pittsburgh an eight-point favorite.
Final: Chargers 17, Steelers 13. Anybody care for a copy of that Steelers Super Bowl rap video now? Collector’s item.
“They should have sent their second and third teams out there,” Chargers strength and conditioning coach John Dunn said. “Maybe they would have scored more points.”
A lot of people didn’t know this team, although they basically played the same way every week, which should have made them an easy read.
Play rotten early. Stay in the game, somehow. And then rally to win in the end.
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Only the people who bothered trying to figure them out had problems with them. This is not a squad that you want to overanalyze. Unless you enjoy migraines.
When it happens once or twice, OK, it’s a fluke. But the Chargers stopped being flukes weeks ago. They find ways to win. They may not be something Michelangelo put on a ceiling, but they win.
And so San Diego can celebrate now the way Pittsburgh had prematurely been celebrating all week. For once, this is our city’s time.
“This is just great for San Diego,” general manager Bobby Beathard said. “I didn’t want to leave here with San Diego being one of the eight cities that never had a Super Bowl team.”
Beathard had been a part of several Super Bowls when he was with Miami and Washington, but this was his most satisfying.
“Yeah, this is the best,” he said. “This team has come through more than any team I’ve been around.”
Well, in the steady drizzle and surrounded by the Terrible Towel-waving crazies in Three Rivers Stadium, the Chargers had quite a bit to come through.
It was yet another of those games they should have been completely out of by halftime. Pittsburgh dominated.
The Steelers had 229 yards in the first half, the Chargers 46. The Steelers had 13 first downs, the Chargers four. The Steelers had the ball for 22:11, the Chargers 7:49.
Yet Pittsburgh only led 10-3 at the break.
When this happens, you’re playing into San Diego’s mitts, because the Chargers get work done in the second half of games. And, most important, they know they do. They don’t get down om themselves.
So quarterback Stan Humphries, after a superior play fake, finds tight end Alfred Pupunu all alone for a 43-yard score. Then Stan finds receiver Tony Martin for another 43-yarder, this one the eventual game-winner, with 5:13 to play.
“A lot of guys were excited, like we’d already won,” defensive end Leslie O’Neal said. “I told them to calm down.”
Smart guy, Leslie. In those thrilling final minutes, they almost gave it all back.
They wanted to stop the run, and force erratic quarterback Neil O’Donnell to throw. They did.
“We just didn’t want him to be so effective,” safety Stanley Richard said.
And O’Donnell was. With virtually nobody pressuring him all day, he completed 32-of-54 passes for 349 yards. But he wasn’t effective where it counts, near the goal line. The Steelers had a first down on the Chargers’ 9 near the end and O’Donnell couldn’t get it done, linebacker Dennis Gibson swatting a pass intended for back Barry Foster in the end zone.
Suddenly, everybody just kind of sat in stunned silence and looked at one another. The Chargers were going to the Super Bowl.
Steelers fans moped down the ramps, carrying their crying towels. Hard to feel sorry for them. One of the great businesses in the Pittsburgh area must be counting chickens before they’re hatched.
On this day, the Steelers just strayed too far from what they like to do.
They allowed O’Donnell to throw it 54 times, Bill Cowher’s worst nightmare.
And the Chargers were able to burn the Steelers’ blitzing defense deep because they spotted something. Their cornerbacks tend to sit down because they expect their rush to get to the quarterback before he has time to set up for the long pass. So Tony Martin ran past Tim McKyer for the winner.
It may not have been Garvey’s home run, but it was OK.
“We’ve got a couple of Terrible Towels packed,” said jubilant defensive tackle Reuben Davis. “We’re going to have a Terrible Towel bonfire at The Murph. Time for me to get my ring.”
I never thought I’d be writing fiction.