San Diego charged up by rematch

January 08, 1995|By Los Angeles Times News Service

SAN DIEGO -- It has been two years since the San Diego Chargers fell on their faces in the AFC playoffs against the Miami Dolphins, losing, 31-0, in a second-round game in Miami.

For San Diego linebacker Junior Seau, it might as well have been two minutes ago. The game is still that clear in his mind's eye.

Going 11-5 to win the AFC West has put the Chargers back into the playoffs this year and back up against the Dolphins, their opponents today at Jack Murphy Stadium.

But Seau keeps flashing back to those other Dolphins.

"I can still see that game going on fresh in my mind," he said. "When you get a whupping like that, it's a slap in the face. It's like saying we should have bought a ticket to Miami.

"We stepped on the field and we stepped off and I heard we lost."

Just like that.

Revenge might be an overused motivational technique in sports, but San Diego figures to need every one it can find against the much-improved, multifaceted Dolphins.

And the Chargers will certainly need Seau, a key figure in a game that matches the top two defenses in the conference against the rush. With or without redemption on his mind, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Seau has long been one of the more intimidating defensive players in the league.

Although he played the last six games of the season with a pinched nerve in his neck that sometimes limited the strength in his right arm, Seau led San Diego in tackles with 155, nearly double the total of the runner-up, and also had 5 1/2 sacks.

The nerve is not completely healed, but Seau said the two-week break between games -- the Chargers had a bye last weekend -- has done it a world of good.

"You just have to take time off," he said, "and we don't have time."

Seau figures to expend all the strength he can muster against the Dolphins (11-6), champions of the AFC East and 27-17 winners over Kansas City in their playoff opener in Miami a week ago.

For years, the word on the Dolphins was actually two words: Stop Marino. Since he took control of the Miami offense in 1983, quarterback Dan Marino has been the center of the Dolphins' universe, taking the team as far as he could carry it on his strong right arm.

But that wasn't far enough. Although he has posted record-breaking numbers that have placed him among the greatest ever to play, Miami has only been to one Super Bowl in his era and lost that one.

But now the Dolphins feel confident they can return to the top because a team too long one-dimensional has become three-dimensional.

Now it's not enough to stop Marino. Now opponents must also stop running back Bernie Parmalee and start finding ways to fight through the Miami defense.

After carrying the ball just 10 times in his first two seasons, Parmalee bounded off the bench and into the spotlight this season, rushing for 868 yards and six touchdowns even though he started just 10 games. Against the Los Angeles Raiders, he ran for a career-high 150 yards and led his team down the field in overtime to the game-winning field goal. Against the Detroit Lions in the regular-season finale, Parmalee scored three touchdowns.

Last week against the Chiefs, Parmalee had a team-high 57 yards and a touchdown.

Parmalee doesn't figure to find much daylight today, going against a Chargers defense that surrendered a conference-low 87.8 yards per game on the ground this season. But Marino is still thankful to have Parmalee's presence in the backfield.

"It keeps the defense a little more honest," Marino said. "Instead of teams just teeing off and knowing we're going to try to throw it every down, it helps our offensive linemen knowing the defense is going to have to try to stop the run also."

Defense has made a big difference for Miami this season. The Dolphins rank just behind San Diego in run defense among AFC teams, having allowed 89.4 yards per game, lowest total in team history.

"Offense sells tickets, but defense wins Super Bowls," Miami linebacker Bryan Cox said.

The play of Chargers running back Natrone Means, who rushed for a team-record 1,350 yards and 12 touchdowns, might be the determining factor today. If he can run effectively, the Chargers might not only find their way to the end zone, but might also keep Marino out of the other end zone.

If Means cannot find the room to roam, however, Seau may have another horror film to add to the one replaying in his mind.

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