San Diego goes deep twice to towel off cocky Steelers, 17-13 Vindication super for Chargers, 49ers

January 16, 1995|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- All those Terrible Towels came in handy yesterday.

San Diego Chargers defensive end Chris Mims spiked his in front of the Pittsburgh Steelers bench as the game ended. Teammate Darren Carrington used his to wipe sweat from his face. Chargers outside linebacker David Griggs promised to wash his car with his towel.

And for some of those Pittsburgh faithful who were among the 61,545 at Three Rivers Stadium, the Terrible Towel turned into a crying towel.

Final score: San Diego 17, Pittsburgh 13, in the AFC championship game yesterday.

San Diego scored on two big 43-yard touchdown passes, the second going from quarterback Stan Humphries to wide receiver Tony Martin with 5:13 left in the game as the Chargers advanced to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history.

The favored Steelers had one final opportunity to pull out the victory. Quarterback Neil O'Donnell marched them down the field, but his fourth-down pass from the Chargers' 3 with 1:08 left was batted away from Barry Foster by diving linebacker Dennis Gibson in the end zone.

Then it was time for the Chargers -- not the Steelers -- to celebrate with their own Super Bowl rap and video.

"Check this out," said Mims, dancing, singing and strutting with fellow linemen Shawn Lee, Reuben Davis and Leslie O'Neal. "The Steelers dogged us all week. Said they were getting the golf clubs together and going to cut a Super Bowl Shuffle like the Bears on their way to play the 49ers in Miami."

Added Lee: "Well, they've got all next year to work on that video. They can check out our footwork on MTV. The Steelers are busted and disgusted."

And the Steelers have no one to blame but themselves. They out-gained the Chargers 415-226 in total offense. They had 80 offensive plays to 47 for San Diego, and a 37:13-to-22:47 advantage in time of possession.

But their time-management offense produced few points and several penalties, their offensive line couldn't block linebacker Junior Seau (12 solo tackles) and their Blitzburgh defense was victimized by big plays.

"It wasn't a pretty win, but we're off to the show," said Martin. "The Steelers not only disrespected us, but their own legends. They haven't even won a Super Bowl yet, and they were comparing themselves to Joe Greene, Lynn Swann and Mel Blount. Were those guys out there today?

"And then they said we weren't going to score any points," said Martin. "Well, what are they saying now?"

Not much. Cornerback Tim McKyer, who never met a notebook he couldn't fill, didn't show up for a post-game news conference.

It was McKyer whom Martin sizzled on the touchdown pass. Martin, split wide right, ran a straight fly pattern and blew by McKyer at the 10-yard line before making the catch on a perfectly thrown pass by Humphries.

McKyer gave Martin inside position after apparently thinking Martin was going to run an out pattern. Even more interesting was that Pittsburgh had six defensive backs in the game, but left McKyer isolated one-on-one even though the Steelers didn't blitz.

"All game long, they had been squatting on the out," said Martin. "I called up to the coaches box and told them the fly was there. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they don't. This time they did."

Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher said: "There is no one play that wins or loses football games. I think it's very unfair for Tim to put the blame on himself. They made some plays, and we didn't."

San Diego's other big play came in the third quarter. It's called "Play Pass 60 Counter Tonga." It's designed for tight end Alfred Pupunu to fake a run block on the cornerback as a handoff is faked in the backfield, and then drift out into the vacated area.

Pupunu drifted, but no Steeler picked him up. Pupunu then drifted 10 more yards before Humphries threw him the ball, and he ran the rest of the way to complete a 43-yard touchdown that brought the Chargers within 13-10 with 8:03 left in the third period.

"I was so open, my big concern was not dropping it," said Pupunu, a third-year player born in Tonga in the Southwest Pacific. "Once I caught it, and with the troubles we've had in the red zone, I knew I better score."

"It wasn't a secret weapon, but it was definitely a play we knew would work," said Chargers coach Bobby Ross. "We saw on the film that sometimes they bring nine or 10 guys around the line of scrimmage, and then their run support comes so quickly. So if we sell them the play-action and they bite on the fake block, we get big money off the play."

Those two plays and some great running by Natrone Means (69 yards on 20 carries) were about all the offense the Chargers could muster. The Steelers rolled up all the yards, but San Diego took away their No. 1-ranked rushing attack.

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