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January 7, 2009 - John Mehno
I was working on a note for today's column about past playoff meetings between the Steelers and San Diego Chargers. The Steelers are 13-0 against the Chargers at home in the regular season, but 0-2 in home playoff games.
The first one, on Jan. 9, 1983, at least the Steelers were beaten by a decent team. The Chargers had Dan Fouts at quarterback. But the other one was a strange day from the start.
First, the kickoff temperature was 59 degrees at Three Rivers Stadium on Jan. 15, 1994. It was a rainy day with a fog that lingered. I had been bumped to the auxilary press box because of the media horde for the AFC Championship game. The auxilary box was the baseball press box, behind the Gate A end zone. Great seat for baseball, but it took a while to get used to it for football. At least it was balmy enough that we weren't freezing in the open-air press box.
The theme of the day was overconfidence. That week a former co-worker had called to ask if I had any connection for Super Bowl tickets. Kevin Kernan, now of the New York Post, was working for the San Diego paper then. I saw him at one of the practices that week and he said, "People here are taking the result for granted, aren't they?" They were. So were the players. Eric Green led a group of them in shooting a Super Bowl rap video. I still don't know why Bill Cowher didn't quash that project as soon as he heard about it.
I remember tight end Alfred Pupunu being all alone on the right sideline to catch a pass he took in for a touchdown. The other back-breaking play was headed in my direction. Stan Humphreys launched a long, high pass. Since I wasn't used to watching games from that angle, it looked to me like he had overthrown the ball. Instead, it fell right into the hands of receiver Tony Martin for another touchdown.
The Steelers looked like they were heading for a winning drive. I remember they called a time out and Cowher and Neil O'Donnell were laughing on the sideline, convinced they'd punch it in on their next play. Linebacker Dennis Gibson got his hand on a pass intended for Barry Foster and the Steelers were done.
In the steamy Chargers locker room, I saw two mammoth linemen laughing as they headed into the showers. One said, "They be talking all that ying yang. Well, they checks bounce."
Words to live by. Beware the Chargers in January. Beware the pitfall of overconfidence.