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Afc Final Foes Have Taken On A Mirror Image

“Up there,” Bobby Ross mused, “I’m sure they look at us as the warm-weather boys.”

Right you are, Coach.

Once Pittsburgh sobered up last Sunday, it muttered through three quarters of an apparent Dan Marino victory, then partied as hard as the Chargers did when Pete Stoyanovich’s 48-yard field goal try went diagonal.

Pittsburgh wanted the Chargers in Sunday’s AFC Championship game. Thanks to a fourth quarter choreographed by Benny Hill, it got them.

Steelers fans glean their confidence from a loss - 37-34, at San Diego on Christmas Eve. It meant so little to Pittsburgh that five starters, including cornerback Rod Woodson and linebacker Greg Lloyd, sat out. The Chargers craved the victory because it carried a diamond inside it, otherwise known as a first-round bye. Rested teams were 4-0 in the conference semifinals last weekend.

“Yeah, I know that they didn’t play their front-line people,” Ross said. “But we were far, far below the way we can play, defensively in particular.

“We must have been doing something right to win that game. I know Pittsburgh’s a (heck of a) football team, but I love going into that type of atmosphere. We’ll have to play awfully well, but we can win.”

Switch the uniforms and nobody could tell the difference.

Ross and general manager Bobby Beathard wanted an old NFC East mentality. That means block, tackle, run, and surrender the football only by subpoena.

And Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator is Ron Erhardt, who had the same job with the fundamentalist two-time Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

“Both teams have a passion for holding onto the football,” Ross said. “I thought we had good time-of-possession numbers against Miami, until I saw Pittsburgh’s (against Cleveland).”

San Diego squeezed the spheroid for 39 minutes, 20 seconds against the Dolphins, but the Steelers hid the pea for 42:27 against the Browns.

Natrone Means might as well be Barry Foster. Lloyd and Junior Seau play by the same breakneck rules. The big defensive plugs - Joel Steed for Pittsburgh, Reuben Davis for San Diego - are twins. One problem, though: Davis’ tag-team partner, Shawn Lee, had his knee arthroscoped Monday and is “doubtful to questionable.”

San Diego quarterback Stan Humphries is a little better than Neil O’Donnell, whom Ross signed at the University of Maryland. The Chargers don’t have a Woodson or a Kevin Greene, but then the Steelers don’t have a Ronnie Harmon or a Leslie O’Neal.

The Steel-heads should keep one thing in mind (two would be difficult).

Their heroes aren’t always as dictatorial as they were Saturday, when they almost reduced the Brownies to tears.

And the Chargers don’t usually need as many answered prayers as they got Sunday.

Pittsburgh did lose, 30-13, to Seattle and 20-17 to Arizona. At Houston, the Steelers failed on 14 of 15 third-down chances and won, 12-9, in OT. In Games 9-11, the offense managed one touchdown.

Sure, San Diego periodically stubbed its toe. Everybody does. Didn’t Philadelphia squeak by San Francisco, 40-8?

But when the Chargers’ offensive line was fresh, it allowed just four sacks in the first five games, and the team outrushed its first 10 opponents. Those blockers returned with a flourish Sunday against a tough Miami run defense. The Chargers are a little more forceful when 325-pound rookie Isaac Davis is the starter at left guard.

So don’t feel compelled to call the shrink if you get the urge to take the seven points Sunday.

That said, the Chargers should be as submissively grateful as Gomer Pyle.

They got a gratis touchdown when Means stepped out of bounds on the 2. You say they would have scored? Not when their 11 previous snaps inside Miami’s 10 had gotten them only six points.

They went ahead, 22-21, on 70-counter, T-right. That’s the ingenious Humphries-to-Mark Seay bootleg play, in which Seay reverses his motion and sneaks across the traffic. It always works even though Humphries always hates it - “he has to turn his back to the line of scrimmage,” Ross explained.

But then San Diego kicked a floater to Miami’s 38. The Dolphins had three timeouts and 32 seconds left, they were 40 yards away from a 40-yard field goal try, and they still had Marino. On the sideline, Ross screamed at special teams coach Chuck Priefer.

“They asked me if I wanted to kick a squib and I said, no, deep,” Ross said ruefully. “Deep, deep, deep. They thought I meant a deep squib. I wanted it kicked high and deep. It was a miscommunication, and I take responsibility.”

The world’s greatest passer and football’s winningest coach had a first down on the San Diego 30. Eight more yards, and Stoyanovich could have bunted the field goal through. But Marino missed two passes, the last one a ridiculous corner route, and Stoyanovich had to try it from 48.

Shazam! Thank you, thank you, thank you, Sgt. Carter… .

At least Marino said, “I should have gotten us closer.” Which is what Jim Kelly should have said when the world landed on Scott Norwood, four Super Bowls ago. Norwood’s kick, unlike Stoyanovich’s, landed in the same zip code as the goalposts.

Anyway, the Chargers won another one on deadline - maybe the hockey guys should call them up - and now head for Steel City. Sunshine Boys, huh? Pittsburgh should know the Chargers prefer turf to surf.