AFC final all blitz, not glitz AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME


PITTSBURGH -- It's time to play the other game.

You know, the AFC championship. The game where Steve Young and Troy Aikman aren't the quarterbacks. The game that will be played in the Allegheny Mountains, not on the glamorous West Coast. The conference that has lost 10 straight Super Bowls and produced the Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos.

Ready or not, it's the San Diego Chargers against the Pittsburgh Steelers today at Three Rivers Stadium.

"It's unbelievable and I'm offended," said Steelers inside linebacker Chad Brown. "Wait a minute, I'm more than offended. This ticks me off, this whole AFC thing about getting no respect. It's almost as if we don't matter. Like we're in a Canadian league."

No, just the AFC.

The conference's title game is considered the little sister to the Dallas-San Francisco matchup today at Candlestick Park. That game will feature the thrills and excitement from players such as Jerry Rice, Young, Ricky Watters, Emmitt Smith, Aikman and Michael Irvin.

What the AFC game will feature is a lot of handoffs by quarterbacks Neil O'Donnell and Stan Humphries, and plenty of XTC good, power blocking and bone-rattling tackles.

It's throwback football.

"NBC and everyone is probably upset because [Dan] Marino and Aikman aren't playing, and Neil and me are playing and we're just two quiet guys who go out and do their job," said Humphries. "I'm not a guy who'll do 15 commercials. It doesn't bother me that nobody across the country knows anything about me."

Actually, it's the Steelers who are the talk of the AFC. They are a poised, relaxed bunch who rely on a punishing rushing attack and an overpowering defense that is rated the conference's best.

And, oh, are they cocky.

Next week, if they beat the Chargers, they'll spend a day off making a music video called "The Blitzburgh." Defensive end Brentson Buckner is working on a rap song he hopes to cut with platinum-selling artist Dr. Dre. Defensive end Ray Seals wants to record one called "The 60-Minute Men," after the Steelers T-shirt his public relations firm is promoting.

Earlier this week, Seals said the Chargers wouldn't score.

As for representing the AFC, cornerback Rod Woodson says the Steelers really aren't a part of it.

"I don't think anyone considers us an AFC team. What is the AFC?" he said, sounding perturbed at the connection. "What is a conference?"

4 The Chargers aren't sounding quite as confident.

"Let them talk," said Chargers guard Eric Jonassen. "I think we're evenly matched all the way around."

Both teams have ball-control offenses. The Steelers used Barry Foster, Bam Morris and John L. Williams to produce the league's top rushing attack. San Diego counters with Natrone Means.

Both teams have huge offensive lines. The Chargers' might be a tad bigger, but Pittsburgh's trap-blocking scheme is more consistent.

Neither O'Donnell nor Humphries is the focal point of his team's offense. O'Donnell played so poorly in the first half of the season that fans wanted him replaced with backup Mike Tomczak, who did start and win games against the Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Raiders in November after O'Donnell had hip, ankle and shoulder injuries.

Humphries is the only quarterback in the final four who has not been invited to be part of the NFL's Quarterback Club. That is a marketing operation in which 25 quarterbacks get royalties from the sale of their endorsed items.

Humphries and O'Donnell were their conference's fifth- and seventh-rated quarterbacks, respectively, while Young and Aikman were Nos. 1 and 4 in the NFC.

The key in this game will be how well the Chargers handle the blitz. The Steelers' defensive scheme causes so many problems because Pittsburgh has found a way to minimize the risks normally associated with blitzes.

The Steelers stay in zone coverage, and that protects them against big plays.

Pittsburgh also led the league with 55 sacks.

At least the Chargers know what's coming.

"The blitz is going to get there, it's just a matter of when," said Humphries. "You can't let their blitzing force you into bad reads and turnovers. That's just what they want you to do. They make it tough to pick up, because they disguise it so well and you can't be sure if they are coming or who is coming."

Said Means: "If we control the blitz and the clock, then we win, it's that simple."

The winner goes on to meet San Francisco or Dallas in the Super Bowl.

And, of course, the NFC will be favored.

"That bugs me, definitely," Means said of the perception that the AFC champion will be an also-ran. "If that was the case, they might as well give the trophy out now. I feel we have two good teams here, playing for the right to play in the real Super Bowl."

Said Woodson: "We haven't won one in 10 years, so why should they respect us? But I do know the real Super Bowl is played on Jan. 29.


"And I know that we have to win this game to get there."

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