After practice one day last week, a handful of Steelers got together and practiced the song they would perform on their Super Bowl rap video.
When a reporter from Baltimore asked a Steelers official for an interview with quarterback Neil O'Donnell, he was told, "You can talk to him at the Super Bowl."
Sure, the players and coaches all tried to say the right things. Compliment the Chargers. Act worried.
But it didn't work.
"We knew exactly what they thought of us, which was not much," San Diego defensive end Chris Mims said yesterday after the Chargers had rallied to beat the Steelers, 17-13, in the AFC championship game at Three Rivers Stadium. "I mean, the video thing said it all, didn't it? I could understand them having it in the back of their minds, but to talk about it publicly, man, that was a total slap. That was all we needed to hear."
He put a fat cigar in the middle of his mouth. Smiled.
"I guess they're going to have to burn that video now," he said.
Not that the Steelers shouldn't have won the game in a walk. They scored on their opening drive and led for the first 54 1/2 minutes. They out-gained the Chargers by almost 200 yards and had possession of the ball for almost twice as long until near the end. They were the better team.
But they didn't do one very important thing: They didn't put away the Chargers when they had a chance in the first half.
Leading by a touchdown, they had first downs at the San Diego 12 and 27 and came away with only one field goal because holding penalties pushed them back. In the third quarter, they had a first down at the 6 and again managed only a field goal.
"In a way, we were fortunate to be as close as we were in the second half," Chargers coach Bobby Ross said.
And, as the Chargers proved in coming from 15 points down to beat the Miami Dolphins last week, they are nothing if not resilient.
This time, they scored in the third quarter on a long pass from quarterback Stan Humphries to tight end Alfred Pupunu, then drove 80 yards and scored the winning touchdown with 5:13 to play.
Behind for the first time, the Steelers drove 80 yards to try to save the game, but the Chargers' defense stopped them at the 3.
The stadium, which had been a sea of noise on a warm, rainy afternoon, fell silent. Steelers cornerback Tim McKyer, who was beaten on the decisive touchdown, sat on the carpet for minutes after the final gun with his head in his hands, a classic portrait of dejection. When he finally stood, he collapsed and had to be helped to the locker room.
"They call themselves 'the 60-minute men,' " Chargers cornerback Darrien Gordon said, "but today they were good for about 47 minutes."
No, the Chargers were in no mood to win gracefully. An opponent's lack of respect is an overused and sometimes fraudulent motivational ploy, but this time it was legitimate. The Chargers are a young team that hadn't played particularly well since a 6-0 start. The peaking Steelers, playing at home, couldn't help but see them as a relatively mild threat at best.
"We were disrespected, for real," running back Natrone Means said. "They were sure they were going to win. They were talking in the paper about what they were going to do at the Super Bowl. Practicing their video. Man. We're a team, too. You don't get to a championship game by playing lightweight football. And I guarantee you they respect us now. We hit them hard for 60 minutes."
Said Gordon: "This isn't high school. Everyone can play in this league. If they watched their films, they should have known we were good enough to win. But they were going around talking about the Steel Curtain II and comparing themselves to the other great teams from here. What a joke. And meanwhile, they're a one-dimensional team. Too one-dimensional to win the Super Bowl."
That dimension is the running game; the Steelers' was the best in the league this season. But the Chargers shut it down yesterday, forcing the Steelers to live by the pass, an offense that makes them uncomfortable. They still came within a few holding penalties and missed plays of winning in a stroll. Their locker room was particularly devastated. Linebacker Kevin Greene threatened to tear one reporter apart.
"They're going to have to live with this one forever, and it'll hurt," Mims said, unabashedly gleeful.
Meanwhile, the Chargers get to play in the Super Bowl for the first time. The idea of their playing the Cowboy-crunching 49ers is truly frightful -- this might be the first Supe that deserves an off-the-board betting line -- but the Chargers are the perfect team to play in such circumstances. Not one major preseason publication picked them to have a winning record or finish higher than last in their division.
"All year long, we've had nothing to lose," Gordon said. "So now we'll be 20-point underdogs or something. Doesn't matter. Big deal. Everyone always thinks we're going to get beat. Ask the Steelers about it."