The acrimony flared again on Saturday when Miami showed up for its walkthrough at Jack Murphy Stadium. Beathard, apparently wishing to protect the rain-drenched playing surface, wanted the Dolphins to move to the adjacent practice field. Security guards tried to close the stadium gates, and field workers were told not to remove the tarp covering the grass. Miami coach Don Shula appealed to the NFL's director of officiating, Jerry Seeman, who has jurisdiction over such disputes. Seeman ultimately allowed the Dolphins to practice in the stadium, but not before Beathard pitched a loud and nasty fit, at one point complaining, according to witnesses, that Shula "runs the——league."
Whether by coincidence or conspiracy, the power was off in the visitors' locker room when Miami came in at halftime on Sunday. The offensive players relocated to the officials' dressing room, while their defensive counterparts sat there in the dark. That was a foreshadowing of the Dolphin defenders' positioning on the Chargers' winning touchdown: Facing first-and-goal from the eight with 48 seconds remaining, the San Diego coaches finally called an effective play near the goal line, a sneaky little gem known as S7-counter-G-right-trail.
The play was designed to go to receiver Mark Seay, a player previously known more for the bullet still lodged in his chest as the result of a gang-related shooting than for his pass catching. During the snap count, Seay went in motion from left to right, then doubled back to the left and, at the precise moment Humphries got the ball, slipped back to the right of left tackle Harry Swayne and into the right flat. Cornerback Troy Vincent, assigned to handle Seay in man-to-man coverage, got lost in the shuffle, and Seay was wide open.
The Chargers now take their bag of tricks to Pittsburgh, knowing they had to sweat out Marino's last-gasp comeback effort, which included a potentially fatal pass-interference penalty against San Diego and ended in a surprisingly lame field goal attempt by the normally steady Stoyanovich. The Chargers took pride in their ability to move the ball, particularly on the ground. The 245-pound Means produced 139 of San Diego's season-best 202 rushing yards, with 24 coming on a dazzling third-quarter touchdown run.
Conversely, San Diego limited the Dolphin ground game to 26 yards on eight carries. The Chargers had the ball for nearly two thirds of this game, which is not likely to happen against the Steelers, who boast an equally potent ball-control offense and a much more dangerous and aggressive defense.
Pittsburgh, which led the NFL in rushing, obliterated Cleveland's front seven. Barry Foster ran for 133 yards without making a cut as the Steelers rolled up 238 rushing yards. Pittsburgh put away the game by scoring on its first three possessions, and by the time receiver Yancey Thigpen pulled out a Terrible Towel—to celebrate a touchdown catch for a 24-3 lead late in the first half—there was little doubt as to who ruled the AFC. "No one is going to stop them from going to the big game," Brown defensive tackle Michael Dean Perry said afterward. One Dolphin veteran concurred, saying of the Chargers, "They can't cover anybody, and they'll be destroyed."
Basking in the glow of their biggest postseason victory since a 41-38 outlasting of Miami 13 years ago, the Chargers were in no mood for concession speeches. "'The mistakes we made, we can see those on film and correct them," safety Stanley Richard rationalized. "Look, our goal is to get to the Super Bowl. We don't care if we sneak in through the side window or through the back door."
It was a noble bit of spunk, but the fact is, teams that sneak into big games run a severe risk of being exposed by a complete, unyielding champion. If the Steelers don't do the job on Sunday—then follow it up with the game of their lives—it could be another dismal Super Sunday.
By Michael Silver In San Diego with Paul Zimmerman In Pittsburgh