The Associated Press
MIAMI Ä To all the detractors and doomsayers who predict San Diego has no chance in the Super Bowl, the Chargers declare: Pile it on!
Load them down with the ballast of recent AFC failures. Stack on the record 19-point spread. Throw them up against perhaps the best team of the Super Bowl era. For good measure, add in a recent rout at the hands of that opponent, the San Francisco 49ers.
Then watch them quiver.
Well, not exactly. Not only aren't the Chargers apologizing for making their first Super Bowl, not only are they expecting to make a game of it, but they are talking about winning the thing, something no AFC team has managed in a decade.
''We know going into this game we are the underdogs as a team and as a receiving group,'' said Chargers receiver Tony Martin, whose 43-yard TD catch beat Pittsburgh in the AFC title game and got San Diego this far. ''The thing about us is that we have a lot of heart. We have a lot of pride about ourselves. We don't let anybody tell us that we can't do something. If we did that, we wouldn't be on this team today.
''We know that in our hearts we have enough character and enough pride about ourselves to go out there, and we're going to fight you tooth and nail the whole time.''
The Chargers can't avoid the questions that, while phrased more kindly, basically ask: What are you doing here?
Only twice in their NFL history have the Chargers made the conference championship game, losing in 1980 and 1981. They've been in the playoffs just five times since the merger, including the 1982 strike season, when eight AFC teams got in.
"According to the national news and everything else, we're not supposed to be here,'' Junior Seau said. ''The ratings of ABC will probably go down because of us.
''But being the underdog is nothing new, and it's not going to hurt or help us. All it does is show you're not respected, and you're not to the level where you should be respected yet. And in order to do that, you have to do something rare, and that's to win a Super Bowl.''
San Francisco has won four of them, scored 505 points this season, beat the two-time champion Cowboys for the NFC crown and is loaded with talent. Some say overloaded, which could lead to overconfidence, particularly since the Niners routed the Chargers 38-15 in December.
''There is confidence and there is overconfidence, and I don't think this team is overconfident,'' said center Bart Oates, who won two Super Bowls with the Giants. ''I think it is very confident. If you look at the accomplishments of the team, I think they justify a great deal of confidence. We have played well and we have won games the way we wanted to win games.''
Which means by dominating, scoring early, making big plays on defense, doing everything expected of a great team with four Super Bowl championships on its resume and an unprecedented fifth supposedly a walkover.
''That is the furthest thing from the way this team is handling this game,'' league MVP Steve Young said. ''We're workaholics. We prepare. We understand the challenge we face. We don't take ourselves lightly, nor do we take anyone else lightly.
''We played the Chargers a month ago. We understand the challenges they pose and the roll that they're on,'' added Young, omitting the fact San Francisco won 10 straight before a season-ending loss to Minnesota.
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