MIAMI — About those San Diego Super Chargers and their 15 minutes of fame:
They got taken.
They didn't even get five.
Four minutes, 55 seconds was all, gone in a crimson and gold blur. The Chargers blinked once and they were down, 7-0. Blink twice, 14-0. They hung in there for 10 plays--seven with San Francisco in possession of the football--and while that was 10 plays longer than most of the nation expected, it was something less than the living reincarnation of the '68 Jets.
Super Bowl XXIX remained in doubt long enough for Steve Young to throw five passes. Five passes, five completions, 112 yards, two touchdowns. He hit the Chargers where they were supposed to be strongest--the heart of their defense--with two quick strikes over the middle to Jerry Rice and Rickey Watters.
After that, the Chargers "froze," in the estimation of safety/pylon Stanley Richard.
"Any time someone scores that fast," Richard said, "it makes you freeze for a second because you don't expect to give up big plays like that."
Defensive end Leslie O'Neal wasn't sure about that one. Freeze? Wasn't that the guy who played quarterback in San Diego before Stan Humphries?
No, the word O'Neal preferred to use for this occasion was melt.
As in evaporate.
As in disappear.
"It didn't look like two teams were playing out there," O'Neal said. "It looked like one team--and some other guys providing the opposition."
That was the marquee billing in Miami for this one. "San Francisco Forty-Niners and 22 Guys Named Stan." "The Biggest Mismatch In Super Bowl History." For two weeks, the Chargers listened to this stuff, chafed at it, privately assured one another they would do something on Sunday about it.
And after 4 minutes and 55 seconds, it was 49ers 14, Chargers 0.
On the way to 28-7.
Charger Coach Bobby Ross praised his offense for the 26 points. "We moved the ball on them, we had some chances to make some plays," he said. But the defense, what happened to the defense? It was the only reason the Chargers made it out of Pittsburgh, it was the only chance the Chargers had against San Francisco. But it dug in for all of seven plays and the Chargers were buried.
"Playing catch-up," Ross surmised, "is just not our bag." And even though, technically, the Chargers did briefly pull to within 14-7, once John Carney kicked off, the San Diego defensive players had to return to the field, and by then they were flinching every time they heard the word "Hut!"
"They took us out of all our games," linebacker Junior Seau said. "We are a run-stuff type of defense and they came out sort of like a run-and-shoot team and jumped all over us. Right off the bat, they bowled us over.
"Mentally, you can fall apart when that starts to happen. We didn't panic, but we didn't make adjustments."
Throughout the Charger locker room, the we-were-nervous, it-was-our-first-time theory received a serious workout, but O'Neal wasn't buying any of it.
"There's no reason to be nervous," he said. "You play all your life to get here. We've known we were playing in the Super Bowl for two weeks. Two weeks is enough time to get your nervousness out.
"We just did all the things we've been doing all year. We've made these kind of mistakes all year long. You can skate by, you can skate by, you get lucky, but it eventually catches up to you. You have to be good to win a game like this.
"I looked around the room at halftime and could see a lot of guys didn't believe that. Just by the guys' faces. They were hoping for a lucky break."
Cornerback Darrien Gordon said the 49ers were unstoppable Sunday. "I don't think anybody could've stopped them," he said. "They were clicking, rolling. I'm sure there are some teams who think they could stop them--that's what you're supposed to do--I don't think anyone could've stopped them tonight."
Defensive tackle Shawn Lee wondered if enough Chargers didn't "realize the importance of such a game and the desire of the guys on the other side of the ball.
"After you win your conference championship, it all comes down to desire--who wants it more, plain and simple. It's a hard lesson to learn.
"The question is: Now that we've been here, what do we do afterwards?' "
A few locker stalls away, defensive tackle Reuben Davis had a suggestion that held some promise.
"We got to go out," Davis said, "and find us a bunch of Deions and Steve Youngs. Equal it out."