"It seems like last year all over again," said a salesman at the Chargers' ticket office. A record crowd of 68,537 packed Qualcomm last Oct. 10 for a Monday night game. Steelers fans had to buy one ticket to a preseason game in order to purchase the regular-season ticket. Both tickets cost $56.
This year the Chargers sold only "four-packs" to groups wanting tickets to the Steelers game. The tickets cost $74 apiece. The group sales ended Sept. 17, but scattered individual tickets were available late in the week.
"There are tons of Steelers fans out there," said defensive lineman Chris Hoke. "I spoke last year at a Steeler Nation banquet at Los Alamitos Racetrack and there were hundreds of people there. There are thousands of Steeler fans all over the place out there."
Hoke is a Southern California native. "Right in the heart of Orange County," he said. "My family and friends called and called for tickets and paid the extra cost. I don't think it'll be a problem for Steeler fans this game."
Besides Hoke, the Steelers have three other players making a rare SoCal homecoming. Joey Porter, from Bakersfield, has come back to play in San Diego twice and he's compiled 2.5 sacks in those games, both Steelers wins. Troy Polamalu's only return to Southern California was last season, when he made a season-high 10 tackles (9 solo). Clark Haggans is a native of Palos Verdes, which is close to Los Angeles. He's been injured for both of the previous trips to San Diego, so he's looking forward to finally playing an NFL game in front of his family and friends.
"My family, friends, a lot of my buddies from high school, all up and down the coast; I have a lot of fans out there who are around Southern that are going to be at the game so it's going to be a lot of fun," said Haggans, who procured 10 tickets for the clan.
"Most took care of themselves and got their own tickets," he said. "I got 30 people who are going to go. They got them after last season when they knew we'd be playing. It's going to be packed. It should be like last year."
Polamalu played the last two games at less than full strength with a shoulder injury, but he goes home feeling fine after the week off.
"This is the best I've felt this season, besides coming into it," he said.
The Steelers should be at full health, with the exception of fourth cornerback Ricardo Colclough, who was placed on injured reserve yesterday, as expected, and will miss the rest of the season.
Colclough was replaced on the active roster by undrafted rookie Anthony Madison, a 5-9, 180-pound thickly built cover corner. Madison, who turned 24 today, worked with the starting special-teams coverage units this week and expects to be part of the 48-man active game roster.
The Chargers will be without backup safety Bhawoh Jue (knee) and backup tackle Leander Jordan (neck). Both players have local ties: Jue played at Penn State and Jordan played at Brashear High and Indiana (Pa.) University. Defending NFL Rookie of the Year Shawne Merriman missed practice Friday with a sore Achilles' tendon but will play. Strong safety Terrence Kiel, who pleaded not guilty Tuesday to five felony drug charges, will start tonight after missing last Sunday's game.
Chargers rookie left tackle Marcus McNeill went into his senior season at Auburn as a top-half-of-the-first-round prospect, but had a poor season because of a bad back and fell to the second round. The Chargers drafted the 6-7, 336-pounder with the 50th pick and he's started all three games this season.
"I think he's gotten his back all straightened out," said Steelers guard Kendall Simmons. "That slowed him a lot. I talked to my old O-line coach and he said half the time he couldn't practice until Thursday when they wouldn't have contact just to take pressure off his back, and when you're doing that it don't help you none.
"I think he's going to be a good one. I think he's fine. I watched the Monday night game they played early on and he was out there running and pulling and doing a great job, especially for a rookie starting at left tackle. If he keeps his back healthy, I really think he's going to be pretty good."
Simmons, of course, was the Auburn left tackle prior to McNeill's arrival at the school. McNeill started at left tackle for four years at Auburn.
How does Simmons see McNeill reacting to facing Dick LeBeau's defense?
"His head's going to be spinning, I guarantee you that," Simmons said. "If they do some of the things they do against us, especially on third down, he's going to be looking all kind of places. It's going to be tough."