Super Bowl week is underway in Miami. But football wasn’t necessarily the most dominating topic.
While the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs were available to a swarm of media members at Super Bowl LIV’s Opening Night, on the minds of many was the shocking loss of NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who were among the nine people killed Sunday when Bryant’s charter helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California.
At the beginning of the evening, before the teams were introduced, there was a moment of silence to honor Bryant, with a photo of the late NBA superstar appearing on the large video board at Marlins Park. Fans began chanting, “Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!”
Richard Sherman, a cornerback for the 49ers, called Bryant a friend, a mentor, and a “tremendous idol.” He told reporters that he learned of Bryant’s death while flying to Miami on Sunday.
“I’m taking my time to process it,” Sherman said. “This kind of shock takes longer than a few days to process. Longer than a week. Longer than a month. I’m sure I’ll be processing this for years.
“This man was gone way before he was supposed to. And you never pick your time and you never know when you’re supposed to go, but I can’t remember any generational talent like this really going before his time in the way Kobe did.
“I think that’s what’s sad is because he was going to do so much more than basketball. I think basketball was going to end up being a small part of who and what he was. I think being an amazing father, an outstanding person and businessman and entrepreneur and philanthropist was really going to take over, and I’m just sad that the world never got to see his full capabilities,” Sherman said.
“He’ll always be remembered,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, who met Bryant in Philadelphia, told CNN. “He left a legacy. Most of all, his family is going to be strong, and his wife and the kids, they’ll do a great job in keeping his name right in the forefront there.”
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who has the opportunity to win a Super Bowl and a league MVP before turning 25 years old, talked about how he uses Bryant as a source of inspiration.
“I wasn’t lucky enough to get to meet Kobe, but the impact that he made in my life, I mean, it was huge – (watching) the way he was able to go about every single day when I was a kid, and the work ethic and the intensity that he had to be great every single day,” Mahomes said.
“Even to this day, I mean, now, I still watch videos on YouTube the day before games and just listen to him talk and how he puts everything in perspective of being great on and off the field with his kids and his business ventures and then obviously his play. I mean, it’s a tragic thing. Prayers to his family. But he made a huge impact on my life for sure.”
49ers offensive assistant coach Katie Sowers, who is the first woman and openly gay person to coach in a Super Bowl, also talked about Bryant’s legacy.
“Kobe was a huge, huge advocate for women’s sports,” Sowers said. “It was so important for people to see how important girls’ sports are, even compared to boys. I hope that other people continue to champion that cause.”
The frenzy of Super Bowl week began at Marlins Park, the home of the MLB franchise Miami Marlins, where the Chiefs and 49ers took center stage, answering a wide variety of questions in an event that once was simply known as “Media Day.”
For the fifth consecutive year in prime time, coaches and players from both teams answered questions from the massive throng of media in front of fans.
There were also some goofy moments. There was a man, paying homage to throwback footage of a young, and seemingly gigantic, Reid competing in a punt, pass and kick competition in 1971, dressed up as him, complete with the misspelling of his last name, just like in the video. Chiefs safety Jordan Lucas was seen playing the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots game.
Opening Night is the first time both teams have made media appearances since arriving in Miami. The week will culminate with Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday in Miami Gardens.
“This is amazing,” Sowers said to CNN of the Opening Night experience. “It’s a dream come true, for the players, for the coaches, for everybody.”