By Steve Keating
MIAMI (Reuters) – Kobe Bryant loomed over Super Bowl Opening Night on Monday, looking down on the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers from a giant screen as the NFL paid tribute to the Los Angeles Lakers great killed in a helicopter crash.
Opening night has usually been a light-hearted and often zany start to Super Bowl week as the players from both teams dive into a media mosh pit for a prime time question-and-answer free-for-all where very little is out of bounds.
But the night got off to a muted start when the lights dimmed at Marlins Park and Bryant’s image appeared on the jumbo-tron staring down on the field as the crowd fell quiet for a moment of silence in tribute to the 18-time NBA All-Star who died in crash on Sunday with his daughter Gianna and seven others.
Kansas City’s young quarterback Patrick Mahomes never met Bryant but said that did not prevent the five-time NBA champion from having a massive impact on his life.
“To this day I still watch videos of him talking about life and business and his family and how he motivates himself every single day,” Mahomes, told a wall of television cameras and reporters. “I still listen to those things.
“The way he approached the game, how much dedication and time he put into it was a huge impact on me.
“Just that mentality he had to be great every single day, it was special.”
While the atmosphere inside the dome was subdued Chiefs jovial head coach Andy Reid, dressed in what has become a trademark Hawaiian shirt, lightened the mood as he fielded off-beat questions on every subject from steaks to speedos – noting he will not be spotted in such attire on South Beach.
With Super Bowl tickets on the resale market averaging more than $7,000, some fans jumped at the chance to get a closer look at the two teams, paying $25 to watch players mill about answering questions.
While the NFL Opening Night production gets bigger every Super Bowl the crowds appear to have gotten smaller and the scene tamer.
Under the pall of Bryant’s death, the evening also lacked the energetic madness of the past years.
Missing were the usual cast of zanies dressed in wedding gowns and super hero costumes jostling with the beat writers to get their questions heard.
This Super Bowl is first as a head coach for 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan but he took it all in familiar stride having watched his father Mike Shanahan guide the Denver Broncos to two Lombardi trophies.
“I’ve been around it my whole life,” said Shanahan. “I was pretty fortunate to be the son of a head coach.
“I was a ball boy for people like Jerry Rice and Joe Montana and John Elway and got to go to a lot of Super Bowls growing up.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating; Additional reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Christopher Cushing)