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NFL

Kobe Bryant tribute kicks off Super Bowl media night: ‘He’s a role model. He’s a GOAT.’

MIAMI — Chants of “Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!” broke a moment of a silence that kicked off a more subdued Super Bowl media night.

The NFL opened the most hyped week in professional sports with mixed emotions Monday night, one day after retired superstar Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others died in a helicopter crash in California.

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The Kansas City Chiefs took the stage first on what typically is a wild evening filled with zany antics by quasi-media members. One television reporter wearing a short, white dress and sailor's cap asked a few players to do the Floss dance with her but the atmosphere was mostly deflated.

Fans of the Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers made some noise. Still, it seemed there were more media than fans in the seats at Marlins Park, making it look a lot like a baseball game in the middle of summer than the NFL's annual version of a music festival.

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Players tried to soak in the excitement of their first trip — for many — to the Super Bowl while struggling with the news of Bryant's death.

“I wasn't lucky enough to get to meet Kobe,“ Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. “But the impact that he made in my life, it was huge. 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.

“Even to this day, 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. It's a tragic thing. Prayers to his family, but he made a huge impact in my life, for sure.”

Mahomes was the one who broke the news to teammate Tyreek Hill on the team's flight to Miami.

“It was like, `Man do you believe this?' And I was just like waking up. So I was like `Dude, I don’t want to see that right now,'“ Hill said. “He was like `Dude, wake up, wake up, wake up!' and I saw it. I was like, `No, I don’t believe it because you know you see stuff online and it be like fake, especially someone like that. Man, that’s Kobe man. He’s a role model. He’s a GOAT. You don’t expect nothing like that. Someone who has as much money as him, as much fame as him, to go down the way he did him and his family. I don’t know, bro. I just hate talking about stuff like that personally man because sad you know.”

Richard Sherman, the Niners' five-time Pro Bowl cornerback, had a personal relationship with Bryant. They spoke soon after Sherman tore his Achilles tendon in November 2017 with Bryant sharing advice on his recovery from the injury.

“He was a competitor, I think that's the best word,” Sherman said. “He was one of the most unique people I have had the honor to have met.“

Asked what Bryant's message to him this week would've been, Sherman said: “He would have told me to push forward. I have tried to apply a lot of the parts of his game to mine. I believe I have done that. His aggressiveness, ability to finish, understanding of the game. His cerebral approach, even in his older age, I think I have tried to do that in my game, too.“

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Chiefs coach Andy Reid knew Bryant from his years coaching the Philadelphia Eagles. Bryant went to high school in a Philly suburb and had a love-hate relationship with fans in the city because he played for the Los Angeles Lakers. But he was a die-hard Eagles fan and his reaction on social media after the team won its first Super Bowl title two years ago endeared him to many. The city mourned his loss as one of its own.

“It's sad,” Reid said. “A great person, man. I feel bad for his family, sick for his family. They'll rebound. They're strong. They'll live up to his strength.”

Niners running back Raheem Mostert called Bryant “a transcendent man, a true legend.”

Reid is the seventh coach in league history to lead two teams to the Super Bowl. His Eagles lost to the New England Patriots 15 years ago.

The Chiefs are making their first appearance in the NFL title game in 50 years, seeking their second championship.

The 49ers are going for their sixth win in seven trips. Their only loss came against the Ravens in their previous appearance seven years ago.

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Mostert soaks it all in

Mostert is with his seventh NFL team. None of the other six is here at the Super Bowl. Mostert’s 49ers are.

It's a tribute to the special teams star turned game-breaking running back's perseverance.

“I took a piece of every city I was in,” Mostert said Monday night, “and applied it to my life and I will always cherish that.

“You go through tough things, but you don't lose faith. My wife was with me through all the cuts and did a great job of keeping me level-headed, letting me know I had a purpose in life to fulfill. It was tough, but we made it through.”

Mostert was with Philadelphia, Miami and Baltimore and released by each of them in 2015. The next year, it was the Browns, Jets and Bears saying hello and goodbye.

His career with the 49ers was not a headline grabber; he was mostly a special teamer, though a good one. Then he began getting the ball as a running back, and in this postseason he's been one of the biggest stars in the NFC.

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He ran for 220 yards and four touchdowns in the 37-20 win over Green Bay for the NFC title.

“It's having the faith and never losing the faith,” he said. “It's been quite a journey.”

Game show

The Super Bowl may be Sunday. That's not stopping some reporters at media night from breaking out a variety of games to liven up a night featuring lots of interviews.

One reporter gave Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill the kid's game “Let's Go Fishing” before asking him to pick a question out of a bowl. Someone else carried around a “Rockem Sockem Robots” game.

Two women wearing football deely boppers on their heads went around with flashcards for a game, then tossed a football back and forth with players on the crowded turf at Marlins Park.

They spent time with Chris Lammons, a defensive back on the Chiefs' practice squad who said this is what he expected.

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“It's the Super Bowl, man. It's one of the biggest events in the world,” Lammons said.

Uncovered gem

Brett Veach never grows tired of telling the story about how he uncovered Patrick Mahomes.

Now the general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs, Veach had just been promoted from a rather low-level job as a pro and college personnel analyst to then-GM John Dorsey's right-hand man. It was 2015 and Veach was watching film of Mahomes from Texas Tech when coach Andy Reid walked by his office door and asked what he was doing.

“I told him, `I'm watching the next quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs,“’ Veach recalled with a smile Monday night.

Veach spent most of the next two years showering Dorsey and Reid with video clips of Mahomes, to the point where they told him to back off. But it must have worked. The Chiefs traded up to select Mahomes with the 10th pick in the 2017 draft, then turned the starting job over to him after a year playing behind Alex Smith.

Now, the second-year GM and second-year starting QB have the Chiefs in their first Super Bowl in 50 years.

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Surreal moment

Tyrann Mathieu was caught in a rather surreal moment during the Super Bowl’s opening night festivities.

He was answering questions from a gaggle of reporters when one of them asked who the All-Pro defensive back admired growing up. The first two names that popped into his head were Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss and Deion Sanders, the Hall of Fame cornerback who now works as an analyst for NFL Network.

“They just played the game with swagger. They made splash plays,” Mathieu explained.

Unbeknownst to him, Sanders happened to be walking right behind Mathieu as he talked. The former Cardinals and Texans safety did a double-take before letting a smile slip and proceeding to the next question.

No stranger to big stage

Mecole Hardman has title game experience heading into his first Super Bowl as a rookie receiver for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Hardman caught an 80-yard touchdown pass for Georgia in the college championship game two years ago before the Bulldogs lost 26-23 in overtime to Alabama.

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But Hardman after soaking in the chaos of media night at the Super Bowl, Hardman says this game is a whole different story.

“It’s definitely a bigger stage,“ he said. “But playing in that game is at least in the same ballpark for preparation.”


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