Kobe Bryant’s death lingers as Chiefs, 49ers begin Super Bowl week in somber tone
The Chiefs cried as they flew to South Florida. 49ers star Richard Sherman remained rattled a day later. Super Bowls don’t usually start like this.
MIAMI — The biggest party of the year usually doesn’t begin with players practicing self-therapy on the microphone and digging deep into the fragility of life.
It was surreal to see a Super Bowl media night in which the Chiefs and 49ers were still coming to grips with Kobe Bryant’s death, a tragedy that has the sports world grieving at a time when it normally would be at peak celebration. The NFL started the night with Bryant’s face on the big screen at Marlins Park for a moment of silence.
The Chiefs got the news midflight as they traveled to South Florida on Sunday, and it rocked them like it did everyone else. Players couldn’t believe it, but reality set in and rippled through their plane.
“People were crying and everything,” defensive tackle Chris Jones said. “Kobe was a huge motivator for a lot of kids.”
Wide receiver Tyreek Hill said the news “definitely messed my day up — not only my day, but the whole team” and darkened the mood heading into the Chiefs’ first Super Bowl since 1970.
“His wife and their daughters — it’s hard to imagine,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “I never thought in my lifetime that a guy like Kobe Bryant wouldn’t be here. I thought guys like him would live forever. He was one of those guys who inspired a lot of people.”
A cloud hangs over Super Bowl week in a way that feels unprecedented. It’ll dissipate somewhat but won’t go away by Sunday. The players, most of whom are the perfect age to have grown up adoring Bryant, certainly aren’t over it.
The game will be a welcome distraction. There was evidence of a desire for a step out of the gloom Monday. The Super Bowl is the most gripping day on the sports calendar, and its media night is the wackiest.
Undeterred, the court jesters were in full force.
Three international “reporters” in matching floral shirts taped a segment that involved jumping out from behind palm trees. A woman in a sailor outfit wandered from podium to podium. Hill talked about practicing a new touchdown celebration in his hotel room.
And, in a rare punt for the Chiefs, star quarterback Patrick Mahomes bashfully deflected a question on which halftime artist he likes better, Jennifer Lopez or Shakira.
Attention will shift more toward the Super Bowl as the week progresses. But once the NFL season closes Sunday, Bryant’s death will engulf the rest of the NBA season. The All-Star Game at the United Center next month will carry a somber tone, and if the Lakers reach the Finals this summer, it’ll reopen the wound.
“This takes more than two days to process,” 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman said. “I’m sure I’ll be processing this for years.”
It’s not surprising that Bryant resonated so strongly with players or that his passing was momentous enough to overshadow even the Super Bowl.
If his funeral is this week, it’ll bump the Chiefs and 49ers down a notch again. He’ll come up at least once in the broadcast, maybe more.
He earned that status through two decades of excellence. Sherman spoke at length about how much he influenced him, particularly in their shared experience of coming back from a torn Achilles.
“We’re different animals, but the same beast,” he said. “We’re built from a lot of the same stuff.”
He’s not the only one who feels that way.
Sherman later tilted the conversation toward wanting to “turn tragedy into motivation.” He figures Bryant will be on his mind Sunday, and, again, he’s not alone.
“I want to do it for him,” Sherman said. “I’m sure there’s guys on the Chiefs that want to do it for him. You want to honor that man and what he was.”