For the Chiefs, the reality of the Super Bowl experience hits home on Opening Night
The Super Bowl LVII media spectacle known as Opening Night held court Monday evening, and over-the-top exposure took center stage.
The event at the Footprint Center in downtown Phoenix — home of the NBA’s Suns — brought its usual zaniness, including one “reporter” wearing a barrel and possibly not much else, and another donning the mask of a wrestler.
But the main draw wasn’t the media. The focus instead fell primarily on the teams that will play in Sunday’s NFL championship game: the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles.
The Chiefs seemed to welcome Monday evening’s diversion ahead of this weekend’s showdown.
“Here on Opening Night, you really get a sense of it’s the Super Bowl,” said Chiefs long-snapper James Winchester, one of the team’s longest-tenured players. “You really feel that. You see media from all over the world, broadcasts, you see the Super Bowl logo everywhere. I mean, that’s huge.
“It really becomes real on Opening Night when you realize what you’re playing for, and it’s the Lombardi (Trophy). It’s extremely special to get to go do it.”
The Chiefs under coach Andy Reid have gone through this before. This is the team’s third Super Bowl appearance in the past four seasons.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has been there for all three, of course. On Monday, he fielded questions for about 10 minutes along with nine other Chiefs and coach Reid. He also sat for a four-player panel, hosted by reporter Sal Paolantonio, that included Chiefs teammate Chris Jones and Jalen Hurts and Brandon Graham of the Eagles.
Hurts was asked to talk about the impact of being one of two Black quarterbacks to start in the same Super Bowl — a historical first for the league. Mahomes listened to Hurts’ answer, and then was introduced to the crowd to address the same topic.
Only, Mahomes couldn’t get a word in edgewise. The wild applause that began with Paolantonio saying his name continued ... and continued ... and continued.
Patrick Mahomes receives a LOUD ovation from Chiefs fans in Arizona
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And so it went Monday night. For players like eighth-year fullback Michael Burton, who is making his first appearance in a Super Bowl, the bright lights and exposure made Opening Night an instant memory-maker.
Burton soaked in the atmosphere as the team was introduced on the main stage. He walked around and took photos, a bright smile on his face.
“It’s crazy,” Burton said. “I knew there would be media here, but I didn’t know like all the fans and it’s basically a packed house. It’s really cool just to see the excitement, the energy from Chiefs Kingdom.”
Backup tackle Prince Tega Wanogho, who also took plenty of pictures from the main stage, agreed.
“This moment means everything,” he said. “Growing up in Africa, you never thought about coming to the stage like this. This is different; this is the biggest stage in football. It’s a dream come true and I’m just trying to enjoy the moment.”
For Winchester, the hoopla of Opening Night never gets old.
“It’s incredible to find myself here in year eight, playing in a third Super Bowl in four years,” he said. “I mean, it blows my mind.”
And there will be business to take care of soon.
The Chiefs will continue preparations in coming days, practicing the rest of the week before taking Saturday off. Then it will game time at State Farm Stadium in nearby Glendale, Ariz., for the right to walk away champions.
“As soon as we leave here it’s right back to business,” right guard Trey Smith said. “We get locked in tomorrow (Tuesday) and practice.
“Ultimately, we’re here to win the Super Bowl, so that’s really our objective and goal. It’s amazing getting to this point. It’s a blessing to be at this point. But we want to win it.”