Super Bowl week got off to a subdued start as the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers arrived in Miami on Sunday still digesting the news that Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash.
What was supposed to be the kickoff to a week-long party turned somber as the NFL and players from both teams learned that Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others were killed in the crash.
“Man not Kobe … Prayers to his family and friends! #RIPMamba,” tweeted Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
San Francisco cornerback Richard Sherman, who will have the job of defending Mahomes in next Sunday’s Super Bowl, echoed the sentiment on Twitter: “Just don’t have the words…. #Kobe.”
The NFL joined North America’s other major sports leagues in offering condolences to the Bryant family while observing a moment of silence before the opening kickoff of the All-Star Game being played in Orlando.
“The National Football League extends its deepest condolences to the friends and families of all those who lost their lives in today’s accident, including NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna,” said the NFL in a statement.
“Kobe was an extraordinary athlete who thrilled and entertained sports fans around the world for a generation. our thoughts are with the Bryant family, Kobe’s fans, his teammates, the Lakers organization and the NBA.”
While a pall is likely to hang over the sporting world and Super Bowl preparations for some time the show will go on, though the light-hearted mood that usually accompanies Monday’s Super Bowl Opening Night when both teams dive into a media mosh pit is sure to be more muted.
Sorrow, however, will eventually give way to excitement as thousands of fans pour into Miami, which is hosting the Super Bowl for a record 11th time.
Miami, one of the world’s great party destinations, will be ready to welcome Chiefs fans who have waited a half-century for a return to the NFL championship game.
Kansas City are slight favorites to lift the Lombardi Trophy next Sunday, though several oddsmakers call the contest even.