MIAMI, USA – The death of Kobe Bryant loomed over the buildup to the Super Bowl here on Monday, January 27, as players from the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers paid tribute to the NBA icon.
One day after Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, and 7 others were killed in a helicopter crash outside Los Angeles, the run-up to NFL championship game in Miami on Sunday cranked into gear.
Both the Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers teams were presented before thousands of journalists and fans in the now circus-like "opening night" event that formally kicks off Super Bowl week.
But the festivities at Marlins Park began on a somber note, with a moment of silence observed as a giant screen displayed a photo of Bryant.
Chants of "Kobe! Kobe!" rang out towards the end of the brief pause before numerous members of the Chiefs roster shared their memories of the five-time NBA champion for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes said although he had never met Bryant, he continued to be inspired by his famously ferocious competitive spirit.
"I wasn't lucky enough to meet Kobe but the impact he made in my life was huge," the 24-year-old told reporters.
"The work ethic, that intensity that he had to be great every single day."
"Even to this day, I still watch videos on YouTube the day before games, just listening to him talk, how he puts everything into perspective being great on and off the court."
San Francisco veteran cornerback Richard Sherman – who grew up in the tough Los Angeles neighborhood of Compton – said he was left mourning the loss of "a friend and a mentor."
"There's nothing I can say that can really quantify his impact on myself and others," the 31-year-old said. "I just know how he would have wanted me react in this moment and this game.
'Stop being a baby'
"I was really sad yesterday, and I was really sad this morning, kind of down. But then I thought about what Kobe would tell me. And he'd probably tell me 'Stop being a baby, man up, and win this game for me,'" Sherman said.
"And that's what I'm going to try to do on Sunday. Go out there and play some dominating football. Mamba mentality, just like he would have wanted."
Sherman added that he expected it might take him years to come to terms with Bryant's death.
"You don't process a shock like this in a few days. It will probably take me months, maybe years," Sherman said.
"He's gone long before he was supposed to. And what's sad is he was going to end up being so much more than basketball. An amazing father, an entrepreneur, a philanthropist. I'm just sad the world never got to see his full capabilities."
Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who had met Bryant, described the fallen NBA star as an "unbelievable person."
"You can't say enough about who he was and his impact," Kelce said. "I just feel bad for the Bryant family, everybody involved. My heart's with you and everyone here in America."
Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu admitted he was still struggling to comprehend news of Bryant's death.
"Shocked and sad," Mathieu said. "I thought guys like him lived forever."
Bryant's death hit home for Chiefs coach Andy Reid, the respected NFL veteran who grew up in Los Angeles.
Reid had also become acquainted with Bryant during his long association with the Philadelphia Eagles. Bryant was born in Philadelphia.
"It's sad," Reid said. "I knew Kobe from Philly and he was a great person. I feel bad for his family, sick for his family."
"They'll rebound. They're strong. They'll live up to his strength."
Defensive end Chris Jones, meanwhile, said the tragedy had underscored the fragility of life.
"Anybody close to anyone on that helicopter lost someone yesterday that was important to them," Jones said. "It just shows you how precious life is."
"As soon as I heard the news, I had to call my kids to tell them I love them, because we take those opportunities for granted." – Rappler.com