PHOENIX – If Sunday’s arrival of the Super Bowl teams at Phoenix Sky Harbor was the snap and hold, then Monday’s Super Bowl LVII Opening Night presented by Fast Twitch kicked off the week of festivities.
Thousands of fans and media members gathered at Footprint Center in downtown Phoenix to see the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs in the same room together, and to gauge the temperature of the NFC and AFC champions leading into the game of the year.
Both teams have a core collection of players with Super Bowl experience. For the Eagles, longtime stars Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox were key pieces to Philadelphia’s championship run in 2017. Kansas City has built around key players Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Chris Jones and Frank Clark en route to Super Bowl appearances in three of the last four big games, including a championship in the 2019 season.
“We’ve lost a lot of guys that have been on this trip with us,” Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark said. “Last year we had to watch (the Rams) celebrate – the year before we were watching guys throw the trophies from boats.”
Last season, the Chiefs were eliminated at home in the AFC Championship Game by Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals, who advanced to lose in Super Bowl 56 to the Los Angeles Rams. Analysts were skeptical of the Chiefs’ chances of returning to the big game, especially after trading away star receiver Tyreek Hill.
However, Kansas City came together as a team to block out the noise and find its way back.
“Being able to do that and still have this group of guys is a blessing,” said Clark, who has been a huge part of the Kansas City defense since coming over from Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” in 2019 and joining a pass rush that had emerging star Jones up front.
“I’m very fortunate to be here with these guys again,” Jones added. “It’s going to be a hell of a game.”
Not every player on the team has stepped on the grandest stage in American sports, however. Veteran wide receiver and first-year Chiefs receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is playing in the Super Bowl for the first time in his six-year career.
He oozed excitement during the entire hour-long Q&A session, even letting out a Ric Flair-esque, “Woo!”
“Playing in the Super Bowl is a dream come true,” Smith-Schuster said. The former Pittsburgh Steeler has been playing football since he was four years old, waiting to share this moment with his mother, his biggest supporter. “It’s nuts – honestly it’s unreal out here.”
For rookie running back Isiah Pacheco, his first NFL season will end in his first Super Bowl after rushing for over 800 yards and five touchdowns. His first NFL career game took place in Arizona against the Cardinals, which marked his first time in an pro football stadium.
“As a younger guy – first game in the NFL, playing in it, attending it; I did whatever I had to do to help the team win,” Pacheco said. “I was just really excited for that moment.”
As a seventh-round pick, Pacheco hasn’t had a chance to breathe since the start of his last college offseason while navigating the NFL Combine, the NFL draft, rookie minicamp, training camp, the regular season and the postseason. “It’s been football, football, football for me,” Pacheco said.
As Smith-Schuster and Pacheco prepare for their Super Bowl debuts, the biggest names for Kansas City – Mahomes, Kelce and coach Andy Reid – have been here and done that. Making this trip more than once, they fielded more light-hearted questions Monday during their time at the podium.
Kelce, who will face his brother and Eagles center Jason Kelce on Sunday, gave his opinion on which team’s fans had the bigger crowd at the Footprint Center.
Kelce, channeling his veteran savvy, went with the hometown answer.
“Chiefs Kingdom is everywhere,” the All-Pro tight end said. “They definitely showed out tonight, I think we showed out the entire arena. I don’t know if I’ve seen too many Eagles fans show up to this one.” Kelce’s observation was a bit flawed, given that the Eagles’ availability started before the Chiefs’, and a handful of Philly fans had left the arena at the time of his comment.
The Chiefs and Eagles have historically passionate fan bases, but they pale in comparison to Kelce’s fandom for his mom’s homemade cookies. The key to the cookie, according to Kelce, is the simultaneous use of white and dark chocolate. Kelce has them safely tucked away, waiting to “use them as fuel for the Super Bowl.”
Mahomes, a favorite to win this year’s NFL MVP, had fun with the media during his interview time. He appeared upbeat about his high ankle sprain suffered against Cincinnati in the AFC championship win. Reid described his performance as “pure grit.”
“For Pat to do what he did and then have that run at the end, I can’t say enough,” Reid said. “He’s the MVP in my eyes.”
Mahomes has been so locked in for Sunday’s game that when asked about his Valentine’s Day plans, he was stumped.
“I didn’t even notice it was coming up,” Mahomes said before asking everyone to not tell his wife Brittany. “I’ll make sure I have some plans now.”
Mahomes also answered questions about his notoriously-unique voice, saying, “People have made fun of my voice for my entire life. I’ve heard Kermit the Frog, I’ve heard I sound like I smoke cigarettes. I’ve gotten used to it.”
His own coach has even poked fun. Mahomes claims that out of all the impressions, “Andy Reid for sure has the best impression of my voice.”
Reid, known in the football world as a foodie, answered some of the toughest food questions one could ask. For instance, Reid was asked to “start, bench, cut” the chain restaurants Five Guys, In-N-Out and Shake Shack. Reid, ever the professional, elected to start all three. “I don’t turn any of them away,” the coach said.
Asked about Kansas City’s famous barbeque, Reid said “there isn’t a BBQ place that I haven’t liked.” He praised the hard work that goes into “cooking all that meat.”
Fans created an electric atmosphere on Opening Night for the star-studded cast that earned the right to play for a Lombardi Trophy on Sunday. Each team has key players and coaches with big game experience and first-time players entering the most important game of their lives.
On Sunday, every player will meet at State Farm Stadium on equal ground for a chance to become champions.