As the sun went down over downtown Miami on Monday night, the two teams battling for the title of pro football’s champion met ironically inside the home of one of baseball’s worst teams this past decade.
Thousands of fans and media members gathered inside Marlins Park for the annual NFL Opening Night – an event giving the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers one final chance to let their hair down and laugh a little before getting to the business of Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV inside Hard Rock Stadium.
The event, which used to be held on Tuesday as media day, featured plenty of South Florida color and flare – along with two teams each looking to win their first Super Bowl in decades.
Before the event started, fans held a moment of silence for former NBA legend Kobe Bryant - who, along with his daughter and seven others, was killed in a helicopter crash last Sunday in California.
The Chiefs, which came back from double digit deficits in both their playoff games this season, come in as a slight favorite for the game that has become a chance for head coach Andy Reid to avenge his previous Super Bowl loss as coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and give third year quarterback Patrick Mahomes a chance to win his first championship and join an impressive group.
“This is a humbling experience. It’s kind of special not just because it’s the Super Bowl, but because it brings things back home,” said offensive tackle Cam Erving, who played his college football at Florida State and is one of four players on the Chiefs who played college football in the Sunshine state.
Kansas City doesn’t have many connections to South Florida – the team has no players who played college football at either Miami or FIU – but could have the best human-interest story in cornerback Rashad Fenton. The rookie played his high school football at Miami Carol City and spent time working inside the stadium where he can bring home a championship this weekend.
“Right now, it’s just surreal. I’m taking it all in,” Fenton told NBC6.com. “To be honest, I’m still in my dream right now.”
The 49ers, a team that has won two of their five Super Bowls in South Florida, bring one of the best defenses in football into a game this weekend after dominating their first two playoff games as the top seed in the NFC. For San Francisco, this game is a chance for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to win his first title as a starting quarterback after winning two as a backup for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
San Francisco also doesn’t have a Hurricane or Golden Panther on the roster, but has a South Florida connection in defensive end Nick Bosa. The number two overall pick in last April’s draft, The son of former Miami Dolphins player John, the younger Bosa has a chance to complete what could be a Defensive Rookie of The Year campaign near his hometown.
“It’s pretty crazy,” the former Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas star said. “We used to go to Dolphins games and I told him I would be on the field one day.”
The teams will practice on Tuesday with the Chiefs holding camp at the Dolphins’ facility in Davie while the 49ers will be practicing at the University of Miami