On an evening known for sound bytes and celebration of the impending big game, Super Bowl LIV Opening Night began on a somber note.
A moment of silence for Kobe Bryant — the NBA legend who perished just a day prior along with his daughter, Gianna, and seven others in a Southern California helicopter crash — was held to begin the night with an image of the Lakers icon in the background upon a Jumbotron.
As news from the tragic accident broke Sunday, NFL players reacted in stunned fashion.
49ers cornerback Richard Sherman: “It’s unfortunate. It’s really sad. He was a friend of mine, he was a mentor. He meant a lot to this world and he made a positive impact. There’s nothing that I can say to really quantify his impact on myself and on others. I just know how he would have wanted me to take this to react, especially in this moment, in this game. I was really sad yesterday, and I was sad this morning I was kind of down. I was in the dumps. And then I just thought about what he would tell me. He would tell me stop being a baby and man up and play it and do it in his honor and win this game for him. And that’s what we’re going to try to do. I’m going to go out there and try to play some dominating ball, just like he wanted. The ‘Mamba mentality’ still lives on.”
Sherman on what Bryant meant to Los Angeles: “Well, he meant a lot. He meant a lot to everyone. He meant a lot to the city of L.A. He’s a tremendous idol. Like I said, there’s not enough praise I can give him. There’s not enough words in my vernacular, in my vocabulary, to give him the praise and the respect that he deserves. But he deserves every inch, every ounce of respect, every ounce of gratitude. He gave me a ton of inspiration and I’m sure he inspired millions and millions and trillions of other kids. There’s no limit to the impact he’s had on my city and cities around the world.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid: “It’s sad. I knew Kobe from Philadelphia, and great person, man. I feel bad for his family, sick for his family. They’ll rebound. They’re strong. They’ll live up to his strength.”
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes: “I wasn’t lucky enough to get to meet Kobe. But the impact that he made in my life, it was huge. The way he was able to go about every single day, when I was a kid, and the work ethic and the intensity that he had to be great every single day. Even to this day, I still watch videos on YouTube the day before games and just listen to him talk and how he puts everything in perspective of being great on and off the field with his kids, and his business ventures and then obviously his play. It’s a tragic thing. Prayers to his family, but he made a huge impact in my life for sure.
“I think the biggest thing with Kobe was the mentality that he had. It’s special, and it’s something that I hope that I can show whenever I’m playing.”
49ers tight end George Kittle: “You know Kobe, other than my parents, he was the reason I played sports. Just his mindset, the ‘Mamba mentality.’ I wore the No. 24 in high school, my freshman, sophomore year, because of him. I wore Kobe Bryant basketball shoes because of Kobe Bryant. Every time I laced up my basketball shoes, I felt like I had Kobe Bryant with me. I had a little part of him. I had his jumper, I had his fadeway. The amount of hours I spent practicing that fadeway from the corner. I never made it, but I tried and I always thought I was Kobe. He’s an icon. He was a hero of mine.”
Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce: “I had an opportunity to meet Kobe and he’s just an unbelievable person. You can’t say enough about who he was and his impact and with that, I just feel bad for the Bryant family, everybody involved out there on the West Coast. My heart’s with you as well as everyone here in America.”
Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill: “I feel like I lost a family member. I don’t even know Kobe like that, he’s just a role model to me. And then his kids, his daughter, I have a daughter myself so I can only imagine the feeling. Prayers up for Kobe and his family and the whole [city of L.A.].”
Chiefs pass rusher Terrell Suggs: “I think Shannon Sharpe said it best. We all feel like we lost a relative, like a loved one. Everybody feel like that. Everybody’s just kinda still in shock. I’m speechless. I don’t really know what to say.”
Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu: “His will to win was nothing I’d ever seen before. I thought I practiced hard but going through YouTube videos and watching Kobe at practice, he was in a complete different element.”
49ers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders: “I got love and respect for Kobe. Truthfully, my heart aches for his family. My heart aches for him. Just a sad situation.”
49ers linebacker Fred Warner:: “That whole situation is just so heartbreaking, for everyone involved. This guy meant so much to more people than he probably knew. Just how sudden everything happened, it’s kinda unbelievable — it still is. He transcended basketball and I’ll for sure take away, his mentality, that ‘Mamba mentality’ that he was telling everybody with me for the rest of my life.”