Super Bowl opening night returns with energetic atmosphere

Super Bowl opening night returns with energetic atmosphere

By ROB MAADDI AP Pro Football Writer

PHOENIX — Nick Sirianni answered questions about Rocky, Santa Claus and even which of his players on the Philadelphia Eagles he’d want to date his 5-year-old daughter when she grows up.

Welcome to Super Bowl opening night where football talk gives way to the wild and wacky.

The circus atmosphere that kicks off the NFL’s biggest week returned Monday for the first time since 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic forced teams to meet the media via video conferences over the past two seasons.

Sirianni and the Eagles took the stage first at Footprint Center, home of the Phoenix Suns. “Fly, Eagles, Fly” chants greeted players and coaches before they spent an hour answering wide-ranging questions from more than 2,000 media members.

Red-clad Kansas City Chiefs fans took over the arena when their team came out, turning it into an indoor version of Arrowhead Stadium.

It was a new experience for many of the Eagles, who have seven holdovers from the team that beat New England in the Super Bowl five years ago.

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are here for the third time in four years so they already got a taste of this media extravaganza in Miami in 2020.

For the record, Sirianni loves the “Rocky” films. He identifies with Sylvester Stallone’s fictional movie character, who is part of Philadelphia’s fabric as much as the cheesesteak.

“I live and coach in the greatest sports town in America,” Sirianni said. “It means so much to everybody there. That’s what you want. When you’re a little kid playing in a peewee football game, you want everybody to see you. You want your fans to love it. You want them to be there. You want them wearing green on Friday. You want them to be throwing snowballs at Santa Claus. You want to put talent on display in front of the greatest sports town in America. I love the fact that my kids are growing up in a sports town where football means so much because football means so much to me.”

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, an AP NFL MVP finalist, drew the largest crowd in the early portion. Reporters staked out his spot about an hour before the event started. The first question came from Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin, an NFL Network analyst.

“I feel like it’s not a time to reflect,” Hurts said about his journey to stardom. “We came here to finish the job.”

Chiefs coach Andy Reid got numerous questions about his time in Philadelphia and food. The cheeseburger fanatic would not name his favorite city to eat outside of Kansas City, Green Bay and Philly.

“They won’t let you back in if I do,” he said.

Overall, opening night wasn’t quite as outrageous as in past years.

In Arizona in 2008, a female reporter showed up wearing a white wedding dress and veil and proposed to quarterback Tom Brady, who was trying to lead the Patriots to the first 19-0 season in NFL history.

One radio host walked around shirtless wearing a barrel on Monday. A television reporter from Mexico asked people to play pin the tail on the donkey and then asked them to toss foam footballs into a basket. Some of the Eagles cheerleaders participated.

Otherwise, it was more about odd questions than odd looks.

Someone asked Mahomes and Sirianni if this was a “must-win game.”

Both said yes in the most polite way possible.

“The job is not finished,” said Mahomes, who is also an MVP finalist.

Mahomes got the loudest ovation of the night.

Oh, his favorite song of all time is Rihanna’s “Umbrella.” Rihanna will be the halftime performer but he won’t be watching.

“Coach Reid said if we go out there to watch to just keep walking,” Mahomes said.

The Eagles (16-3) and Chiefs (16-3) meet on Sunday, both aiming for their second Super Bowl title within five years.

Perhaps the most anxious person in the stadium will be Donna Kelce, mom of All-Pros Jason and Travis.

Donna Kelce, who took part in some of the night’s festivities on stage, wore a jersey that was half-green for Jason’s Eagles and half-red for Travis’ Chiefs. She had No. 87 for Travis on the front and No. 62 for Jason on the back.

Who is the biggest momma’s boy?

Donna held up a photo of Travis.


The Chiefs activated running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire from injured reserve Monday and placed wide receiver Mecole Hardman on the list for the second time as they finalize their roster for the Super Bowl.

Edwards-Helaire, a 2020 first-round pick, has been out since sustaining a high ankle sprain during a victory over the Chargers on Nov. 20. He was designated to return on Jan. 17, opening a three-week window in which he could be activated.

Edwards-Helaire started the first six games of the season before ceding time to seventh-round pick Isiah Pacheco, who has become one of the Chiefs’ breakout stars. Edwards-Helaire has run 71 times for 302 yards and three touchdowns and caught 17 passes for 151 yards and three more scores this season.

The emergence of Pacheco, along with veteran Jerick McKinnon, took pressure off of the Chiefs to activate Edwards-Helaire before he was ready. Pacheco ran for 830 yards and five TDs during the regular season along with 121 combined rushing yards in playoff wins over Jacksonville and Cincinnati, while McKinnon scored 10 combined touchdowns in the regular season.

Hardman, who will be a free agent after the season, initially hurt his pelvis on Nov. 6 during a game against the Tennessee Titans. He was activated from IR on Jan. 4 but struggled to get healthy enough to appear in games, missing the Chiefs’ regular-season finale against the Las Vegas Raiders and their divisional win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

He finally suited up for the AFC title game against the Cincinnati Bengals, and he ran a couple of jet sweeps while catching two passes for 10 yards. It was while getting tackled on his second reception that Hardman reinjured the pelvis.

Hardman was among three wide receivers hurt in the game, forcing the Chiefs to use a patchwork group down the stretch.

JuJu Smith-Schuster had one catch for 7 yards before inflammation in his knee forced him to the sideline, and Kadarius Toney had one catch for 9 yards before spraining his ankle while attempting to make a cut.

Neither participated in practice last week before the team departed Sunday for Phoenix, though Coach Andy Reid expressed optimism that they would be available for the Super Bowl.

The Chiefs also should get back wide receiver Justin Watson, who was inactive for the AFC title game because of an illness.

“(Smith-Schuster) is in a good place,” Reid said. “The main thing is that we let that calm down. And right now, it’s doing great, so very optimistic right now. And his want-to is all in there. But we’ll just see where it goes.”