Super Bowl LIV Diary: San Francisco 49ers vs Kansas City Chiefs
A week in the life of a Super Bowl reporter; The thrill of the big day, preparation, player stories, media days, Niners' insights and Patrick Mahomes testimonials
By James Simpson in Miami
Last Updated: 04/02/20 2:56am
Sky Sports' lead NFL writer James Simpson guides you through the madness of Super Bowl LIV in Miami...
What a way to end the NFL's 100th season, as Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid and the Chiefs came back from 10 points down to beat the 49ers and secure Kansas City's first Vince Lombardi trophy in 50 years.
Mahomes leads Chiefs to Super Bowl glory
Kansas City rallied from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the San Francisco 49ers 31-20 and win their first Super Bowl title for 50 years in Miami.
However, the drama and excitement surrounding the game was not just limited to the event itself, as there was chaos throughout the week with the media frenzy on Radio Row and along South Beach.
Below is my guide on what it was like to cover a Super Bowl as a reporter, and insight into what goes on behind the scenes...
Waking up early and waiting around for game-time was hard enough for me. Just imagine what those players must have felt as they were at their team hotels all morning ahead of a 6.30pm kickoff in local time at Hard Rock Stadium!
As mentioned yesterday, the preparation was done so it just a matter of finding ways to pass the time ahead of departing our hotel at approximately 12.30pm - and mine was with food: two breakfasts, in an attempt to make up for the early-morning pacing with excitement, and also stock up before a big day.
When we did get moving, what would usually be a 20-minute journey became an hour and a half, due to the fact it was, you know... the Super Bowl. But we made it in and through another half hour of security checks.
MVP Mahomes comes out swinging
Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes overcomes his early struggles to deliver knockout blow to the San Francisco 49ers.
You might think three or four hours would be a long wait at the stadium, but you'd be surprised how quickly that time flies. There's the excitement itself, a visit to the studio, the fact the media workroom was located outside the stadium but the press seating was on the top level on the inside, and the actual time it takes to get set up on the computer and start preparing the report for the game.
And starting from around 5pm when the teams were warming up and DJ Khaled was down on the sideline taking care of the music, it was all a blur - through pre-game, half-time and the football itself.
We were treated to an amazing game and a fantastic spectacle. The 49ers brought their best for three quarters to slow down MVP Mahomes, but he simply could not be stopped.
Reid: 'Scary' Mahomes only getting better
Andy Reid warned Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes is only going to get better, after the superstar Kansas quarterback led his team to the Lombardi Trophy in Miami.
As a report-writer, this was one of those times where, with around 10 minutes left, I was putting together a 49ers-led piece with them up 20-10. Their defense had stifled Mahomes, and Jimmy Garoppolo had just completed 10 straight passes and was looking efficient: '49ers win record-equalling sixth Super Bowl'.
However, within moments, it all changed and the rest is history.
As soon as the confetti came down, the report was sent back to the team back at Sky Sports in London (thanks Paul, Cam and Dave!) to tidy up and get online as media members flocked down to the post-game interviews.
Reid was in fine form with a beaming smile - the wait was finally over - while impactful receiver Sammy Watkins reflected on his journey through three teams in four seasons, culminating in lifting the Lombardi Trophy.
As the players returned to the locker room to continue their celebrations, the Sky Sports team packed up and headed back to the hotel for some long overdue food and drinks.
Finally, at 3am local time - after scheduling some tweets for the waking UK audience - it was time time for bed and the end to a fantastic Super Bowl week. On Monday, we checked out of the hotel, and that was that!
The calm before the storm.
Just like any player will stress that you might only ever get the chance to go to one Super Bowl, the same can be said for a reporter. Similarly to the players, the intense work is done during the week and the weekends are left for walk-throughs and preparation.
Today was a day for planning out meticulously how tomorrow will go.
What content is left to write? What needs to be shared on Twitter? Do we have videos to create? What do we ask our Sky Sports homepage editors to promote and when? When will our live blog begin ahead of the action tomorrow?
Here’s how Saturday was for me: wake up at 7:30-ish, grab breakfast, head to the hotel lobby and log on to the computer to catch up with the NFL folks back in the office at home.
At around 9.30am, I gathered the final three predictions (and reasons why) from Richard Graves, Shaun Gayle and Josh Norman for our latest article. Norman’s prediction of “28-35 referees” was certainly the most unique!
Super Bowl LIV Predictions
Super Bowl LIV sees the San Francisco 49ers take on the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. We ask the Sky Sports NFL team: who wins?
Next up, get those quotes written out, and the piece sent to the sub editors in the UK and eventually posted onto the site and shared on Twitter.
While working through this, producer Alex Mason was deep into planning tomorrow’s show - which starts at 10pm (GMT) on Sky Sports Action and Main Event - as he and his crew must get everything organised right down to the second.
Neil Reynolds, meanwhile, was off writing cue cards and his script to go along with that show to ensure a well-oiled machine. Every single bit of prep done today will help tomorrow.
After a quick Cuban sandwich, I was back to spend the afternoon: 1. Letting everyone at Sky Sports know what articles we would like to promote tomorrow, 2. Scheduling tweets for tomorrow, 3. Laying out everything to take to the game, 4. Reading the latest news, articles and combing through the NFL’s research notes for the game, and 5. Writing this diary entry.
I picked out some of the most interesting nuggets you may not have read this week. First, about the quarterbacks:
Only four quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era have a .700-plus win percentage and a 90-plus passer rating in their career (minimum 25 starts) and they include Jimmy Garoppolo and Patrick Mahomes. The other two are Tom Brady and Joe Montana.
Mahomes and Garoppolo have the fewest combined starts (63) of any opposing QBs in the Super Bowl. They are also the only QBs to average 29-plus points per game as starters since 1950.
With a win, Mahomes (24 years and 138 days old) would become the youngest player to win both an NFL MVP award and a Super Bowl championship.
No player in the Super Bowl era has a higher passer rating in games away from their home stadium - on the road or at neutral site - than Mahomes’ 112.5 (including playoffs).
Garoppolo will be the first QB to start a Super Bowl after having his two lowest pass yards totals in his career (as starter) in two most recent starts.
How to stop the 49ers' offense
The San Francisco 49ers offense ranked No 2 in scoring in 2019 - so we asked several NFL defenders how they can be stopped.
And then everyone else:
This will be the first Super Bowl matchup between the AP First-Team All-Pro (George Kittle) and the AP Second-Team All-Pro (Travis Kelce) tight ends.
Despite running himself into NFL history in the NFC Championship Game as the first player with 200-plus rushing yards and four-plus rush touchdowns in a playoff game, Raheem Mostert has still never started an NFL game in his five-year career.
With at least half a sack from pass-rushers Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Dee Ford and safety Jimmie Ward, the 49ers will have the most combined sacks by first-round picks in a season since individual sacks were first recorded in 1982.
Damien Williams has nine scrimmage touchdowns in his first five career playoff games, tied with Hall of Famer Terrell Davis and future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald for the most in a player’s first five playoff games in NFL history.
Tyreek Hill is the sixth player in NFL history with 20-plus touchdowns of 40-plus yards over his first four seasons. The other five are all enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
With a win, Andy Reid would also become the first head coach to win his first Super Bowl after 20 or more seasons as a head coach (2019 is his 21st season).
Reid is 21 years and 270 days older than Shanahan, the third-largest age difference between opposing head coaches in Super Bowl history.
According to Pro Football Focus, the 49ers’ Richard Sherman has the highest coverage grade and second-lowest passer rating allowed among CBs this season, while the Chiefs’ Tyrann Mathieu has the highest coverage grade and lowest passer rating allowed among safeties.
I hoped you learned something new in there! To sum it all up: This game is filled with a ton of talented players, and is set up to be a fascinating matchup. I can’t wait.
With the work for today and planning for tomorrow done, it’s almost 7pm and time for a Sky Sports team meal at the hotel restaurant. Rest up, because Sunday is going to be a good one!
After the non-stop chaos of the last few days, today was a little different. Without any team media availability, it was a chance to slow down and reflect on the week so far, but also do the admin and preparation ahead of the biggest weekend of any reporter's career.
This experience really is everything I thought it would be.
When Ric Flair holds a door open for you, it’s not the average week. When you get to meet Peter King, Michael Silver and Adam Schefter in person, talk to personal favourite players (as a Philadelphia Eagles fan, Jordan Matthews has a jersey on my wall), and give Miles Teller a handshake and a "go birds!", it is simply surreal.
Radio Row is the place to be.
Today, we had to move hotels. (Why? Because rates for South Beach hotels triple over Super Bowl weekend!) So after we checked out and Neil, Jeff, Rob and guests were recording Inside the Huddle, I spent time roaming the main floor before heading to the media workroom to catch up on all we’ve achieved this week.
Patrick Mahomes: A special start
The story behind Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his record-breaking career start.
Personally, I have:
- Spoken with Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce about what it is like to prepare for the Super Bowl.
... Among other awesome things on social media with Jeff Reinebold. It’s a day like this - and having time to reflect - when I think: Yeah, this is pretty cool.
Tomorrow, we will look ahead at some of the key numbers, stats and trends for Sunday's game as it grows ever closer. But for now, check out the above articles and be sure to read Cameron Hogwood's masterpiece on Kyle Shanahan's road to the Super Bowl.
The Kyle Shanahan Story
The story behind Kyle Shanahan's road to the Super Bowl with San Francisco 49ers.
It is already Thursday. This time in three days, we will be watching the finale of the NFL season as legends will be made and dreams will be crushed.
And for the last time, the media had the chance to sit down with the players and talk about anything and everything ahead of the big game.
Today, I want to share a fascinating story - that of 49ers' guard Mike Person and his road to the Super Bowl.
Not only does his name make for great headlines ('Person signs for 49ers'), but he has also carved out an impressive nine-year career in the NFL, despite being a seventh-round pick in 2011.
What makes his story even more interesting is that Person began his career as a 49er, was cut seven times by six different teams, and ended up back in San Francisco, starting for two seasons in a row for the first time in his career.
I asked him about his journey, starting with the draft-day feeling as someone who waited until the 239th pick to be selected.
"I was one of those guys on the bubble to be drafted or an undrafted free agent but it was a chaotic weekend for me. There were a couple of teams I thought might take me a little higher. But it was fun, and obviously a great moment and a great feeling once I got the call."
Person explained how getting started with his career was actually delayed by the lockout that year, so he didn't get any time before training camp and had to "hit the ground running" as a seventh-rounder with no preparation. Yet, having a long career with the Niners was his goal.
"Obviously, that's the plan - to be like Joe [Staley, who has been with the 49ers since 2007] and play with the same organisation for however many years he has," he said, "but the realistic side is that this such a unique, cut-throat business where if teams feel you aren't performing, they can just end your contract.
"So that's always in the back of your mind and I let that weigh too much on me in my early years."
What it is like to be cut that first time?
"Oh, it was brutal. It really makes you question yourself - what you did wrong, or can you do this? But you just have to believe in yourself or nobody will.
"It gives you a gut check, but you just figure out ways to adapt and keep finding a way."
I'll just pause here. Like many players who have come before him, Person was cut without seeing the field at all in his rookie year. But unlike Person, many of them never get back in - and it is certainly against all odds for a seventh-rounder to start all 16 games for the first time in the eighth year of his career (2018).
After that first release, he was waived again by the Colts, spent a year with the Seahawks, and two with the Rams. Still no starts.
Then came the Atlanta Falcons and their offensive co-ordinator, none other than current San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan. Person started for one season (2015), but was looking for a new team the next.
After a stint with the Chiefs and a second with the Colts, Shanahan gave him the call in the summer of 2018 and he hasn't looked back.
"It was really cool [when they called]," he said. "At that point, I was pretty low because no teams had called me and it was May, so you're getting to the point where I thought it might be time to hang it up, give up the jersey.
"Then Kyle called and I jumped at the opportunity because I loved the way that he operates, the way he runs his offense, and the type of person he is. I knew that he was building something."
Reflecting on the long, winding journey from draft day to now with the Niners just days away from the Super Bowl, Person said: "Once you get in the NFL, it's always in the back of your mind to make it into the Super Bowl. But it's such a hard thing to do, it really is. And being a seventh-round pick, those are guys that don't usually make it too long.
"So you just have to believe in yourself, take a chance on yourself and make the most of every opportunity you get, whether it's good or bad."
Every day I am out here, I am reminded of the outstanding, amazing stories some of these players have. The perseverance many have shown, and how important and meaningful their relationships in this business are.
Just three days to go until, for many people, the most important day of their lives.
In case you are wondering how Tuesday's party went, know this: they served drinks out of coconuts, there was an entire wall of donuts where you could take your pick, and Mark Sanchez showed up. Does it get much better?
But moving on after a Chiefs day yesterday, we turned our attention to the Niners today - after I'd had my first visit to Radio Row. (I know! How did it take this long?!) While there, you look around and you have current players to your left, former players to your right, and TV stars all around. It truly is a spectacle.
Of course, Jeff Reinebold managed to grab some of 'his guys' for chats - including non other than regular Sky Sports guest Solomon Wilcots, who said of Sunday's game: "It is the run game of the 49ers that will determine whether they will be able to hang in this contest. If you give the ball too many times to Patrick Mahomes, he's going to ring it up on you.
"However, I still think he's the difference-maker, and I think he will be enough for Kansas City to get a win."
It's starting to become a trend that the Chiefs are the choice out here, but when we went down to the 'underdog' Niners on Wednesday evening, we wanted to get some serious behind-the-scenes knowledge from some of their players on what it takes to play their positions.
Super Bowl LIV countdown
All the build-up, colour and flavour of Super Bowl week with Sky Sports NFL who are in Miami counting down to kick-off at 11.30pm on Sunday.
We start with special teams, and long snapper Kyle Nelson and punter Mitch Wishnowsky, who explained the nuances behind their operation. After Jeff quizzed Nelson on how it feels "to play the entire game with your head between your legs looking upside down", he did get down to more detail.
Nelson told us he wants to get the ball into his punter's hands in 0.6-0.7 seconds - essentially, in a flash. Wishnowsky stands 15 yards behind him, and as a total time, they want to get the ball away in under two seconds - so if you want to know how it's going on Sunday, get that stopwatch out! Similarly, if the ball stays in the air for 4.5 seconds or more, that hang time is pretty good.
Next up, quarterback C.J. Beathard, who has fascinating insight into Kyle Shanahan's preparation for his signal-callers. Beathard said as well as having all of last week to get ready, it's been intense this one too, despite the media distractions.
"We had meetings at 7.45am and just got out of meetings right before we came here at 6.30pm," he explained. "Going between install meetings, practice, walkthrough practice, and then more meetings after." It's non-stop until the dust settles on Sunday night.
There were other interviews, but the highlight of the evening was getting the breakdown of an offensive lineman's diet. We spoke with Kofi Amichia, Daniel Brunskill and Justin Skule, with Brunskill describing a typical meal.
"I can't give you an exact number [of calories]," he said, "but I can tell you for breakfast I eat at least four eggs, with different meats. I have broccoli, hash browns, got to have some carbs in there. Then I also have a weight-gain smoothie."
Skule said "there are times where you almost need to force-feed yourself because if you don't, being bigger guys your weight will start to drop," while Amichia thought he might eat up to four or five-thousand calories. With these players weighing roughly 22 stone each, you can see why.
That's it from Miami today. One final day of media availability for the players tomorrow before they get down to business - while us media types might finally get a chance for a break before Sunday's chaos. How about this: I'm in Miami, but I still haven't been to the beach!
Finally, a chance to sit down and write! Saturday, Sunday and Monday were non-stop, but due to the nature of today's events - the Chiefs and 49ers held press conferences on opposite sides of Miami in the morning - there is some free time to reflect on the events so far.
To start the day, I sifted through the action from last night and we shared a great moment from Marlins Park on the @SkySportsNFL Twitter page as 'Coach' Reinebold hooked up with 49ers receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The bonds built in football are stronger than anything, and it's never more evident than at events like these.
When we did arrive at the Chiefs' presser, while players will undoubtedly receive questions about the 'event' and the chaos of the media week, we started to hear more about the matchup itself and more football insight.
Andy Reid also spoke about how lucky Patrick Mahomes was to have someone like Alex Smith to sit behind and learn from for a year, and it had me thinking about how incredibly rapid Mahomes' rise has been.
Reid raved about veteran QB Smith - who helped Kansas City reach the playoffs in four of the coach's first five seasons in charge - and how he taught the then-rookie how to study, how to eat, how to deal with not seeing his family as much. "Patrick couldn't pay Alex enough for what he gave him with that experience," Reid told reporters at the JW Marriott Miami Turnberry.
Mathieu: Shanahan 'a creative genius'
Hear from the Chiefs' Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and head coach Andy Reid ahead of Sunday's Super Bowl in Miami.
Since Mahomes was named MVP in year two and reached the Super Bowl in year three, it's easy to forget/overlook the fact the 24-year-old sat on the bench for a year. But it couldn't have turned out better for him and the Chiefs. Here's just a snapshot of what some of the best players in the NFL said about him at the Pro Bowl over the weekend:
Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles (Travis's older brother) - "You never know what's going to happen. He's a guy that can create things at any moment. Even if he's not looking at you, the ball might be coming to you - he makes golden passes all over the place. My brother has nothing but good stuff to say about him and what a hell of a player he's been."
DJ Chark, Jacksonville Jaguars - "Crazy talented. Everybody on his team swears by him so obviously he's a great guy and that's what really matters. As a receiver, you want to be able to play for your quarterback and when you've got a guy like that, he seems pretty easy to play for."
Xavier Rhodes, Minnesota Vikings - "He's a great quarterback, man. He can run, throw, he can throw on the run. He can make good reads. A quarterback like that, it's really hard to scheme for."
Shaq Barrett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - "[As a pass-rusher], you've really just got to try and keep him in the pocket, that's first. But he's still going to be able to get out some way, somehow and make something happen."
And today, Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu oozed respect when talking about his team's leader:
Ultimately, Mahomes' career and legacy will be judged by his championships, and he has the chance to win his first on Sunday. But will anybody be surprised if he is back for more in the future? I don't think so.
Tomorrow, we head over to the 49ers to hear more from them after head coach Kyle Shanahan rubbished the notion that the NFC champions are hiding their QB, despite the fact he's thrown just 27 passes through the playoffs so far.
For now, it's time to get ready for the annual 'Super Bowl Media Party' (probably wise to file this article before that event, not after!)
Unlike plenty of our pundits and production team, this Super Bowl will be my first. Up until this point, the maddest media scrum I've encountered is a post-game locker room at Wembley Stadium. But that was nothing compared to 'Super Bowl Opening Night' in Marlins Park.
Essentially, it is every reporter under the sun crammed into an event hall trying to get their questions in to the two Super Bowl participants - one team at a time.
Before tonight (I arrived in the country three days ago), jet lag had been a factor. After the bright lights, the drum lines, the big screens, the fans and the absolute chaos, there's no chance of that coming into play tonight!
To begin the week's proceedings, I was following around our man Reinebold as he attempted to get some time with various players and coaches.
There were tears as he was reunited with Chiefs' practice squad receiver Gehrig Dieter, another catch-up with Chiefs broadcaster - and former NFL long-snapper - Kendall Gammon, and a great discussion about Tarvarius Moore's ascension from Southern Mississippi to the Niners.
Ultimately, though, the media flocked to the big names and the stories of the week. We heard Garoppolo say former New England Patriots teammate Tom Brady had wished him luck - a simple text message that will hit the headlines - while Richard Sherman raved about Mahomes and his ability to move around the pocket.
Who are the Super Bowl finalists?
What do you need to know about the 49ers and Chiefs, the two teams competing in this year's Super Bowl?
After three hours, I got a taste of what to expect as we get closer and closer to the NFL's finale, as the hype continues to grow.
It's just the start in what will be a manic week of build-up, continuing with Chiefs availability first thing tomorrow morning. Best get to bed!
Pro Bowl Weekend
After the long nine-and-a-half-hour flight from London to Orlando, I was lucky enough to head out early on Sunday to experience the Pro Bowl, the NFL's all-star exhibition game, in which Lamar Jackson and the AFC out-lasted the NFC 38-33.
Exhibition might even be an overstatement; as we know by now, it's simply a fun, play-around scrimmage. The highlight of the weekend was no doubt speaking to some of the NFL's top stars.
How do you prepare for a Super Bowl?
Ahead of Super Bowl LIV, two former winners - Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce - told Sky Sports what preparing for the big game is like.
On Saturday, after the 'practices' (15-20 minutes of light jogging in the sun), players from both conferences took time to speak to fans, sign autographs and answer questions from the media, and after Sunday's game, the locker rooms were opened up to the media.
Philadelphia Eagles' linemen Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce gave me some fascinating insight into what the emotions are for players preparing to play in the Super Bowl, some of the best players in the game raved about Patrick Mahomes and how hard he is to defend, and Saints' tight end Jared Cook ran the rule over the star tight ends in this year's big game - George Kittle and Travis Kelce (watch out for this later in the week!)
With the audio in hand, it was time to head to Miami...
@SkySportsNFL are in Miami all week - follow us for live video and a flavour of the madness.
For 90 minutes of Super Bowl LIV build-up from Hard Rock Stadium with Rob Ryan and Josh Norman, join us on Sky Sports Action, Main Event and Mix from 10pm on Sunday, February 2.