TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs have touched down at the Super Bowl.
The AFC champions arrived in Tampa on Saturday, flying into town a day before they defend their title against the hometown Buccaneers.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the NFL had teams delay traveling into the host city until Friday at the earliest as a safety and health precaution measure. The Chiefs instead chose to come on Saturday, repeating their itinerary from earlier in the season when they beat Tom Brady and the Bucs 27-24 on Nov. 29.
“Saturday night is just looking for ways to sleep, honestly, because there’s a lot of excitement, a lot of energy that you build up to throughout the weekend,” Chiefs defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon said earlier in the week. “The key is just letting it out on the road at the right time on Sunday.”
Teams playing in the Super Bowl usually arrive as much as a week before the game to practice, hold meetings and participate in media availabilities in or near the host city. Both teams did that at their home facilities this year, fulfilling all media responsibilities through video calls during the week, instead of the usual in-person sessions jam-packed with reporters.
The NFC champion Buccaneers are the first team to host and play in the Super Bowl, so they didn’t have to concern themselves with the type of travel arrangements all other participants have in previous years. After spending the week at home, they’ll stay Saturday night at the team hotel — as they usually do for home games.
The Chiefs took two planes — to maintain proper social distancing protocols — with most of the coaches and players on the first that landed at Tampa International Airport around 4:38 p.m. — less than just 26 hours before kickoff.
The team then filed into 10 buses — two waves of five each —both with police escorts, which carried the coaches, players and staff for the 7-mile trip to their hotel in downtown Tampa.
They were greeted around 5:23 p.m. by a few hundred cheering fans — mostly masked and many decked out in Chiefs jerseys and T-shirts, some in Bucs gear — gathered on the four corners closest to the main entrance of the hotel, which featured several red and gold window wraps around the entrances.
Assistant coach Britt Reid, the son of head coach Andy Reid, was not among those traveling with the team after he was involved in a multi-vehicle crash late Thursday that injured two young children near the Chiefs’ training complex adjacent to Arrowhead Stadium.
The team had no further comment Saturday after releasing a statement Friday night saying it was in the information-gathering process.
The Chiefs also had several roster moves before the trip: Backup center Daniel Kilgore cleared COVID-19 protocol and was able to travel and can play Sunday.
Also: left tackle Eric Fisher and linebacker Willie Gay were placed on injured reserve, wide receiver Marcus Kemp and backup quarterback Matt Moore were elevated from the practice squad. Tight end Deon Yelder was activated off IR and linebacker Chris Lammons was signed from the practice squad.
None of the players or coaches were made available to media at the team hotel, but they spoke earlier in the week about treating this as a regular road trip — despite the magnitude of the game.
“We’re going to be ready to roll come Super Bowl day,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “Doesn’t matter when we fly in and get there.”