Shakira and Jennifer Lopez promised to remember Kobe Bryant at the Super Bowl LIV half-time show in Miami on Sunday.

The Kansas City Chiefs will face the San Francisco 49ers at Hard Rock Stadium exactly a week on from the shock death of Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, who were killed in a helicopter crash in California.

Bryant, a five-time NBA champion and 18-time All-Star with the Los Angeles Lakers, was a role model for many of the NFL players that will take to the field on Sunday.

Shakira, who will perform during the interval at the Super Bowl as a co-headliner with Lopez, revealed her long-time boyfriend, Barcelona defender Gerard Pique, was also deeply affected by the news and said she will be thinking of Bryant when she performs on Sunday.

"Gerard, my partner, called me with the sad news, he was affected because he knew Kobe and I knew him too, he went to one of my shows," Shakira said.

"I can't imagine the pain that his family must be going through right now. Life is so fragile and that's why we have to live every moment as intensely as we can.

"I think we will all be remembering Kobe on Sunday and we will be celebrating life and diversity in this country. I'm sure he would be very proud to see the message that we are going to be trying to convey on stage that day.

"I think it's a very important moment for the Latino community in this country. The Super Bowl is a very American event, it's as American as it can get, and I think it's going to be very nice that it's also going to be a reminder of the heritage of this country, which is one of diversity; that's what we will be celebrating on Sunday."

Lopez posted an emotional tribute to Bryant and his family on Instagram and she was choked up discussing the impact it had had on her and her fiancee, MLB great Alex Rodriguez.

"I was in the middle of rehearsing and talking about this show and Alex came to me with tears in his eyes and he said, 'You're not going to believe what happened'," Lopez explained.

"He was devastated. He knew Kobe very well, they came up together and entered sports around the same time. He was just devastated. I knew Kobe and Vanessa more in passing. He had come to my last show in Vegas, the both of them, as a date night. We had a beautiful night that night.

"I think it's affecting everybody so much because it's just reminding us again how fragile life is, how we have to appreciate every single moment, how we have to love people when they're here and not wait. How we don't get the opportunity – it can be taken away from us so easily. 

"Then I think about Vanessa as a mum and losing her best friend and partner, and losing her child. I think how awful that must for her be right now. I just wanted to send her a message and just been praying that God guides her through every moment because she has three more babies to take care of.

"Just wishing that the nightmare was over but it's not going to be and that's life, we have to carry on but at the same time it affects us and will affect us forever. Hopefully we will remember this moment and what we're trying to do is spread love, kindness and bring everybody together.

"In this week, this happening has a sound around the world that we have to love each other, and we have to be together and support each other. We can't be so at odds all the time and that's part of our mission and message too."

Richard Sherman accused the NFL and team owners of putting a "price tag" on player safety in pushing for a 17-game regular season.

Plans to expand the fixture schedule have proved an obstacle in ongoing negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

The existing deal expires at the end of next season and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has insisted player welfare continues to be a priority amid "incredibly productive dialogue" with the NFL Players Association (NFLPA).

Sherman, an NFLPA vice-president, remains unconvinced, believing talks will drag on unless the league backs down.

"I don't think it's something the players are interested in, honestly," the San Francisco 49ers cornerback said ahead of Sunday's Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs.

"If that's the point they're negotiating on, I think these negotiations are going to go a lot longer than anticipated.

"It's odd to me, and it's always odd, when you hear player safety is their biggest concern. And they're really standing up for player safety, player safety, player safety, but it seems like player safety has a price tag.

"Player safety up to the point of hey, 17 games makes us this much money so we really don't care how safe they are, if you're going to pay us this much money to play another game.

"That's the part that's really concerning for us as a union and us as players. They think that players have a price tag on their health and I don't think we're in the same ball park in that regard. Players have been more aware of player safety and longevity and life after football."

Sherman believes the NFL intends to use the extended season as a bridge to an even longer 18-game schedule, forcing players to "risk their bodies".

"That's what's so ridiculous about it, and nobody calls them out, nobody calls out the hypocrisy," he continued.

"I'm hoping that one day people will be brave enough to call out the hypocrisy of saying hey, we really care about player safety, but hey we always want you to play an extra game and put your body on the line and risk your career."

Roger Goodell conceded the NFL's Rooney Rule has to change due to the lack of minority head coaches.

Only four of the 32 NFL teams have minority head coaches, with just two of 13 openings filled by such candidates over the past two years.

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, whose teams face off in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday, were thought to be leading contenders for the five jobs available after this season but both were overlooked.

That has led to Goodell admitting the Rooney Rule, which was established in 2003 and requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coach and other senior positions, must be looked at.

"Clearly, we are not where we want to be on this level," Goodell said at his annual pre-Super Bowl address on Wednesday.

"We have a lot of work that's gone into not only the Rooney Rule but our policies overall.

"It's clear we need to change and do something different. There's no reason to expect that we're going to have a different outcome next year without those kinds of changes, and we've already begun engaging in those changes.

"Not just with our diversity committee, not just with the Fritz Pollard Alliance, but others, and trying to figure out what steps we can take next that would lead to better outcomes.

"It's clear we are all committed to doing that and we have to make those changes.

"So, we will have a series of meetings, which we've already scheduled, over the next month to get that kind of dialogue going, to continue the dialogue and to try to determine what are the solutions, so we can have those better outcomes."

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell vowed to help Antonio Brown "get back on track" following the wide receiver's latest controversy.

Seven-time Pro Bowler Brown has not played a down in the NFL since September, when he was cut by the New England Patriots after just 11 days amid allegations of sexual assault and rape.

The NFL launched an investigation into those accusations and suggested Brown, who had a try-out with the New Orleans Saints in December, would be placed on the commissioner's exempt list - barring him from playing until the probe was concluded - should he sign for another team.

Last week an arrest warrant was issued for the 31-year-old on charges of burglary with battery and criminal mischief, with a judge freeing Brown from house arrest on Tuesday.

Goodell was asked for an update on the NFL's investigation into Brown on Wednesday at his annual pre-Super Bowl address, and he was keen to stress the player's mental state is of paramount importance.

"I think [with] Antonio's situation, I think the first thing, for all of us, is to talk about the well-being of Antonio, to understand what Antonio is going through," Goodell said.

"We don't talk about the wellness of our players publicly but I would tell you that you can be sure that the NFL and NFLPA have a tremendous amount of resources that are available to all players. They are going to be made available to Antonio.

"We want to help get him on the right track and get him in a position where he is in a zone where he thinks he can be successful in life.

"We are confident that can happen. We want to work to do that. From our standpoint, that's the first step - making sure we're doing everything to help Antonio."

Nick Bosa's outstanding rookie campaign with the San Francisco 49ers has DeForest Buckner believing there is no limit to what he can achieve in the NFL.

Defensive end Bosa was considered the best prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft and, after the Arizona Cardinals selected quarterback Kyler Murray first up, the San Francisco 49ers took him off the board with the second pick.

The son of former first-round pick John Bosa and brother of two-time Pro Bowler Joey Bosa, the youngest Bosa has already lived up to the family name with nine sacks and an interception across his debut campaign earning him a Pro Bowl nod too.

Bosa will almost certainly be named the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year on Saturday, 24 hours before he plays in Super Bowl LIV against the Kansas City Chiefs in Miami, and fellow defensive lineman Buckner feels his team-mate will only get better.

"I don't think there is a ceiling yet," he said. "I can't wait to see next year what he can do.

"He's been one hell of a talent and one hell of a hard worker.

"It's just been unbelievable to see that as a rookie, his technique, most of all, throughout the season has just got better.

"His win rate pass rushing-wise on a consistent basis has been unreal. I've never seen a rookie so polished coming out."

Prior to this season, Bosa, who, like his brother, went to Ohio State, had not played since September due to a groin injury sustained while playing for the Buckeyes.

That prevented him from impressing Buckner straight away, though the reason why the Niners drafted him so early on soon became clear.

"He was a little rusty obviously in OTAs, training camp, especially because he hasn't played football in a while," Buckner explained.

"But as we were getting closer and closer to the season starting you could see him really getting back into it.

"It was kind of like riding a bike again. Just to see him throughout the season skyrocket in his play has been unbelievable to see."

Patrick Mahomes believes he landed in the ideal environment to succeed in the NFL when the Kansas City Chiefs drafted him in 2017.

The 24-year-old was not seen as a sure-fire lock to prosper in the pros when he came out of Texas Tech in a draft class that included fellow quarterbacks Mitchell Trubisky and Deshaun Watson.

The Chicago Bears traded up to the second pick to land Trubisky, a decision Mahomes reminded them of when he celebrated by counting to 10 - the spot where Kansas City moved up to select him - during the Chiefs' Week 16 win at Soldier Field.

While Trubisky has struggled, Mahomes has thrived, something he attributes to the situation at Kansas City, where he sat behind Alex Smith for a year before becoming the full-time starter last season.

"I think I ended up in the perfect place," said reigning MVP Mahomes, who has led the Chiefs to Super Bowl LIV.

"To have coach [Andy] Reid and these coaches around me, to have Alex Smith in front of me for a year and be able to learn from him, and then obviously to have all the players I have around me.

"I'm in a place where the team was already a winning team, a team that had a lot of success and I came in, was able to be who I am, and ended up being able to win a lot of football games early in my career."

Mahomes' success in 2018 meant the Chiefs were considered one of the leading contenders to reach the Super Bowl, unlike the San Francisco 49ers, their opponents in Miami on Sunday.

However, an appearance at the showpiece for the first time in 50 years looked unlikely when Mahomes went down with a worrying-looking knee injury during a game against the Denver Broncos in October.

He was diagnosed with a dislocated kneecap and avoided ligament damage, only missing two games despite initial fears that it could be a serious problem.

"I for sure had those thoughts a little bit whenever I had the injury," Mahomes admitted.

"The biggest thing was I looked down and I knew my knee didn't look right and I thought the worst.

"But, at the same time, when I got back to the locker room and talked to the doctors, they were very positive.

"The next few weeks, with the training staff, they worked me hard to go out there and rehab and do everything the right way and it helped me to come back fast."

Rob Gronkowski has advised his former New England Patriots team-mate Tom Brady to test the waters in free agency this year.

Brady is due to be a free agent at the end of this NFL season and, despite turning 43 in August, the six-time Super Bowl champion has suggested he wants to carry on playing.

Having played with the Patriots for his entire 20 seasons in the NFL, there is a distinct possibility that Brady is wearing a different jersey next year.

He would likely earn more money by signing for another franchise - with the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Chargers among those who could be interested - and Gronkowski thinks Brady should see what is out there.

"I truly believe that he deserves the opportunity to go explore, to see what's out there, he's been playing for so long," FOX Sports' pundit Gronkowski told reporters ahead of Super Bowl LIV between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. 

"The way that he's been playing, the level that he's been playing at, he deserves an opportunity to go out there and test the market.

"Why wouldn't you? You've never done it before in your career and he's going to be a free agent for the first time ever. Good for him. Go test out the market and do what's best for himself.

"That's the decision he has to make is what's best for himself, what's best for his family, what he feels like he's going to love.

"That's all up to Tom, he's a grown man and he can make that decision on his own."

Tight end Gronkowski spent his entire nine years in the NFL with the Patriots and won three Super Bowl rings as one of Brady's most reliable weapons.

Tyreek Hill has given competing at the Olympics serious thought and may enlist the help of his fellow Kansas City Chiefs wide receivers for relay trials after Super Bowl LIV.

Speedster Hill, nicknamed 'Cheetah', ran a sub 10-second time for the 100 metres when he was in high school and he remains one of the fastest players in the NFL.

The Chiefs themselves are renowned for their speed on offense, with rookie Mecole Hardman having clocked 4.33 seconds for the 40-yard dash at the combine last year.

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh described the Chiefs offense as like an "Olympic relay team" ahead of Sunday's Super Bowl and Hill, 25, revealed he has contemplated returning to compete on the track having starred as a 200m runner in college.

"Hopefully after the season, if I'm healthy and my mind is still in the right place, I really want to try and like try to qualify for some Olympic teams, even go to Penn Relays, give that a try," Hill said.

"Maybe get a few guys off the team and see if we can put a relay together, and show these track guys that football guys, we used to do this back in high school, man, we still got it, you know?

"I just want to have fun with it, like keep the guys together."

The necessity to bulk up for the rigours of the NFL means Hill would need to change his build, though.

"I have [given it serious thought]," Hill added of the Olympics.

"The thing is I'm weighing 195 (pounds) right now. Back in high school when I ran a 9.9, I was 175.

"If I do it, it'll be like me changing my whole diet, changing everything that I've been doing to get to this point where I am now."

Kyle Shanahan's previous Super Bowl experience left him with "scars" and he vowed not to ease up if the San Francisco 49ers find themselves in a similar position this Sunday.

Three years ago Shanahan was the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons when they led 28-3 against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.

However, in one of the most astonishing sporting comebacks of all time, Tom Brady guided the Patriots to a fifth Lombardi Trophy with an overtime win that had some criticising Shanahan's second-half play-calling.

The 40-year-old is now the head coach of the Niners and will hope he can finally win a first ring when San Francisco face the Kansas City Chiefs in Miami on Sunday.

"Everyone asks what I learned from that Super Bowl; I wish I could say there was some easy answer that would have fixed us not blowing that lead," Shanahan said on Tuesday.

"I go back and I'm hard on myself on everything. I know the plays I wish I called differently, especially a second-and-11 pass once we got down there [near the end zone] that led to a sack. That was about it.

"You realise when you're playing good teams, good quarterbacks, that you can never relax.

"No matter what situation I've been in since then - you can ask our players, our coaches - I freaked out at [defensive coordinator Robert] Saleh when he tried to take the starters out against Minnesota

"We were up like three scores with two minutes to go and I freaked out. Then I did the math and I thought it was alright.

"You get some of that scars from that stuff so guys were messing with me with that but besides that, it's about that."

Another of Shanahan's regrets was not drafting quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the man Saleh and the defense must likely stop if the Niners are to win Super Bowl LIV.

Shanahan had just been appointed the 49ers head coach prior to the 2017 NFL Draft when Mahomes came out of college and his team owned the second overall pick.

Yet Shanahan thought San Francisco could wait and acquire Kirk Cousins the following the year, so they passed on future Chiefs star Mahomes, later trading for current starter Jimmy Garoppolo.

On Mahomes, the 2018 MVP and arguably the NFL's best quarterback, Shanahan said: "I didn't look into him, obviously, as much as I should have.

He added: "There's always a risk with that when you spend a first-round pick on a quarterback.

"With the situation we were in, we didn't want to be that risky, especially with the second pick in the draft. We didn't [study Mahomes] as hard. Obviously, he ended up being one of the best players in the league, along with a couple of other quarterbacks that year. He's extremely talented."

The Cleveland Browns have hired Andrew Berry as their new executive vice president of football operations and general manager.

Berry, who previously worked with the Browns as a vice president of player personnel, takes over from John Dorsey, who was fired as general manager last month.

He spent the past season as the vice president of football operations for the Philadelphia Eagles and worked under Dorsey towards the end of his first spell with the Browns from 2016 to 2018.

"I'm honoured and blessed to lead the Football Operations of the Cleveland Browns," Berry said. "I'm appreciative of the Haslam family for entrusting me to be a steward of a franchise that is so rich in tradition and history.

"The passion for football courses through the veins of north-east Ohio in a manner that is unique to that of any other region.

"Our fan base's devotion to the Browns is the catalyst for such affection for the sport. Rewarding YOU all - our loyal and faithful Dawg Pound - will energise and motivate me daily to attack the challenge ahead of us.

"It is for that reason that I am excited to partner with Kevin Stefanski - a coach I know our city will embrace because of his leadership skills, work ethic, humility and character - to work tirelessly and with immediate urgency toward building a winning organisation that will make the people of Cleveland proud."

Stefanski replaced Freddie Kitchens as head coach this month. Kitchens was fired after his sole season in charge ended with the Browns going 6-10.

Andy Reid is one of the NFL's most successful head coaches, but there is one thing that has so far eluded him in that job.

His place in Canton's Pro Football Hall of Fame will surely be assured if he can claim a first Super Bowl ring by leading the Kansas City Chiefs past the San Francisco 49ers in Miami on Sunday.

Until he gets that monkey off his back, Reid has the most victories among NFL head coaches who have not won a title in that role.

Here we take a look at who else features high on that list.

 

ANDY REID - 207 regular-season wins, 14 playoff wins

There is a Super Bowl ring in Reid's collection, but it came when he was the Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach and assistant to Mike Holmgren at Super Bowl XXXI.

Since being elevated to the top job with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999, Reid has had 16 winning seasons, including seven in a row in Kansas City.

Yet his only previous appearance in the Big Dance was at Super Bowl XXXIX, when the Eagles were beaten by a New England Patriots team wrapping up a dynasty.

MARTY SCHOTTENHEIMER - 200 regular-season wins, five playoff wins

A head coach with the Cleveland Browns, Chiefs, Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers, Schottenheimer had no problems getting teams into the postseason.

Yet he had a 5-13 record in the playoffs and never made it to a Super Bowl.

His teams went one-and-done nine times in the postseason, including San Diego's 2006 Divisional Round home loss to the Pats - after Schottenheimer's Chargers had gone 14-2 in the regular season.

DAN REEVES - 190 regular-season wins, 11 playoff wins

Had the distinction of taking two teams to the Super Bowl like Reid, but both the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons came up short under Reeves' guidance.

His career as an NFL head coach spanned 23 seasons and three teams - the Broncos, New York Giants and Falcons.

Reeves took the Broncos to three Super Bowls in four years and guided a 14-2 Falcons team all way to Super Bowl XXXIII, yet on each occasion, he was on the losing side.

JEFF FISHER - 173 regular-season wins, five playoff wins

Fisher's teams had sub-.500 seasons in each of his last six seasons as an NFL head coach, but a decade of success with the Tennessee Titans ensured he amassed the wins.

The Titans first reached the playoffs in the 1999-00 season, winning three times before losing to the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV, when Kevin Dyson fell one yard short of scoring and potentially forcing overtime.

Like Reid, he does have a Super Bowl ring, with Fisher on injured reserve when the 1985 Chicago Bears and their much-vaunted defense won the Lombardi Trophy.

BUD GRANT - 158 regular-season wins, 10 playoff wins

A Pro Football and Canadian Football Hall of Famer, the only thing missing from Grant's resume was a Super Bowl ring.

He got close - replicating Reeves and Marv Levy in getting to the showpiece event four times but never getting over the hump as his Minnesota Vikings team lost to the Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders in the 1970s.

However, Grant did win four Grey Cups in Canada, guiding the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to the showpiece game in five times in six years.

MARV LEVY - 143 regular-season wins, 11 playoff wins

Levy's Buffalo Bills endured a stretch of Super Bowl heartbreak that has never been matched. From 1990 to 1993 Buffalo were the class of the AFC, only to come up short in the Super Bowl in four consecutive seasons.

Scott Norwood's infamous missed field goal with four seconds left - a play now simply known as "wide right" - denied them victory in Super Bowl XXV against the Giants, but the subsequent year's game with the Redskins and a pair of clashes with the Dallas Cowboys ended in blowouts.

Levy did win two Grey Cups with the Montreal Alouettes, but the Pro Football Hall of Famer was never able to add a Super Bowl ring to an otherwise magnificent resume.

When the San Francisco 49ers face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV, they will have a chance to round off an incredible decade for Bay Area sport in style.

The 2010s has seen three World Series trophies and three NBA titles come to the Bay, with the 49ers and San Jose Sharks also enjoying postseason positives alongside the dominance enjoyed by the San Francisco Giants and Golden State Warriors.

Sunday's showpiece in Miami, which brings to an end a magnificent 2019 season for the 49ers, will mark the 11th championship decider to feature a Bay Area team since 2010.

The 2019 Niners will hope they can add the finishing touches to a remarkable 10 years, and here we look at the teams that have gone before them in reaching the biggest stage in their respective sports in a decade that has brought plenty to celebrate.

2010: San Francisco Giants – Won World Series

The Giants moved from New York to San Francisco in 1958, but the city's fans had to wait 52 years to see the franchise win a World Series title as a west coast team. That drought was finally ended in manager Bruce Bochy's fourth season in charge.

The Giants beat the Texas Rangers in five games, with Edgar Renteria hitting a three-run home-run in a decisive 3-1 victory secured when Brian Wilson's strikeout clinched the first of three titles in five seasons for Bochy's men.

2012: San Francisco Giants – Won World Series

On the back of consecutive home defeats in the National League Division Series against the Cincinnati Reds, the Giants' hopes of regaining the World Series looked slim. However, after winning game three in extra innings, San Francisco claimed that series in five games thanks to NL MVP Buster Posey's grand slam in the decider.

They pulled off another comeback in the Championship Series, recovering from 3-1 down to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games, but the World Series proved a routine affair as the Giants swept the Detroit Tigers to take the trophy back to San Francisco.

2012: San Francisco 49ers – Lost Super Bowl XLVII

Having suffered an agonising overtime loss to the New York Giants the season before, the 49ers went one better and, thanks to Colin Kaepernick's emergence and the play of a dominant defense, made it to the Super Bowl in New Orleans.

There would be more heartbreak for the Niners, though, as – in a game remembered by most for the power outage that caused a 34-minute interruption in play – Jim Harbaugh's team were unable to complete a comeback from 28-6 down. John Harbaugh won the battle of the brothers, his Baltimore Ravens clinging on for a 34-31 win.

2014: San Francisco Giants – Won World Series

Few would have expected the Giants to improve on their heroics of 2012 when they made the postseason as a Wild Card team but, after crushing the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Wild Card game, they embarked on another improbable run.

The Giants saw off the Washington Nationals and then won the NLCS against the Cardinals on home soil in Game 5 thanks to Travis Ishikawa's walk-off homer. An epic World Series with the Kansas City Royals went seven games, with Madison Bumgarner's Herculean pitching effort the decisive factor.

2014-15: Golden State Warriors – Won NBA Finals

Golden State spent much of the first season of their dynasty listening to questions about whether a "jump-shooting team" could win the NBA title. Those questions were emphatically answered time and again over the coming years by one of the most dominant teams in NBA history.

In Steve Kerr's first season after taking over from Mark Jackson, Stephen Curry claimed the MVP award as the Warriors went 67-15. They eventually progressed to the NBA Finals against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, with the Warriors ending a 40-year wait for a title in six games thanks in large part to the tireless efforts of Andre Iguodala, who was named Finals MVP for his defense on LeBron.

2015-16: San Jose Sharks – Lost Stanley Cup Finals

Having formed in 1991, the Sharks' quarter-century wait to experience a Stanley Cup Finals series was finally ended when they overcame the St. Louis Blues in six games to win the Western Conference.

The Cup did not make its way to the Bay for the first time, however, as the Pittsburgh Penguins prevailed 4-2 in an absorbing finals series that featured two overtime games. San Jose have yet to return to the same stage and the Sharks' wait to reach the top of the mountain in the NHL goes on.

2015-16: Golden State Warriors – Lost NBA Finals

The Warriors appeared destined to secure back-to-back titles throughout the 2015-16 campaign, which they started with an astounding 28-game winning streak, the second-longest in NBA history.

Behind a unanimous MVP season from Curry, the Warriors broke the record for regular-season wins by going 73-9 but, in the postseason, they made history for the wrong reasons. Golden State overturned a 3-1 deficit to the Oklahoma City Thunder to reach the NBA Finals, but they ended up on the other end of a comeback as LeBron delivered on his promise to bring a title to Cleveland with the Cavaliers. The Warriors became the first team in history to lose a Finals having led 3-1.

2016-17: Golden State Warriors – Won NBA Finals

Golden State's response to their heartbreaking defeat to the Cavs was to add one of the best ever to take to the court to the roster. Kevin Durant had been on the Thunder team undone by the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, but he controversially made the move to join his conquerors, and it was one that paid huge dividends.

The Warriors did not put the same effort into the regular season as they had done when in pursuit of the record in 2015-16 but, with Durant in the line-up, they were unstoppable in the playoffs. Golden State lost just one game in the postseason, swatting aside the competition and defeating the Cavaliers 4-1 in the Finals. Durant averaged 35.2 points per game and added the only two things missing from his glittering resume: an NBA title and the Finals MVP award.

2017-18: Golden State Warriors – Won NBA Finals

Though the second act with Durant on the team may not have been quite as impressive as the first – the Warriors had to fight back from 3-2 down to beat the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals – LeBron and the Cavs still proved powerless to stop them marching to back-to-back NBA crowns in a Finals sweep.

Such was the Warriors' dominance that the biggest question of the Finals was whether it would be Curry or Durant who would win Finals MVP. Durant won that debate, further vindicating the decision that caused so much consternation two years earlier.

2018-19: Golden State Warriors – Lost NBA Finals

The Warriors' addition of DeMarcus Cousins in the offseason following their third title in four seasons gave them the possibility of starting five All-Stars. Rarely did a line-up of Curry, Durant, Cousins, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green see the floor at the same time, however, and injuries eventually became too much for Golden State to overcome.

Durant missed a large portion of the postseason with a strained calf and attempted to return in Game 5 of the Finals with the Toronto Raptors. His decision proved ill-fated, though, as Durant ruptured his Achilles in what proved his final game for the Warriors. Golden State pushed the series to Game 6, but Thompson's torn ACL effectively ended their hopes as the Raptors won the title for the first time.

2019: San Francisco 49ers – ???

It has been an incredible turnaround for the 49ers who, after going 6-10 and 4-12 in their first two seasons under Kyle Shanahan, are a win away from a sixth Super Bowl title.

Legendary Niners coach Bill Walsh went 2-14 and 6-10 in his first two seasons before, like Shanahan, going 13-3 in his third in 1981.

The Niners went on to win the Super Bowl and start a dynasty under Walsh and, throughout an emotional rollercoaster of a season in which they have won several nail-biting games, Shanahan's men have felt like a team destined for glory.

Their challenge now is to turn destiny into reality.

The key players in Super Bowl LIV expressed their admiration for Kobe Bryant at Opening Night on Monday, a day after the former Los Angeles Lakers star died in a helicopter crash.

A moment of silence was held for Bryant at Marlins Park in Miami, where players from both the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs spoke about the NBA great.

The 18-time All Star was killed, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others on Sunday, shortly before the Niners and Chiefs arrived in Miami.

Here is what some of the leading Chiefs and 49ers players said about Bryant's death.

 

Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs quarterback): "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 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."

George Kittle (San Francisco 49ers tight end): "Other than my parents, he was the reason I played sports. Just his mindset, the 'Mamba mentality'. I wore the number 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."

Richard Sherman (San Francisco 49ers cornerback): "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."

Travis Kelce (Kansas City Chiefs tight end): "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."

Frank Clark (Kansas City Chiefs defensive end): "The one person I looked to for inspiration and all my strength growing up when I was going through the things I was going through was Kobe Bryant. He was a successful guy and that's the one thing you look to. You look at the gangs and you look at the drug dealers and then you look at the guys who are successful."

Tyrann Mathieu (Kansas City Chiefs safety): "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."

Dante Pettis (San Francisco 49ers wide receiver): "The way he attacked life, there was nothing Kobe couldn’t defeat. He was a hero. A hero in general. In everything he did. It wasn't just sports. He wasn't just a basketball player. Everything he did, he gave 100 percent. That's something I'd like to be able to do. I wanted to live like him."

Jimmy Garoppolo (San Francisco 49ers quarterback): "We were actually on the plane ride in, and someone told me in the seat behind me. Honestly, I didn't even believe it. It didn't register at first. Just so sudden and everything like that. It's hard to accept but just a terrible, terrible tragedy."

Patrick Mahomes was considered the "greatest player" Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach had ever seen when he entered the NFL, Andy Reid said.

The Chiefs are reaping the rewards of trading up to land Mahomes with the 10th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, going one better and reaching Super Bowl LIV in Miami after falling in the AFC Championship Game last year.

That was Mahomes' MVP campaign and his body of work across his two seasons as the starter - during which time he has thrown 9,128 passing yards and 76 touchdowns - suggest he might be the best quarterback in the game right now.

Few believed Mahomes could make such an impact prior to the 2017 Draft, yet Chiefs head coach Reid revealed Veach was convinced he was not just great, but the best ever.

"You knew he was going to be great," said Reid, whose team face the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV this Sunday.  

"Brett Veach said it; he's our general manager. He said he's the greatest player he'd ever seen.

"That's quite a tribute to the kid. Now that I've been around him, and you've watched him play, he's pretty doggone good."

Such was Veach's confidence in Mahomes, the Chiefs packaged two first-rounders and a third to acquire the former Texas Tech signal caller.

His sensational arm strength, ability to throw from different angles, on the run and even without looking have ensured he has astounded in the professional ranks.

According to Tyreek Hill, that talent is coupled with a leader's mentality that reminds him of a wrestling great.

"There's this thing that he does on the sidelines. Almost like The Rock, when he smoulders," Hill added.

"Then he'll just like be serious, he'll be like 'Come on, guys, let's go, man' and get us turned up and get us fired up.

"Having him is definitely a blessing. He's a tremendous leader on and off the field. He leads by example, he's always working hard, trying to be the best.

"Pat is very different, man. Like you see most guys, you'll be like 'Man, he's very talented but he don't got the work ethic.' Well, Pat got both."

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo revealed former New England Patriots team-mate Tom Brady has wished him well ahead of Super Bowl LIV.

Brady and Garoppolo were colleagues in Foxborough but the former's evergreen play meant the latter was traded to San Francisco in 2017 before he became a coveted free agent.

Long viewed as the Patriots' heir apparent, Garoppolo is instead blazing his own trail for Brady's boyhood team and this Sunday he will bid to win the Niners' sixth Super Bowl ring when they face the Kansas City Chiefs in Miami.

Six-time Super Bowl champion Brady, normally preoccupied with work during this week, has been in touch with Garoppolo to offer some simple advice on the NFL's showpiece event.

"He shot me a text, just, 'Good luck', and everything like that," Garoppolo said.

"Just go handle business. Wasn't too complicated or anything, just 'Go win'."

Garoppolo was a two-time Super Bowl winner himself as Brady's deputy, a role he occupied for three years.

He believes his time spent working with arguably the greatest quarterback of all time has served him well now the spotlight is firmly on him.

"He was awesome," Garoppolo added.

"Everything he did, I never tried to be much of a pest and ask too many questions, but just watching him from afar how he went about his business, how he handled off-the-field things, on the field, whatever it was, he always did it the right way.

"So he gave me a good example when I was young."

Garoppolo witnessed Brady engineer fourth-quarter comebacks against the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowls, and marvelled at how cool he could stay on the biggest stage.

"I think just how calm he was," Garoppolo added of what he learned from Brady.

"Everyone says you've got to treat it like another game, [but] just the way he actually did it.

"I was up close and personal, picking up everything I could, seeing how he went about his business."

The Niners quarterback is not the only one to have been receiving advice from someone close to him ahead of the Super Bowl.

Rookie defensive end Nick Bosa's brother, Joey, plays for the Los Angeles Chargers, who faced Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes twice a season.

The younger Bosa therefore made sure he got some tips from big brother about how to slow down one of the game's most unique signal callers.

"He definitely told me you can't rush as a single rusher," Nick Bosa revealed.

"You have to rush as a unit, stay in your lanes and not let him get out of the pocket."

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