MIAMI, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant was on the minds of many San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs players on opening night, as the teams prepare for Super Bowl LIV this weekend.
An image of the late Bryant was shown on the big screen and fans, players and media members had a moment of silence to honor Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter accident Sunday along with his daughter Gianna and seven others. The moment of silence was interrupted as fans in the stands chanted "Kobe, Kobe, Kobe."
Bryant meant something different to everyone, but most of the players mentioned his on-court mentality when asked about the "Black Mamba."
"It's unfortunate. It's really sad," 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman said. "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, 31, is a Compton, Calif., native. He grew up an avid Lakers fan and idolized Bryant. They bonded in 2017 after Sherman tore his ACL, an injury Bryant sustained four years earlier. Bryant returned from his injury and offered Sherman advice on how to deal with the adversity.
"He gave that advice: Don't be a baby," Sherman said. "And that's what I mean about his mentality. He's very competitive. But he's also caring. He's one of the most caring and genuine human beings I've ever been a part of. But when he comes to events like this ... he says it was selfish of us to think of him and what he was going through if we're not using it as anything but motivation to do anything but dominate and win.
"Obviously, we want to do this for him. I want to do this for him. My teammates want to do this for him. I'm sure there's guys on the Chiefs that want to do it for him. He's such a special person; you want to go out there and win this game."
Sherman learned of Bryant's death from 49ers general manager John Lynch while the team was aboard its flight to Miami on Sunday. The news is still very fresh to others who will be on the field this Sunday in Miami Gardens, Fla., even if they weren't as close to Bryant as Sherman was.
"I wasn't lucky enough to get to meet Kobe, but the impact that he made on my life was huge," Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. "I still watch videos on YouTube on days before games and just listen to him talk and how he puts everything into perspective about being great, on and off the field, with his kids and his business ventures and obviously his play. It's a tragic thing."
49ers tight end George Kittle said he wore the No. 24 at Norman High School in Norman, Okla., because of Bryant.
"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," Kittle said. "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 fadeaway.
"The amount of hours I spent practicing that fadeaway 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."
The 49ers and Chiefs take the field for Super Bowl LIV at 6:30 p.m. EST Sunday at Miami's Hard Rock Stadium.