Liv­ing up to the buzz

Chiefs and 49ers bring his­tory and ex­cite­ment to this sea­son’s fi­nal matchup

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - SUPER BOWL LIV - By Barry Wil­ner

MI­AMI — Few Su­per Bowls in re­cent mem­ory have ap­peared as com­pet­i­tive as the 49ers against the Chiefs.

No won­der there’s a lit­tle more buzz about this one.

His­tory and ex­cite­ment are a nice com­bi­na­tion for any cham­pi­onship game.

The his­tory stems from the Chiefs seek­ing their first ti­tle since 1970, when they won the fourth Su­per Bowl in the fi­nal matchup of AFL-NFL. The full merger took place the next sea­son — and the Chiefs haven’t been back to the Su­per Bowl for which its founder, La­mar Hunt, pro­vided the name.

“I think he would be amazed,” said his son, Clark Hunt, who now over­sees the Chiefs. “He and my mother ac­tu­ally talked about that at one of the last Su­per Bowls they at­tended to­gether about 15 years ago. He said, ‘I al­ways knew it was go­ing to be big, but I didn’t know it was go­ing to be this big.’ ”

Then there’s Andy Reid, whose NFL head coach­ing re­sume goes back to 1999 with the Ea­gles. He has a Su­per Bowl ring from work as an as­sis­tant coach with the Pack­ers , but Reid is 0-1 in the big game.

“Just get­ting him here isn’t the goal,” star tight end Travis Kelce said. “Win­ning this thing for him is.”

The 49ers are seek­ing their sixth Vince Lom­bardi Tro­phy, which would equal the record held by the Steel­ers and Pa­tri­ots. The 49ers also are look­ing to be only the sec­ond team to go from 4-12 the pre­vi­ous sea­son to the top of the heap.

“It’s been quite a jour­ney,” said half­back Ra­heem Mostert, who him­self has had quite the so­journ in the NFL. He was cut by seven teams and was a spe­cial-teamer for the 49ers be­fore get­ting a chance — and tak­ing off run­ning with it. Mostert rushed for 220 yards and four touch­downs in the NFC ti­tle game.

“This fran­chise has a lot of his­tory and ac­com­plish­ments. Of course we want to add to that.”

Mostert is one of a field full of play­ers who will push the thrill throt­tle to the floor and keep it there. So is Kelce.

But Kelce might not be the best tight end in the game. It’s close, but 49ers All-Pro Ge­orge Kit­tle is just as ca­pa­ble of break­ing open this Su­per Bowl with some­thing spec­tac­u­lar.

And cel­e­brate it al­most as adeptly as J-Lo and Shakira will fill the half­time stage.

“I think we both have a re­ally good time play­ing foot­ball,” Kit­tle said. “You can see that on the tape. We both just en­joy be­ing out there with our team­mates. We both make plays when we’re asked to, and I think we both make plays when we’re not asked to.”

Both teams have wide­outs ca­pa­ble of swing­ing mo­men­tum in their team’s fa­vor. For the Chiefs it’s per­haps the speed­i­est group the NFL has seen. Tyreek Hill is sure of it.

“If I’m healthy and my mind is in the right place, I’d go try out for the Olympics, put to­gether a re­lay,” Hill said. “We’d show these track guys, ‘Hey, we foot­ball play­ers can do that, too.’ ”

He’s put fel­low re­ceivers Sammy Watkins and rookie Mecole Hard­man on that re­lay.

“It al­most looks like they got their ros­ter from the Olympic re­lay team and threw them all on the foot­ball field,” 49ers de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Robert Saleh said. “Not to say they can’t run routes and catch ei­ther, be­cause they can do that. They’re a spe­cial group and you can see why they’re there.”

Still, the 49ers have a clutch re­ceiver in vet­eran Em­manuel San­ders, a rookie with no fear of go­ing any­where on the field — or above it — to make a catch in Deebo Sa­muel, and an emerg­ing tal­ent in Ken­drick Bourne. Just like with the Chiefs, they’re ca­pa­ble of mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.

So is the 49ers’ de­fense, and it will need to be at op­ti­mal pre­ci­sion to deal with per­haps the most elec­tri­fy­ing player of them all in this Su­per Bowl: Chiefs quar­ter­back Pa­trick Ma­homes.

The 49ers have a pow­er­ful pass rush sparked by a deep front four that in­cludes a sack threat at ev­ery spot — in­clud­ing one rookie, Nick Bosa. A year ago, the Nin­ers were so bad they had the sec­ond over­all draft pick. They took edge rusher Bosa, and look where they are now.

The Nin­ers have 57 sacks in­clud­ing the play­offs, with vet­eran line­backer Dee Ford, Bosa, Arik Arm­stead and De­For­est Buck­ner all hav­ing at least 71⁄2.

Fred Warner has de­vel­oped into a ver­sa­tile line­backer and Richard Sher­man re­mains one of the NFL’s great cor­ner­backs — an ac­tion guy who will love tak­ing on Ma­homes.

“We be­lieve in each other,” Sher­man said. “We be­lieve in the scheme. We be­lieve in what we’ve done all year, and we plan on go­ing out there and putting a good prod­uct on tape and see­ing how it goes.”

For the Chiefs, their de­fense per­formed par­tic­u­larly well down the stretch of the reg­u­lar sea­son but hasn’t been so stingy in spots dur­ing the post­sea­son, how it goes Sun­day very pos­si­bly will de­pend on how suc­cess­ful Ma­homes is. The 49ers don’t need their QB, Jimmy Garop­polo, to be ex­tra spe­cial; he’s been more of a care­taker be­hind that mon­strous run­ning game and de­fense in the two post­sea­son vic­to­ries.

Make no mis­take about Ma­homes: The Chiefs need him to be, well, vin­tage Ma­homes.

Which means big plays with his arm, thrown from an­gles we didn’t know ex­isted. How­itzer throws as he rolls out — even to his left — and doesn’t bother fully plant­ing his legs. Maybe even the tightrope kind of run down the side­line that still has NFL folks shak­ing their heads in won­der.

“You have to ac­cept the ex­cite­ment that it is,” Ma­homes said. “It’s amaz­ing to be here, to be in this at­mos­phere, to be at this podium. It’s where you want to be when you start train­ing camp in St. Joe, Mis­souri. For me, to be in this mo­ment, I’m just en­joy­ing it as much as pos­si­ble.”

Chances are, Ma­homes and his team­mates, along with the 49ers, will pro­duce one of those en­joy­able, mem­o­rable, per­haps even clas­sic Su­per Bowls.

DAVID J. PHILLIP/AP

ED ZURGA/AP (MA­HOMES), TED S. WAR­REN/AP (MOSTERT)

Chiefs QB Pa­trick Ma­homes (15) and Nin­ers RB Ra­heem Mostert are two to watch.

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