The players, coaches and staff from the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs lined up on the 24-yard line on both sides of the field Sunday night, in remembrance of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and the other victims of their helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif. Announcers called for a moment of silence, which also honored Pro Football Hall of Famer Chris Doleman, who died this week after battling brain cancer.
Houston gospel singer Yolanda Adams belted out a moving rendition of America the Beautiful, followed by pop star Demi Lovato singing The National Anthem. Lovato has spoken out in the past about being sexually fluid. Nobody took a knee or sat in protest, as far as is known. At the conclusion, there was a military flyover.
At one point, a huge American flag filled the field, flanked by a color guard featuring all branches of the U.S. Military — except for the Space Force, which had people talking on Twitter. Other efforts at combining football with patriotism and politics included a brief tribute to centenarian veterans, a video featuring a Medal of Honor recipient and scenes from the September 11th memorial in New York City, plus a spoken word recording of “Ragged Old Flag” by the late Johnny Cash, which provoked anger online.
The Rock hosted an odd, Project Runway-styled video to introduce the Niners and Chiefs, which was reportedly a big hit on the internet.
But for many viewers, the highlight before the kickoff was watching 13-year-old Maxwell “Bunchie” Young, described by Time as a young football and running prodigy from Los Angeles. He starred in a video showing him returning a pass by running all across America, right up to the ref at Hard Rock Stadium.
In the video, Young found help from various players and icons along the way, even taking a moment to honor the late Pat Tillman. When the video ended, the boy ran onto the field, live, followed by other children dressed in NFL jerseys.
If he looks familiar, Young was the Sports Illustrated Kids SportsKid of the Year in 2017.