MIAMI — Few Super Bowls in recent memory have appeared as potentially competitive as the San Francisco 49ers against the Kansas City Chiefs.
No wonder there's a little more buzz about the 54th edition of the big game. History and excitement are a nice combination for any championship matchup.
The history stems from the Chiefs seeking their first title since 1970, when they won the fourth Super Bowl in the final matchup of the AFL versus the NFL. The full merger took place the next season — and Kansas City hadn't been back to the Super Bowl for which the team's founder, Lamar Hunt, provided the name. Until now.
Super Bowl LIV is set to kick off at 6:30 tonight at Hard Rock Stadium as AFC champion Kansas City (14-4) takes on NFC champion San Francisco (15-3). Fox will televise the game.
"I think he would be amazed," said Clark Hunt, Lamar's 54-year-old son 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 résumé goes back to 1999, his first season with the Philadelphia Eagles. In charge of the Chiefs since 2013, he has a Super Bowl ring from work as an assistant coach with the Green Bay Packers in the late 1990s, but Reid is 0-1 in the big game, with the Eagles losing 24-21 to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX to cap the 2004 season.
"Just getting him here isn't the goal," star tight end Travis Kelce said. "Winning this thing for him is."
San Francisco is seeking its sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy, which would equal the record held by the Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The 49ers also are looking to be only the second NFL 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, whose NFL career is a story in itself.
He was cut by seven teams and played on special teams for the 49ers before getting a chance — and running with it. Mostert rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns two weeks ago as the 49ers routed the Packers in the NFC title game.
"This franchise has a lot of history and accomplishments," Mostert said. "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, though he might not be the best tight end in this game despite five straight Pro Bowl selections. It's close, but first-time All-Pro George Kittle of the 49ers is just as capable of breaking open this Super Bowl with something spectacular — and celebrating 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 receivers capable of swinging momentum in their favor. For the Chiefs it's perhaps the speediest group the NFL has ever had. Tyreek Hill is sure of it, joking — at least somewhat — that he could put together a relay team for this summer's Tokyo Olympics with himself, fellow receivers Mecole Hardman and Sammy Watkins plus cornerback Charvarius Ward.
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. All are capable of making a difference.
So is San Francisco's 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 rookie Nick Bosa. A year ago, the 49ers were so bad they had the second overall draft pick. They took edge rusher Bosa, and look where they are now. San Francisco has 57 sacks this season including the playoffs, with veteran linebacker Bosa, Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Dee Ford each having at least 7.5.
Fred Warner has developed into a versatile linebacker, and 31-year-old 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, whose defense performed particularly well down the stretch of the regular season but wasn't so stingy in spots during playoff wins against the Houston Texans and the Tennessee Titans, how it goes very possibly will depend on how successful Mahomes is. The 49ers don't need their quarterback, 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, against the Minnesota Vikings and the Packers.
Make no mistake about Mahomes: Kansas City needs 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 — without bothering to fully planting his legs. Maybe even the kind of tightrope run down the sideline he employed to score against the Titans in the AFC title game, a play 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.