Carolina Panthers

Wild, wacky and weird: 10 things we learned from Super Bowl’s Opening Night

Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley and Hall of Famer/broadcaster Deion Sanders speak at Opening Night ahead of Super Bowl LIII on Monday night. (Jourdan Rodrigue/Charlotte Observer)
Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley and Hall of Famer/broadcaster Deion Sanders speak at Opening Night ahead of Super Bowl LIII on Monday night. (Jourdan Rodrigue/Charlotte Observer)

Super Bowl LIII week officially kicked off on Monday, with the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots preparing to play for the NFL title on Sunday.

The stakes, of course, are high. But players and coaches had a different sort of gauntlet to run on Monday night, before even lacing up their cleats and slapping on their pads.

Super Bowl Opening Night. The week’s first media availability.

Or, a complete madhouse in State Farm Arena, where a handful of stars are propped up onto podiums and hundreds of writers, camera crews and even late night television co-hosts pepper them with questions. It’s a chaotic scene, where players are hard to hear and the questions range from being about the game itself, to the flat-out weird and wonky.

Here are 10 of the enlightening, weird, wonderful moments of Day 1.

Super Bowl LIII is at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Sunday.

1. Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley was battling knee issues earlier in the season and was spelled in the final weeks by former Panthers running back CJ Anderson. Gurley said he’s “feeling great” ahead of Sunday’s game but expects Anderson to share some carries.

2. “I’m not going to give that guy any advice,” said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, laughing in response to a panel question at the event about what Rams quarterback Jared Goff should know before playing in his first Super Bowl.

3. Los Angeles Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth had some high praise for Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, when speaking broadly about great football minds (including that of his head coach Sean McVay). Whitworth signed with the Rams in 2017, a year after Carolina’s game in the Coliseum. But he said he noticed (likely speaking of the tape he watched of the game) that Kuechly called out “like 65 percent” of the plays.

4. Anderson also spoke highly of McVay, who at 33 is the youngest head coach to reach a Super Bowl. I asked Anderson who would win in a game of chess — McVay or Kuechly?

“That would be a good matchup,” said Anderson, drawing out the “o’s”. “That would be a good matchup. Whew. I think Sean has the advantage, because he can watch tape and know Kuechly’s weaknesses. I don’t think that Kuechly can know Sean’s, and try to get his weaknesses in a week. Sean’s not on tape.”

5. Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, the defensive player in the “non-call heard ‘round the world” in the NFC Championship Game, told media members he has received death threats after his hit on Saints receiver Michael Thomas was not whistled.

The NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell have yet to issue a statement on the play, which Robey-Coleman has agreed should have been a penalty.

Goodell’s annual Super Bowl news conference is Wednesday.

6. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was asked about the possibility of preparing for life after Brady, who is 41.

“I’m not going to worry about next year until at least Monday,” he replied.

7. South Pointe High product and Rock Hill native Stephon Gilmore, who played college football at South Carolina, is in his second consecutive Super Bowl as a starting cornerback for New England. He’s thankful for the opportunity to show young kids from his area what can be accomplished with hard work.

“A lot of people are seeing me be successful and (believing it’s possible) for themselves,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it without their support, and it makes me go harder each and every day.”

South Pointe high school and Rock Hill, S.C. native (and former Gamecock) Stephon Gilmore is playing in his second consecutive Super Bowl as a starting cornerback for New England on Sunday. (Jourdan Rodrigue/Charlotte Observer)

8. Gurley and writer, actor and comedian JB Smoove shared a bonding moment over North Carolina barbecue in the middle of Gurley’s podium session.

9. Guillermo Rodriguez, the comedian co-host of late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, popped into a few scrums to ask players off-the-wall questions or hand them props. He brought Belichick a poncho with the head coach’s face on it, for example. It can’t be confirmed whether Belichick actually cracked a smile.

10. The media center has a “nap pod.” It’s soft-white and round with a curved top and reclined seating. Of course, it is branded with the “Super Bowl LII” logo.

I drove from Charlotte to Atlanta on Monday morning, so I had plenty of time to wait creepily for one sportswriter to wake up and exit the pod, but to no avail.

The nap pod, it seems, will be the one Super Bowl experience that got away ... today.

Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071, @JourdanRodrigue

Jourdan has covered the Carolina Panthers as a beat writer since 2016, and froze during Pennsylvania winters as an award-winning Penn State football beat writer before that. A 2014 graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, she’s on a never-ending quest for trick plays and the stories that give football fans goosebumps.
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