MIAMI—DJ Khaled was DJing, as he does, during warmups before Super Bowl LIV. Taking a break between songs, he asked the crowd to scream for the 49ers, and a sizable roar went up from the seats. But when he made the same request of Chiefs fans, it became clear that they had showed up in larger numbers. The cheers had an almost frantic energy, an infectious desperation that accompanied Kansas City’s first chance to win the Lombardi Trophy in 50 years. Even an hour away from kickoff, adrenaline coursed through the stadium as though it were the fourth quarter.
“You can always feel it after the national anthem, toward the end of it, how many Chiefs fans are really there,” tight end Travis Kelce said in the locker room after the game. “In the beginning, I knew we had the crowd on our side for sure. The atmosphere and electricity of the Super Bowl itself gives you enough energy to play, but when you make a play and you hear the crowd go crazy, that gives you a little more juice, too.”
This game had juice, all right. Every single aspect of Super Bowl LIV was on fire. The league pulled out all the stops on its 100th anniversary for hype videos and pregame festivities. It brought out football legends like Jim Brown, Mike Ditka, Brett Favre, Tom Brady, Jerry Rice and Bill Belichick (who, if my ears didn’t deceive me, definitely got booed) along with the rest of the NFL 100 All-Time Team, before the game. The NFL also followed up last year’s popular TV spot that featured at least one million famous players and coaches with another, this time starring 12-year-old football prodigy Maxwell “Bunchie” Young. The crowd ate it all up. The only pregame experience I’ve ever witnessed that came close to being this charged was the introduction for the Vegas Golden Knights’ first Stanley Cup Final game (which was designed by Cirque de Soleil, a company that exists solely to captivate a crowd). By the time the Rock appeared on the jumbotron to introduce the teams and said it was “time to unleash hell,” I felt like I could run through a brick wall.
Somehow, the hype videos weren’t even the high point before kickoff. Yolanda Adams crushed her performance of “America the Beautiful”; if a vocal performance could be measured by how much caffeine it made you feel like you’d consumed, Adams was at least 10 cups of coffee. After her, Demi Lovato absolutely nailed the national anthem, giving the song more depth than the Chiefs’ secondary.
When there’s that much energy before kickoff, it often feels like there’s a good chance the actual game won’t be as exciting, but this one didn’t disappoint. Last year’s Super Bowl—the Patriots’ 13-3 win over the Rams—was the football equivalent of trying to run through a cranberry bog. This was like putting on a freshly sharpened pair of ice skates.
The first half was low-scoring, tied 10-10, but it was riveting. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy even tossed in a play that had two receivers, a running back and quarterback Patrick Mahomes twirl around before the snap like members of a boy band. Turns out they borrowed it from the 1948 Rose Bowl.
With 31 seconds left in the second quarter, the stadium blasted out the Beastie Boys song, “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!),” a favorite of Kelce’s. Chiefs fans screamed along with it. Even the opening chords of Guns N’ Roses “Welcome to the Jungle” and the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” staples in stadiums across America, hit differently on Sunday night. Paired with the cocktail of a good game and a raucous crowd, the music carried the strength of a thousand suns.
And then there was the halftime show. I’m not sure there’s any way to do it justice with words. If you watched, you know that Jennifer Lopez and Shakira left everything they had on that stage. You know that Shakira’s hips didn’t lie, that J.Lo is still Jenny from the Block, that both of them put together a performance that was sexy, perfectly timed and flawlessly executed. You know that the two Latina women who are over 40—J.Lo is 50 and Shakira is 43—blessed Miami with something special. And if you didn’t watch it, you won’t truly understand until you do. My soul has yet to return to my body. The hype videos might’ve made me feel like I could Kool-Aid man through a brick wall, but the halftime show made me feel like I was about to blast off into space.
Even though it seemed hard to believe that football even existed anymore after Shakira and J.Lo graced the field with their presence, the game somehow got even better in the second half. The crowd spent most of the night at the top of a roller coaster in the moment right before the car plummets down the track. Hard Rock Stadium sounded like a NASCAR race; at one point, I wondered whether I should’ve worn ear plugs.
By the end of the fourth quarter, as the Chiefs fought their way back from a 10-point deficit and 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan watched his lead shrink like someone at NASA watching an asteroid make its way toward earth, it became clear that things weren’t going to calm down. This game lived for the rush. This game bought kegs, set up beer pong tables and rewired an old car speaker system when it was in high school and its parents were out of town. This game put gunpowder in its cereal. This game rode a unicycle while it juggled fiery batons. This game ripped a cigarette while it filled up its Harley with gas and sped off without a helmet. This game texted its exes on the day of their weddings. This game … you know what this game does.
The Chiefs scored 21 straight points in the fourth quarter to finish off the season with a 31-20 win, prompting a Gatorade bath for Reid and a trophy celebration for his team.
In the Chiefs locker room after the win, players danced to Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares” blasting out of a boom box decorated with Super Bowl champions decals. The crescendo had finally occurred, and fans—some deliriously happy, others crushed—came back down to earth as they filtered out of the stadium.
“Yeah, I mean, we felt the love obviously,” said safety Tyrann Mathieu, of the crowd. “Anytime you win the game, it feels like everybody came to see you.”
Everybody came for all of it this year. It’s rare that the game and the spectacle surrounding it complement each other so well. Keeping the crowd noise up at decibels usually reserved for aircraft carriers for three and a half hours isn’t normally easy, but on Sunday, it was. Super Bowl LIV went about as well as a championship ever could (unless you’re a Niners fan; sorry for your loss). For the pieces to fit together so well was a small miracle, especially because there was so much the league and event managers couldn’t control. There’s no way to predict how a game will play out, as hard as we try, and there’s no way to truly be sure there won’t be technical failures or know exactly how a crowd will respond to a hype video. But on Sunday, football fired on all cylinders. All we had to do was buckle up and enjoy the ride.