Super Bowl LI kicks off with a lively Opening Night
HOUSTON (CNN) – Super Bowl Opening Night had a bit of everything on Monday, ranging from funny to serious, and it also included a touching moment by Tom Brady.
The hyped event — which once upon a time was just known as “Media Day” — kicked off the weeklong festivities surrounding Super Bowl LI in Houston. The game itself is Sunday at NRG Stadium, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. local time (6:30 p.m. ET).
For the second consecutive year, coaches and players from both Super Bowl teams answered questions from the media in prime time. Fans who bought tickets for the sold-out event at Minute Maid Park, home of MLB’s Houston Astros, watched and listened on radios as the media interviewed members of the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots.
Both sessions consisted of photo and interview sessions with all players and coaches, the first time these teams met the media in Houston. In between sessions was a performance by rock band X Ambassadors. The event ended with a fireworks display.
“This is awesome, just to enjoy this, fans coming out and supporting us… it’s great,” Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones said. “It feels great, the energy is great here, and I’m loving it.”
US Olympic gymnast Simone Biles joined the ranks of the media, there with Inside Edition as a special correspondent. Guillermo from Jimmy Kimmel Live interviewed players while holding a soccer ball — though that’s known as a “football” outside of the US.
Cooper Manning, the older brother of Peyton and Eli Manning, milled around dressed in a $100 bill print suit. There was also an appearance from the Fake Tom Brady, which was Bleacher Report’s Dan Worthington wearing a frighteningly realistic mask of the Patriots quarterback.
Back for another year was Austrian sportscaster Phillip Hajszan, who estimates he’s worn costumes for this event five times now. This year he dressed up as Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, while his colleague with the camera was in a dress as Empress Elisabeth.
“I think it’s about having fun an event that’s usually just about sports,” Hajszan said. “And it’s not only about sports, it’s about entertainment, it’s about having fun, having a good time, so the people laugh, so it’s not only serious all the time.”
There was, though, a bit of seriousness Monday night when Falcons wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, who is Muslim, repeatedly was asked about President Donald Trump recently signing an executive order on immigration and refugees, banning citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days.
“It’s a very tough situation, and I just pray that us as a country and a world can be united as one,” Sanu said. “You know, it is really hard for me to talk about this right now, it would take a lot of time, so I just want to focus on the game and just talk about football.”
As Sanu continued to receive several questions about the ban, he continued to deflect.
“Obviously, my name is Mohamed, a lot of people know I’m Muslim, but I’m here because of my football talents, not because I’m Muslim, and I’m here to talk about football,” he said. “So you guys are going to continue to ask me about my religious beliefs, then I’m going to continue to tell you the same thing, because I’m here to talk about football. I respect all you guys, I have tremendous love for all you guys, but we’re here to talk about football, playing against the Patriots.”
There was also a tender moment. Brady — the real one — was asked who his hero is. Brady choked up during his response.
“That’s a great question,” Brady said. “I think my Dad is my hero, because he’s someone that I look up to every day, and…”
Brady paused, visibly getting emotional. Then he smiled.
“My dad,” he said.