The San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs were hours away from a blockbuster Super Bowl showdown here Sunday as Las Vegas stages the American sporting showpiece for the first time.
The neon-lit gambling capital in the Nevada desert has reached a fever pitch of anticipation for the NFL championship game that has topped even the usual outsized levels of hype.
The romance between pop megastar Taylor Swift and the Chiefs’ charismatic Travis Kelce is just one of the storylines of a game that is expected to smash US television viewing records.
Swift dashed back to the United States from the latest leg of her global tour in Tokyo on Saturday and will be among a slew of celebrities and VIPs packed into the 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium to see if Kelce and the Chiefs can win a third Super Bowl crown in five seasons.
8.45AM: WHO WILL WIN? OUR EXPERTS DECIDE
The biggest party in American sport is about to get even bigger on Monday (AEDT) when Las Vegas hosts the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs in what promises to be a Super Bowl blockbuster for the ages.
But who will win? Julian Linden and Jamie Pandaram debate who will claim the crown.
8.00AM: CAN CHIEFS OVERCOME $1.76m ‘DRAKE CURSE’?
The Drake Curse is a real thing. And that could spell disaster for the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Canadian rapper is known to splash the cash on big sporting events – and often ends up on the losing side.
He lost $1m when Argentina beat France in the World Cup final in 2022, and famously bet on the Golden State Warriors when they lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals.
And, for today, he’s bet $US1.15m on the Chiefs – and star tight end Travis Kelce, boyfriend of pop star Taylor Swift – to knock over the favourites San Francisco 49ers.
“I can’t bet against the Swifties,” Drake wrote on Instagram, alongside a screenshot of the monster bet.
6AM: ULTIMATE GUIDE TO SUPER BOWL 58
– Jamie Pandaram
Taylor Swift will be there, Prince Harry won’t, the San Francisco 49ers are complaining of a hijacked preparation, while the Kansas City Chiefs are ruing a major injury blow in a dramatic build-up to Super Bowl LVIII.
Pop star Swift raced from her Tokyo concert to Haneda airport in a convoy of four black SUVs and flew to Los Angeles.
She then shot off to Las Vegas, venue of the biggest sports event on Earth, to watch her boyfriend Travis Kelce compete for his third championship.
The Chiefs tight end and Swift have become the dominant storyline of the NFL this year because Swift is the most famous musician on the planet.
Fears she would miss the big game were allayed when her jet, given the name “The Football Era”, landed at LAX on Saturday local time.
The Swift and Kelce families will be together in a private suite at Allegiant Stadium for which the Chiefs star paid $US1.5 million.
Prince Harry shocked onlookers when he turned up in Vegas on Thursday to present the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award to Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward.
However, the royal and his wife Meghan Markle won’t attend the big show because they are heading to Canada for the Invictus Games.
Speaking of games, the 49ers are convinced someone is playing some with them as they fume about their preparations.
Coach Kyle Shanahan was incensed about the softness of the grass on their practice field at UNLV, while the Chiefs got to train at Allegiant Stadium.
(The AFC and NFC teams take it in turns each year to train at the match venue before the Super Bowl).
San Francisco players also believe a prankster set off an alarm at 6am at their team hotel to disrupt their sleep.
“There’s no way it’s random,” star 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey said. “It’s part of it. It’s just more wood thrown on the fire.”
Wide receiver Deebo Samuel said: “A fire alarm going off at six in the morning? For what? I didn’t understand that. That s*** kind of p***** me off.”
However, in news that will lift the hopes of long-suffering Niners fans, who haven’t seen their team lift the Lombardi Trophy in 30 years, the Chiefs’ $US80 million defensive strongman Joe Thuney is a late omission from the Super Bowl.
The Chiefs had already lost star defensive end Charles Omenihu to a knee injury and guard Thuney is now their second starting defensive player to be ruled out.
They have activated running back Jerrick McKinnon from their injured reserve list but a decision on whether he plays will be made before the match.
The Niners were already favourites and all their starting players had been passed fit, so the late injury blow resulted in defending champions the Chiefs drifting in the market.
However, the Chiefs have made four of the past five Super Bowls and thrived on the underdogs tag.
The 49ers’ dominant running game – led by McCaffrey and Samuel – will try to break through the Chiefs wall, while quarterback Brock Purdy hopes to shed his tag as “Mr Irrelevant”, having been picked as the 262nd and final player in the 2022 NFL draft.
Kansas City’s hopes rest with genius quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who has already led the franchise to two titles and in quick time become one of the game’s greats.
Less regular NFL viewers and Swifties will be intrigued to learn the rivalry between the Chiefs and 49ers also runs deep off the field.
Kelce’s ex-girlfriend Kayla Nicole, who dated the star from 2017-22, has seemingly switched allegiances by partying in Vegas over the weekend with 49ers WAGs that include Claire Kittle, wife of Kelce’s tight end rival George Kittle.
The halftime show is another feature of the Super Bowl that appeals to non-football fans and this year’s entertainer is R&B star Usher.
Fans are speculating he may bring on stage Alicia Keys to perform their duet My Boo.
The other highly anticipated off-field attraction for US viewers will be the Super Bowl commercials, which each cost $US7 million for a 60-second spot.
This year Friends co-stars Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer will reunite for Uber Eats. It will reportedly cost the company more than $US50 million for the total production.
American beer company Bud Light suffered a sales slump following its decision to use transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney in a marketing campaign.
Conservative customers, led by musician Kid Rock, boycotted the brand and posted social media clips in which they poured cans of beer on to the ground.
Bud Light is now forking out for an ad that features NFL legend Peyton Manning, rapper Post Malone and UFC boss Dana White to win back customers.
In the end, long after the singing, dancing and acting have dissolved into the memory banks, one team will be immortalised as Super Bowl champion and claim a prize that money can’t buy.
Either Purdy and McCaffrey will end San Francisco’s three-decade hoodoo, or Mahomes and Kelce will notch a third championship in five years to create a new Football Era.
Originally published as Super Bowl 2024: All the latest news and highlights from Las Vegas