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Vegas stage set for Super Bowl blockbuster

Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes hopes to lead his team to a third Super Bowl title in five seasons (JAMIE SQUIRE)
Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes hopes to lead his team to a third Super Bowl title in five seasons (JAMIE SQUIRE)

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.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) say a fleet of around 500 private jets have swept into Las Vegas for the game, which kicks off at 3.30pm local time (2330 GMT).

The galaxy of VIPS are part of an invasion of more than 300,000 visitors who have descended on the city for the Super Bowl weekend, pumping an estimated $600-700 million into the local economy, according to city officials.

The horde of tourists have flocked to nightclubs and celebrity-hosted parties and eve-of-game concerts featuring stars such as U2, Adele, Christina Aguilera and Green Day.

Those fans lucky enough to have a ticket for the game, where R&B star Usher headlines the half-time show, have paid handsomely for the privilege.

The cheapest seats available on resale ticketing website Stubhub on Sunday came with a hefty $5,713 price tag; with the most expensive listed at a staggering $196,875.

The American Gaming Association, meanwhile, projects that a record 67.8 million Americans -- around a quarter of the country's adult population -- will place a bet on the Super Bowl, generating an estimated $23.1 billion.

This year's Super Bowl, meanwhile, has taken on political overtones due to Swift's relationship with Kelce, with right-wing conspiracy theorists seeing it as evidence of a plot to influence the outcome of this year's US Presidential election if the singer endorses Joe Biden.

Former President Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner, took aim at the singer on Sunday, claiming any endorsement of Biden by Swift would be "disloyal" given that his administration passed copyright legislation in 2018 widely seen as benefiting artists and performers.

"Joe Biden didn't do anything for Taylor, and never will," Trump wrote on Truth Social.

"There's no way she could endorse Crooked Joe Biden, the worst and most corrupt President in the History of our Country, and be disloyal to the man who made her so much money.

"Besides that, I like her boyfriend, Travis, even though he may be a Liberal, and probably can't stand me!"

- Chiefs eye dynasty -

The sporting dimension of the occasion, meanwhile, has all the ingredients of a classic.

The Chiefs are playing in their fourth Super Bowl in five seasons, hoping to cement their dynasty status with a third Vince Lombardi Trophy after wins in 2020 and 2023.

The franchise would also be the first team since the New England Patriots in 2003 and 2004 to win back-to-back Super Bowls.

The Chiefs conducted a final training walkthrough on Saturday which left head coach Andy Reid satisfied that his team is primed to defend their title.

"I was pleased with what I saw," Reid said after the workout. "I think they're ready to go play."

The 49ers camp was similarly buoyant after their final workout. "Our guys are ready to go," head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "They're relaxed."

Sunday's game is a repeat of the 2020 Super Bowl, when Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes led a stirring fourth-quarter comeback with 21 unanswered points to beat San Francisco 31-20.

The 49ers, meanwhile, are chasing a sixth Super Bowl and their first since 1994-1995.

San Francisco emerged from the regular season with the best record in the NFC but survived nerve-shredding playoff games against the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions to book their ticket to Las Vegas.

San Francisco head coach Shanahan, meanwhile, is aiming to end his long wait to finally get his hands on the Vince Lombardi Trophy in his third Super Bowl.

As well as the loss to Kansas City in 2020, Shanahan was the offensive coordinator when the Atlanta Falcons blew a 28-3 lead in the 2017 Super Bowl before losing to New England.

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