Typical of America's biggest unofficial holiday, the game was only the icing on an over-the-top extravaganza. There was a gleaming new $450 million stadium to show off, a slew of pricey new ads, and Beyonce (search), Janet Jackson (search) and P. Diddy (search) to share the field.
The biggest cliffhanger of the week wasn't who would win, but whether Janet's brother, Michael, would show up. He didn't, but Justin Timberlake (search) did, as the surprise guest at the halftime show.
Then came another halftime surprise: A streaker trotted out to the middle of the field before the third-quarter kickoff. While the CBS cameras focused elsewhere, police gave chase. New England linebacker Matt Chatham leveled the man, who was hogtied and carried off the field.
It was all part of the big show, capping a week every bit as suited for "Entertainment Tonight" as "Inside the NFL."
Hosting its first Super Bowl in 30 years, Houston transformed its downtown into a meandering, nonstop party. Tim McGraw (search) was in concert on one side. Paris Hilton (search) went to parties on the other.
"You have to know what sells the game," Panthers defensive lineman Brentson Buckner said. "You just have to keep it in perspective."
Finding a bottle of Cristal, the stars' champagne of choice, was a Texas-sized adventure. The $150-a-bottle beverage was sold out almost everywhere in town. The local newspaper wrote a story with the headline: "Parties may be BYOC" -- Bring Your Own Cristal.
Outside the Super Bowl city, Americans made big plans to soak in all the action.
One survey showed Americans nearly double their consumption of cocktail franks during Super Bowl week, and spend $5 million more than normal on tortilla chips.
Most of that is consumed in front of the TV, where an estimated 100 million viewers would get the best view of the commercials that have become the most-anticipated moments of the Super Bowl. CBS sold 30-second spots for an average of $2.3 million, with early favorites including computer-generated ads for Cadillac, FedEx and Pepsi's Sierra Mist.
"We've managed to turn this into a truly viable American holiday" said Bob Thompson, a professor of culture and TV at Syracuse. "But the centerpiece isn't the Christmas tree or the turkey, it's the TV set, and cuisine you can pick up at the convenience store."
The Lingerie Bowl, a seven-on-seven football game between models in skimpy PJs, was to be shown on pay per view during halftime. Last month, Dodge pulled out as a main advertiser because, "Dodge brand's sponsorship has become a distraction," said George E. Murphy, DaimlerChrysler's senior vice president for global marketing.
But America's threshold for odd distractions has certainly increased over the past few years, a fact that came springing to life when not one, not two, but three pharmaceutical companies aired ads touting their drugs for erectile dysfunction.
A urologist from New York University made himself available to the media for interviews about the disease, hoping to calm frayed nerves of men who will be bombarded by the ads.
Besides the living room, a casino in Las Vegas might have been one of the best places to watch a game. But the NFL threatened legal action against the ones that planned Super Bowl parties, forcing them to ditch their huge-screen TVs and hand out refunds.
"As far as I'm concerned, the NFL is full of soup," Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said.
Nevertheless, an estimated $75 million was to be wagered legally in Nevada, to say nothing of the millions more in office pools around the country.
There also was a more serious side to the game.
In a pregame interview on CBS, President Bush wished his best to U.S. troops who were watching the big game, and also paid tribute to the seven astronauts who died in the Columbia space shuttle explosion a year ago Sunday.
Security remained a key issue, with Houston's 5,400-person police force on full staffing, part of a 25-agency effort to protect the Super Bowl city for this, the third NFL title game since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
A Continental Airlines flight from Washington to Houston was canceled due to security concerns, although a U.S. government official said the flight cancellation was not specifically connected to the Super Bowl.
NFL officials said the decision on whether to open or close the stadium's retractable roof would depend on the weather, not security concerns. But the roof stayed closed through the pregame and the first half, as a line of storms approached the city.
Regardless of the roof, the Super Bowl stadium was heavily secured: Fans waited in long lines before going through any of the 90 metal detectors stationed around the stadium. Concrete barricades stretched for blocks and a no-fly zone was imposed over a seven-mile area above.
"We want people to think of Super Bowl security kind of like heat and air conditioning. It just goes with the territory," said the NFL's director of security, Milt Ahlerich.