GLENDALE, Arizona (AFP) - The National Football League's turbulent season reaches its apex today as New England seek to burnish their Super Bowl legacy against a Seattle team out to forge a dynasty.
The 49th edition of the NFL's championship spectacular is expected to attract some 115 million domestic television viewers, many of them tuning in to see Katy Perry's halftime show and the television advertisements that for some are as big a draw as the game itself.
But despite a whiff of scandal dogging the Patriots, the game promises to be a classic, with New England quarterback Tom Brady leading his team in the Super Bowl for the sixth time trying to join boyhood idol Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only signal-callers with four Super Bowl titles.
A league probe of whether the Pats purposely used under-inflated footballs on their way to the eighth Super Bowl appearance in franchise history has sparked both serious headlines and a welter of late-night chat-show jokes.
It has clouded but not obscured the fact that the Patriots can become the sixth team with at least four Super Bowl titles.
To do so they'll have to stop the Seahawks, who demolished the Denver Broncos in last year's championship game and are seeking to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since the Patriots themselves did so a decade ago.
Sunday's game at the University of Phoenix Stadium will be played on the same field where the 2007 Patriots brought their 18-0 record into the Super Bowl only to be stunned 17-14 by the New York Giants.
"I think over the years we've gotten some tough losses, and obviously we made it in '07 and '11, those were challenging games," said Brady, whose Pats also lost to the Giants after that 2011 campaign.
"I don't think those things discouraged me at all. They just re-emphasized how hard and challenging it is to get to this point, and how challenging it is to win this game."
The Seahawks are the 12th team to return to the Super Bowl after winning the title the previous season. Seven teams have achieved eight repeats, with Pittsburgh pulling it off twice.
If they complete their double, the Seahawks will have beaten two of the greatest passers in league history on the game's biggest stage: Denver's Peyton Manning last year and Brady.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, at 26 years and 64 days, will be the youngest quarterback to start two Super Bowls and the fist quarterback to start two Super Bowls in his first three NFL seasons.
The scintillating matchup is just what the NFL needed - and critics would argue it doesn't deserve - after a season in which the league and commissioner Roger Goodell were accused of complacency and even conspiracy in dealing with high profile cases of domestic violence.
In his state of the league address on Friday, Goodell acknowledged it had been a "tough year". But he defiantly said he could see no scenario in which he would resign or be sacked.
Among the commercials to air to the massive audience - with air time commanding a reported US$4.5 million (S$6.09 million) for 30 seconds - is a harrowing NFL-backed ad in support of domestic violence intervention.
Dense fog around Glendale and Phoenix had burned off hours before the scheduled 7.30 am Singapore kickoff, and the stadium's retractable roof was open to shed a rectangle of sunshine on part of the field and stands.
Even before winter storms this week blasted New England along with other parts of the United States, there were signs that the Seahawks' frenzied fans would outnumber Patriots backers in Arizona.
Washington state residents were outpurchasing those from Massachusetts by a 5-to-1 ratio in the online market for re-sold tickets.
By Saturday, however, some of those fans had been devastated to learn they were sold tickets the brokers didn't possess and they wouldn't be going to the game.