For most Americans Sunday is as much about devouring mounds of chicken wings and enjoying the annual contest of television commercials as it is about the game itself, but this year’s NFL championship game has an unusual edge to it.
The have become the team a large part of the US loves to hate and as a result their opponents, defending champions the Seattle Seahawks, will enjoy the support of most neutrals.
Part of the reason for the loathing is simply the hostility that success often brings. Since bringing together head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady in 2001, the Patriots have featured in five Super Bowls, winning three of them. A fourth Vince Lombardi trophy on Sunday would equal the league’s record for a coaching-quarterback pairing.
But there is something more to the aversion to the Patriots than the usual love-hate dichotomy that has accompanied teams such as Manchester United and Real Madrid in the round ball game.
Belichick is a grumpy figure on and off the field, often hiding, somewhat sinisterly, under a hoodie on the sideline and behind monosyllabic answers in press conferences.
But the coach is also viewed by his critics as devious – in 2007 he was fined $500,000 (£331,000) by the after the “spygate” scandal, where his staff were caught secretly videotaping their opponent’s defensive signals and just this year he was accused of deception by an opposition coach for his tactic of switching “eligible” and “ineligible” receivers.
Then came , which has dominated the buildup to the Super Bowl. The NFL found that the footballs used by New England in the first half of their 45-7 AFC Championship win over the Indianapolis Colts, which booked them a place in the Super Bowl, were below the regulation pressure.
Despite the Patriots protesting their innocence, the US media, to the enjoyment of many fans outside of Boston, pounced upon the case, and Brady and Belichick faced endless questions over whether they had deliberately cheated.
For so long Brady has been viewed not only as the ideal quarterback but one with an image that was so perfect he almost appeared a parody of the genre. Clean-cut, talented and married to Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen, Brady was suddenly faced with questions about his integrity and honesty.
became punchline fodder for the late-night talk shows and a seemingly never-ending debate for the cable news channels. While it all seemed a little excessive, everything about the Super Bowl is over the top.
A busy area of downtown Phoenix has been fenced off for the past week and named Super Bowl Central and the 106 players from both teams have been available for interviews with over 6,000 accredited journalists.
A 30-second television advert during the game this year has cost around $4.5m and the cheapest ticket left on the secondary market on Thursday cost over $9,000.
Even those watching at home will spend big – the National Retail Federation estimates Americans will combine to spend over $14bn on Super Bowl-related merchandise, food and drink.
As for those chicken wings? 1.25bn will be consumed, unless perhaps another Belichick and Brady win causes America to lose its appetite.