Last Sunday at 6pm Eastern Time, toe was put to pigskin and the culmination of a year's-worth of football was underway.
Thirty-two teams have played a total of 512 games to get to this point.
80,000 fans passed through the turnstiles at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. One hundred and thirty-two million Americans clicked on their remote controls and a worldwide audience of more than 200 million tuned in. What they were laying their eyes on was football's most prolific offence battling the league's stingiest defence. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers versus the Oakland Raiders.
It was more than just Superbowl XXXVII, it was the All Pirate Playoff.
The vast TV audience was uniquely positioned to view the game within the game. Not the chess match of coaching strategies or the calculated battle of field position, but the championship battle for the viewers themselves. The Superbowl of advertising.
The biggest day of the year has become more than just a contest between football teams. It has developed into a competition among advertisers who pay millions of dollars for mere seconds of airtime. The goal is to be the best.
As the media landscape gets more and more fragmented the Superbowl is an opportunity for one massive consumer hit. A commercial on the Superbowl can reach 50 per cent of American households in one sitting.
The traditional formula followed by advertisers (celebrities, humour, music and animals) was back in style after the recent spate of dotcom hyperbole and post-9/11 patriotism. Celebrities galore - the Osbournes, Jackie Chan, Michael Jordan, Celine Dion, Willie Nelson and Tim McGraw.
But what's a pirate story without some buried treasure? Only in this case, the spot on the map isn't marked with an X, it has got an Anheuser-Busch logo on it.
The brewing giant bought 11 30-second spots at $2.2 million each for airtime. You do the math. What did Penelope Keith say in that famous Parker Pens commercial? "The noughts just seem to roll off the pen." It was the most visible advertiser during the game, running mostly humour-oriented spots for Budweiser and Bud Light. Traditional crowd-pleasers.
The vast majority of spots were intended to be funny, but this year they were just gratuitous gags. There was one exception - a spot featuring the Clydesdales. It played off the "instant replay" during the game. A group of horses stood around while a zebra (the referee) reviewed the playback. Perfect timing - seconds later, the first instant replay occurred.
Unlike the Raiders' notorious silver-and-black barmy army of fans, spewing vulgarity and flipping middle fingers, Ozzy Osbourne was far more civilized in the Pepsi Twist spot. Ozzy is *!!*!!!!* shocked as his kids, Jack and Kelly, morph into Donny and Marie Osmond. As he screams "Sharon", he wakes up to discover it was only a dream. He rolls over to find his wife has turned into Florence Henderson of the Brady Bunch. The public loved it.
Michael Jordan, the basketball superstar and the ultimate commercial endorser, was playing for two teams, Gatorade and Hanes.
In the Gatorade spot, "23 vs 39", Jordan played himself, literally. While technically well done, the idea of having the Jordan of today engage Chicago Bulls' Jordan of 1987 in a game of one-on-one isn't the most original idea. The technique has been used twice before, by Reebok alone, in Manchester United "dream team" and "Shaq vs Shaq", as well as Fox Sports' Alan and Jerome spots.
In Hanes' first Superbowl spot since 1985, Michael teamed up with the Hollywood martial arts maven Jackie Chan in an ad for its Tagless t-shirts.
The Martin Agency spot shows Chan whipping himself into numerous contortions, trying to remove the irritating tag on his shirt. I can think of better ways to spend millions. Tagless t-shirts, yes. Nike "tag", far from it.
The nation's newest basketball star, the 7' 5" Yao Ming of China, appeared in a Visa spot. He runs into trouble writing a cheque in a New York souvenir shop. The spot centered on the confusion between "Yo" and "Yao".
Levi's, created by Bartle Bogle Hegarty New York, went back to the heritage of the brand for its spot "stampede". The spot was created to mark the introduction of the Levi's Type 1 jeans line and to celebrate the jeans maker's 150th anniversary in 2003. It shows a couple standing up to a stampede of buffalo as they wreak havoc through the city streets. This, unfortunately, was a poor "odyssey 2". The casting, performance and music all lacked the Glazer factor.
One spot for Trident proved you don't have to spend millions to be a hit during the Superbowl. The commercial is a parody of the brand's "four out of five dentists" claim. The spot shows the dentists casting their vote. As the fifth screams "No!", we reveal a squirrel has crawled up his trouser leg, searching for nuts. He finds them. With no repeat fees for squirrels, this is cheaper than the eye-watering amounts spent on celebrities.
This year's H&R Block spot by Campbell Mithun was a comical look at the country crooner Willie Nelson's infamous tax problems, making a departure from the arty Coen Brothers spot "tax man" from last year. This was one of the few commercials that had an idea. Willie ends up as a hapless spokesman in a shaving cream ad.
This year's commercial of the match was FedEx from BBDO New York. A clever spoof on the Tom Hanks film Castaway features a haggard delivery-man returning a package to a woman, five years late. When he asks her what was inside, she replies: "Oh just a satellite phone, GPS locator, seeds, fishing rod and water purification pills ... silly stuff."
With thousands and thousands of journalists writing about the Superbowl, it has emerged as a highly scrutinised, highly critical advertising event.
If the commercial is bad, and there were lots of them, it can have a devastating effect on a brand. For the best, it's instant worldwide fame.
At Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21, the result of the game was more surprising and clearer than much of the advertising. Competitively, the game was a bit of a laugh as well - again, more so than many of the ads. At $2.2 million each in airtime alone, that just isn't funny.