FOX SPORTS ANNOUNCER: First down from the 19 -- McNabb goes toward the end zone. This one is picked off.
TERENCE SMITH: It was a rarity among Super Bowls -- a closely-fought game tied after the first, second and third quarters.
FOX SPORTS ANNOUNCER: Touchdown, Philadelphia!
TERENCE SMITH: After Philadelphia fell behind by ten in the fourth, receiver Greg Lewis caught a touchdown pass with 1:48 left to shave New England's lead to three.
But the Patriots intercepted a Donovan McNabb pass with seconds to go and earned their third title in four years, leading many sportswriters to brand the Patriots the league's new dynasty.
The Patriots became one of only two teams since the 1990s to win three titles in four seasons.
An estimated 86 million people across the United States watched the televised game according to Neilsen Media Research and as important to some viewers as the contest on the field, the halftime show, and the ads.
Former Beatle Paul McCartney's half-time performance was deliberately devoid of scandal, unlike last year's spectacle when Janet Jackson flashed her bare breast -- the now infamous "wardrobe malfunction" -- when singer Justin Timberlake tore open her black leather top.
That fleeting moment provoked outrage from the NFL to the Federal Communications Commission to Congress.
COMMERCIAL: Hey there's some Bud Light.
TERENCE SMITH: This year, advertisers paid an average of $2.4 million to air 30-second spots that were specially produced for the game.
The raciest ad mocked the Janet Jackson moment by showing an attractive woman suffering a wardrobe malfunction of her own in a Senate hearing about decency over the airwaves. But overall, the ads, the halftime show and the game itself were decidedly family-friendly.
TERENCE SMITH: More now about the Patriots and the tone behind this year's Super Bowl. For that I'm joined by author and sportswriter John Feinstein. He is at work on a book about the Baltimore Ravens.
John, welcome. Just good, clean fun this year.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: That's what the NFL wants. Paul Tagliabue wants a G-rated league, at least on the surface of it because what he says is, you know, we were shocked and outraged by the Janet Jackson moment last year.
You remember the Monday night broadcast that opened with Nicolette Sheridan in a towel in the Philadelphia Eagles' locker room with Terrell Owens. When people objected to that, Paul Tagliabue again did his Inspector No (ph) imitation, and said "I'm shocked to learn that there are towels in the Philadelphia Eagles' locker room occupied by women."
And they go on and on about how they want to be good, clean fun as you say.
But look at any NFL game on the sidelines; you have cheerleaders wearing almost nothing. The teams put out calendars with these cheerleaders and Paul Tagliabue doesn't seem to be too upset about that because it sells.
TERENCE SMITH: But for the Super Bowl, for this huge audience -- 86 million people -- different rules apply.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: After last year. Different rules apply because what the NFL had done was the halftimes had gotten a little bit racier each and every year. One year it was Diana Ross being picked up by a helicopter and being taken out of the stadium at halftime.
They turned the show over the MTV, and last year we saw what happened with Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson and all the reaction and the FCC fining CBS hundreds of thousands of dollars for the incident and then the NFL saying, "okay, we're not going to have that anymore."
So Paul McCartney is brought in, and I'm sure if he had wanted to sing "Why Don't We Do it in the Road" that would have been banned by the NFL from the half time show.
TERENCE SMITH: Even the advertisers were on their best behavior. There was a little raciness there as we just showed.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: But that got pulled. That ad was pulled. It was supposed to air again at the two-minute warning. The NFL sent word to Fox "oh no, that one goes too far." It was pulled.
There was an ad involving Mickey Rooney that was screened before the Super Bowl in which his bottom was bared for two seconds. And Fox, well aware of the FCC big brother looking over its shoulder as it has done, as it did under Michael Powell, saying, oh, no, we can't air that.
It wasn't that the advertisers necessarily wanted to tone down; they had no choice but to tone down. I think you call it censorship.
TERENCE SMITH: There's a little suggestion that people, organizations, networks, the NFL are perhaps having, or trying to have it anyway, both ways.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Oh, absolutely. They want to have it both ways. When you go to an NFL stadium, Terry, you look around. There is a sign for the foundation of every player on the team.
The Terence Smith Foundation, the John Feinstein Foundation; if you pick up a media guide it's about all the time these football players spend away from the field helping kids, helping the needy. That's the image the NFL portrays.
The United Way commercials that have run for years with the players standing there going "in my free time I go and I help these people who are in need."
That's the image the NFL wants, but they also know, they're smart enough to know that sex sells. So when they can get away with it, with cheerleaders "rah-rah but we're wearing almost nothing" they do that too.
TERENCE SMITH: Now, in fact they got a huge audience, 86 million people, but interestingly that was down 4 percent from a year ago.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: And you wonder if that's just a blip, if it's a reflection of the fact that the weather was pretty good on the East Coast and people were out late in the afternoon. The ratings go up as the game goes on.
Maybe people are a little tired of the Patriots. You never know with dynasties. They can go both ways. The Patriots aren't a sexy dynasty the way the Cowboys were. The Cowboys were rock 'em, sock 'em, they were America's team.
They had the sexy cheerleaders that everybody knew all about because they were the first ones to have them. And so they got big ratings.
The Patriots are a very quiet dynasty, they're so of embodied in their coach Bill Belichick, who would rather wear a gray sweat shirt 24/7 throughout the year.
TERENCE SMITH: Dynasty, what does it mean? That's today's word.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: It's a relative word in anything. In sports, in politics, whatever you want to talk about.
But in today's NFL, where you have this salary cap that makes it very difficult to keep teams together for extended periods -- because players become stars and then their salaries go up and teams have to make a decision, we can pay this star but we can't pay that star.
So it's very hard to maintain year after year the way in the old days when players were tied to their teams forever, you know, the old Green Bay Packers of Vince Lombardi, most of those guys stayed with the Packers for their entire careers.
It doesn't work that way anymore in the NFL.
So to win three Super Bowls in four years in today's environment is remarkable and is, quote unquote, a dynasty.
TERENCE SMITH: Yet they have figured out how to do it. What's the key?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Well I think the key for the Patriots -
TERENCE SMITH: That's what I mean.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: -- is they are not built around super stars. Their one true super star, the one guy on this team who is a lock Hall of Famer is their quarterback Tom Brady.
They took him with 199th pick in the NFL draft in the sixth round.
Not the number one like Peyton Manning of the Colts, not the number one pick like Troy Aikman who was the quarterback for the last dynasty for the Cowboys. He was the 199th pick.
So there's some luck involved when you get a super star in the sixth round. But what they have done is they have built with mid-level free agents, guys who don't make $12, 14, 15 million dollars a year.
There's a saying around the NFL: the Washington Redskins win the Super Bowl every March. Because they march in all these big money free agents, they hold up a jersey and give them these huge contracts. And then when they have to put the team on the field in September it doesn't go so well.
The Patriots don't hold any of those press conferences in March. Their signings are in agate.
They sign so-and-so off of a team for, you know, for $2 million a year, which in relative terms is a small contract.
And then you look up in January and they're playing and the Redskins are watching at home along with most other teams.
TERENCE SMITH: If that's the formula why couldn't other teams do it? Why don't other teams do it?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Well, other teams are copying it now because they're seeing how it works. You will see, you have seen in the last couple of years more and more teams looking for those mid-level free agents to fill out around their stars.
But it's easier said than done.
You have to have great scouts. The Patriots have a great front office led by Scott Pioli, a man who has been with Bill Belichick the coach since the cradle essentially and who Belichick has kept there.
There are a lot of teams that would like to hire Scott Pioli as their general manager and Belichick said, no, no, you're not going anywhere; I'm going to pay you more but you're staying with me.
So that's part of the secret. The other part is Belichick. The guy learned from his failures. The smartest people learn from their failures. He was a failure in Cleveland. He missed the play-offs four years out of five, he got fired. He learned from that.
TERENCE SMITH: John Feinstein, thanks so much.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Terry.