Hype will center on 'bootlegs,' slick balls and Boston-New York hate

The Super Bowl hype began in New York one afternoon after the AFC title game.

During a day off,
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was spotted in New York visiting his supermodel girlfriend wearing a boot over an injured left foot. For the next 24 hours, cameras kept following him and his footwear. The boot was off the next night, but the hype took a major foothold for Super Bowl XLII.

Only a super quarterback could be traced visiting a supermodel during Super Bowl bye week. In its 42nd year, the Super Bowl has come a long way. When commissioner Pete Rozelle staged the first Super Bowl in 1967, the Rose Bowl wasn't sold out. In Super Bowl III, Jets quarterback Joe Namath held his pre-Super Bowl news conferences poolside in Miami, making his guarantee he would beat the Baltimore Colts.

Now, more national reporters cover the Super Bowl bye week news conferences than attended the early Super Bowls. The games have become unofficial holidays, and the Patriots-New York Giants meeting could be the biggest of them all.

First, you have two major markets represented -- New York City and the New England area. Second, the Patriots are having the greatest season ever, with the possibility of going 19-0 if they win on Feb. 3. If they are able to win their fourth Super Bowl in seven years, they will go down as one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history.

This could end up becoming the highest-rated Super Bowl ever. Super Bowl XVI (the San Francisco 49ers' 26-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals) had a 49.1 Nielsen rating. Super Bowl X (the Pittsburgh Steelers' 21-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys) produced a record 78 audience share. The game hasn't had a 70 share since Super Bowl XX ( the Chicago Bears' 46-10 romp over the Patriots).

Next week's "First and Goal" will concentrate on the specifics of the game itself. This week's focus is on the hype and things you might not have known about Super Bowl XLII.

Let the hype begin.

1. The Rematch Factor: This will be only the 12th time that teams have met in the regular season and then again in the Super Bowl. That's understandable when you consider interconference divisions meet only on an annual rotating basis. History might give a little edge to the Giants, who lost to the Patriots 38-35 in the regular-season finale.

In the first 41 years of Super Bowls, the winner of the regular-season meeting is only 5-6 in the Super Bowl rematches. The fact that the two teams met so late in the season is fascinating. The Giants gained enough confidence from playing well against the Patriots that they swept three road playoff games. The Pats are favored by 14 points and few will be picking the Giants to win the Super Bowl. But at least history gives them some hope. Oddsmakers don't.

2. Dynasty Destiny?: If the Patriots win their fourth Super Bowl ring, there will be discussion where their dynasty ranks in relation to others. Technically, it would put them second behind the Steelers' '70s teams that won four Super Bowls in six years. Historians might still stay the Packers had the greatest dynasty because their championship run came at the beginning of the Super Bowl era. Some 49ers fans might argue their team won five Super Bowl rings, a record tied by the Steelers a couple of years ago. Regardless, a Patriots victory in Super Bowl XLII puts the franchise in rare company.

3. Who Draws the Biggest Crowd at Media Day?: Surprisingly, Randy Moss might outdraw Brady, who is always available but is so media-savvy he's not going to be sacked by any reporter's question.

It's almost impossible to sack Brady on the field, and he's always in charge during news briefings. Meanwhile, Moss is a fascinating story. Some will bring up the recent alleged domestic incident involving a longtime girlfriend, but Moss has proclaimed his innocence. He won't touch that topic.

Others will ask about an incredible season in which he caught an NFL single-season record 23 touchdown passes, but he has been limited during the playoffs because of double coverage. Others will ask about his thoughts about free agency and his chances of returning to New England. He took a $7 million pay cut to be paid $3 million to facilitate the trade for Oakland, but he could command $10 million a year in free agency.

4. Brady's Boot and Patriots' Injury Reports: Everyone expects Brady to play in the Super Bowl, but his ankle will be the most overhyped story for two solid weeks. Brady probably has a mild high ankle sprain.

Everyone will be asking, and no one from the Patriots will be talking. Coach Bill Belichick orders his players not to discuss injuries. When pressed by reporters for injury updates, Belichick will only give name, rank and serial number. He's already made it clear he's not releasing any information until next Wednesday when the league first requires an injury report. He'll probably say Brady was limited in practice with an ankle injury and not much more.

I remember a Belichick Super Bowl news conference when a reporter, working on a feature, asked him about breaking his leg during his final days in high school. Belichick responded by saying he doesn't discuss injuries.

5. The Boston-New York rivalries: Though there is no real football rivalry between the Patriots and the Giants, there is plenty of hatred between Boston and New York City sports fans because of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.

Already, papers and Web sites are posting factoids and lists of reasons to hate the other city or the other team. One such site notes the 10 reasons to hate the Giants. Reason No. 10 is "We hate whatever Manning is available." Reason No. 8 is the Giants' decision not to have cheerleaders because the organization believes the game should be the focus of the day. Reason No. 1 is just two words, "New York." This verbal battle will go back and forth for two weeks.

6. Spying: One of the great media subplots will be the stories about Belichick's spying incident involving the New York Jets. The NFL fined Belichick $500,000 and assessed the team a $250,000 fine and a first-round draft pick because New England had a cameraman film the Jets' sidelines in Week 1 to try to pick up how New York's coaches were signaling plays on defense.

For years, there have been rumors the Patriots had ways of secretly taping walk-throughs and practices and getting information about Super Bowl practices prior to games. Maybe those stories are true. Maybe they aren't. Still, many reporters will be poking around looking for those Patriot tales. Those stories read like Tom Clancy novels.

7. Eli's Coming: What a difference two months make. Two months ago, Giants fans and critics wondered about the long-term future of quarterback Eli Manning. He and coach Tom Coughlin shared the same problems. The Giants would fade in the second half of the season, critics said. Manning's quarterback numbers would drop with the temperature. Coughlin drew criticism for the fading performance in the second half of last season.

Now, things are different. Eli has become a more efficient quarterback, avoiding interceptions in three playoff games. Coughlin has become a more player-friendly coach. The Giants believe they have arrived as a team, and they enter this Super Bowl with plenty of confidence.

8. The Slick Ball Worries: Thanks to complaints by teams and quarterbacks, the NFL has responded to problems involving the preparation of footballs during the regular season and in the playoffs.

Those rules go by the boards to a degree during the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is now the only game in which teams aren't given game footballs the week before a game to work up, scuff up and make them easier for a quarterback to grip. Every year, Super Bowl quarterbacks go through tough, early-game adjustments trying to grip slicker footballs than they are used to in these games.

Because the Super Bowl footballs are collectors' items, they are dressed up with more paint to indicate they are part of a particular football year. Equipment men will be given time before the game to do their best, but the balls will be a little slicker than normal. This might not be as tough on the kickers as in past years. The change to the numbered kicking balls has made it a little better for kickers trying to make field goals. It was the greatest year for kickers as far as field goal accuracy, and part of it is because of the new K-ball rules.

9. Ending the AFC's Dominance: During the regular season, the NFC closed the gap in the interconference battle by splitting meetings with the AFC, 32-32. Now the fifth seed comes out of the NFC to take on an undefeated Patriots squad.

The AFC has won six of the past seven Super Bowls and the past four. Including the back-to-back Denver Broncos' Super Bowl wins in Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII, the AFC has won eight of the past 10. Much of the reason for the AFC's success has been the quarterbacks. From Brady to Peyton Manning to John Elway to Ben Roethlisberger, the AFC has brought to the Super Bowl the type of quarterback who has the talent to make a big play or two to win the game.

Eli Manning is the surprise participant, but he was the first pick in the 2004 draft and he's been to the playoffs in three consecutive years.

10. Changing the way seasons close: Maybe the Patriots and Giants taught playoff teams something in Week 17. Normally teams that clinch playoff spots and clinch division titles before Week 17 rest key starters to allow them to be healthy for the playoffs.

Even though the Giants had clinched a wild-card spot, they battled hard when they didn't have to against the Patriots. Three players suffered injuries in that 38-35 loss, but the Giants gained enough momentum by playing hard to get them to the Super Bowl.

The Patriots never dropped their guard.
They kept attacking even though they had home-field advantage locked up. Sure, they were playing for the undefeated season, but even if they were 14-2, Belichick probably would have let them play until the end of the regular season. The last two Super Bowl winners -- the
Pittsburgh Steelers and the
Indianapolis Colts -- had to battle through three playoff games to get to the Super Bowl. Maybe we're seeing a trend that the bye weeks in the playoffs could mean bye-bye for some teams that lose their edge by resting.

John Clayton, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame writers' wing, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.