ABC's Really Super Super Bowl,1,11188,00.html

by Lia Haberman

In the end it was all about the football.

How else to account for the record number of viewers who tuned in to Super Bowl XXXVII Sunday night? It certainly wasn’t for the hip musical guests or clever commercial spots, both of which were in short supply.

Nope, the evening’s big winners were the Tampa Bay Bucaneers, who trounced the Oakland Raiders 48-21, and ABC, which scored a ratings touchdown. An estimated 137.7 million pigskin fans plugged in to the Alphabet net for at least some portion of the game, according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research.

That means close to half the TV sets in country were tuned to the football game at any given moment, making Sunday’s match-up the second most watched Super Bowl ever, just behind the 1996 contest between Dallas and Pittsburgh. (That game, carried on NBC, drew some 139 million viewers.)

Despite the lopsided game (in which the Raiders were favored to win), the broadcast averaged 88.6 million viewers through the four-hour telecast, the best audience since Denver’s 1998 triumph over Green Bay.

Interest stayed high even during halftime, when viewers were treated to lukewarm performances by Barberella-esque Shania Twain and an insipid duet between No Doubt and Sting. (Not only did we pine for last year’s bill, which featured U2’s tribute to the victims of September 11, but we actually found ourselves fondly recalling the 2001 festivities when Britney Spears took the stage with Aerosmith.)

Even the evening’s commercials seemed to pale in comparison to years’ past when Internet startups blew their annual budgets on larger-than-life ads. However, the Osbournes’ twisted Pepsi spot didn’t disappoint, there were some interesting movie trailers (The Hulk, anyone?), a couple goofy beer ads (loved the zebra officiating the horse football game) and Trident finally demystified its four-out-of-five-dentists claim.

In fact, the biggest dip in viewers came during Tampa’s 34-3 lead between 9 and 9:30 p.m. ET, but, like the Raiders, viewers rallied for a better finish.

The evening’s real loser? No, not the Raiders, but Bon Jovi, whose postgame performance was cut short by a commercial. Instead of a global audience, the Jersey boys had to settle for the remainders of Qualcomm Stadium’s 67,603 fans.

Finally, even with the semi-naked promo spots that ran during the game, only 17.4 million viewers stuck around for ABC’s heavily hyped spy series Alias, which didn’t start airing until 11 p.m. ET–about two hours later than usual. Jennifer Garner’s sexy spin in red garters wasn’t in vain, though. The double agent’s adventures have only attracted an average of 9 million viewers this season, so last night’s numbers were an all-time best for the series, plus the show doubled its share of horny 18-49 year olds.