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It's fair to say that people around the country were fairly into the matchups in the conference championship games.
The Patriots-Ravens game drew a 29.1 rating, the highest for an AFC Championship Game since 1994, and the Giants-49ers game was at 33.4, the biggest number in the NFC since the Cowboys beat the Niners in 1995.
What's more, 69 million people were watching overtime of that late game. The two games averaged 53.7 million viewers, which represents a 30-year high for the NFL and the kind of audience that's very tough for anything to draw in this day and age.
It's the kind of news that makes the fine people who pay the freight for this website very, very happy. NBC is going to televise the Super Bowl a week from Sunday and, with so many people watching the appetizer, it is looking like there's a pretty decent chance that the number will grow for the main course.
Part of that is just because the NFL continues to grow at rates that boggle the mind. Just a few months ago people actually tried to ask with a straight face if there was going to be a backlash from a lockout that cost fans nothing but a lot of meaningless offseason filler. The answer came back with a pretty resounding no.
The reasons why this Super Bowl is probably going to set records for ratings, ticket prices and anything else that measures fan interest goes way beyond that, however. Even if you leave aside the size of the New York market and the national media's love for both the Giants and the Patriots, you've got a perfect storm of a matchup to hype for two weeks because the hype is actually justified.
It's a rematch of one of the best Super Bowls in history, one that ended in classic fashion by dashing the Patriots' dreams of a perfect season. That game was notable because it matched a great Patriots offense against a Giants defense operating at a high level, which is exactly the scenario we have on our hands this time. Whether the Pats defense can come up with a way to slow the Giants remains up in the air, but you can certainly sell Bill Belichick having two weeks to come up with an answer as a way to convince people this will be another nailbiter of a game.
The revenge angle always sells, especially when the team playing for it is a franchise that has avenged two straight playoff losses in the last two weeks. Belichick and Tom Brady are the first coach and quarterback to go to five Super Bowls together and winning a fourth would put them in the most rarefied of air, cementing their run as perhaps the best in the Super Bowl era.
On the other side are the Giants, riding another hot streak into a matchup with a favored New England team. If the Patriots' success in the Belichick-Brady era is as great as any team in the modern era, and it is, the prospect of the Giants beating them twice in the Super Bowl makes for a compelling part of the league's lore.
It's a quarterback league, so Eli Manning's part of things can't be ignored. His ascent to the upper echelon this season was obscured thanks to the record seasons turned in by so many other quarterbacks, but he's playing better than anyone in the postseason and a second Super Bowl title would confirm his place at the very top of the league. Throw in the fact that he's going for the ring in the stadium his brother helped build by making the Colts a valuable franchise and you've got one more thing that will build up interest before the game gets underway.
When you put it all together and add it to the already outsize interest in football, you've got a formula for an audience that dwarfs everything that came before.