Tom Brady's record-setting passing performance in leading the Patriots to victory Sunday night would seem to have made him a unanimous pick for Super Bowl MVP. Actually not, thanks to online balloting and the back-and-forth nature of the game's thrilling fourth quarter.
The NFL allows fan voting, conducted during the fourth quarter at superbowl.com, to count for four MVP votes, with the other 16 coming from select media members. The four online votes are divvied up based on the voting percentage, and while Brady took the largest share with 2.5 votes, Panthers stars Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith - legitimate choices while Carolina rallied to a 22-21 lead - also received votes.
Quarterback Delhomme earned one vote for his efforts, and Smith, who scored Carolina's first touchdown, got a half-vote.
Sunday's game set Super Bowl records for online voting and traffic, with 440,000 ballots cast, up 66 percent from last year's 265,000. A compelling finish leads to a higher online turnout - last year's lopsided Bucs win had the voting down from the previous two years, when more than 400,000 ballots were cast.
The NFL also reported that 2-million users visited the Super Bowl's official site Sunday, an increase of about 20 percent from the 1.8-million reported last year.
NAKED TRUTH: As compelling as Sunday's game was, when it comes to driving Internet traffic to ridiculous levels, it's hard to beat the rare combination of a global stage, football and unexpected nudity.
The interest in stories and, of course, photos of the controversial halftime show, which closed with Justin Timberlake "accidentally" exposing Janet Jackson's right breast, far exceeded any traffic devoted to the game itself.
Consider ESPN.com, which keeps daily tabs as to which stories are forwarded to others most often by readers. The story on Jackson's surprising display and the ensuing FCC investigation had been sent an astounding 14,621 times, which made it 10 times as popular as any other story Monday.
The runnerup? A wire story about the game's other brush with an R-rating, when a streaker danced on the field before the second-half kickoff. CBS's decision not to air any footage - standard as a network deterrent to such publicity stunts - only added to the online interest.
For those who haven't seen enough, check out a tribute site at thestreaker.org.uk, devoted to Mark Roberts, who boasts some 300 streaking successes, though arguably none as big as Sunday's.
The fun commentary Monday had nothing to do with Brady or Delhomme, but rather Justin and Janet and memorable phrases not normally associated with sports wire copy such as "wardrobe malfunction" and "sun-shaped metal nipple decoration."
All the sites took shots at the frenzy, with ESPN.com's Page 2 section leading its coverage with two words: "Breast Ever?" Search engine Google.com had links to more than 1,000 different stories with presidential candidate Howard Dean among those checking in with opinions.
Not all was mayhem online. An ESPN.com poll asked fans what their favorite part of the Super Bowl was, and in an encouraging show of perspective and maturity, "37 points in the fourth quarter" beat out "Janet's halftime show."
TID-BYTES: The Bucs aren't defending Super Bowl champs anymore, but that won't keep fans from exercising impressive levels of offseason optimism. A poll at Buccaneers.com asks fans how many yards Thomas Jones would rush for if he were the starting running back for all of 2004. About 45 percent said he would top 1,000 yards, including 14 percent thinking he would top 1,250. Few things polarize fans like online polls, however, and another 31 percent answered that Jones wouldn't even manage 500 yards.
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