GLENDALE, USA - A National Football League season marred by scandal culminates Sunday with Super Bowl XLIX as Seattle and New England meet in a clash that has the makings of a classic.
Each team can cement a place in Super Bowl lore with a victory.
The Seahawks hope to become the first team to win back-to-back Super Bowls since the Patriots did so a decade ago, while New England can become the sixth team to win four or more titles - a list led by Pittsburgh with six.
It's a dazzling matchup of old guard versus new as New England quarterback Tom Brady takes on Seattle signal-caller Russell Wilson, and an intriguing clash of coaching styles as the Patriots' Bill Belichick takes on Pete Carroll of the Seahawks.
But this season, the NFL's championship spectacular - the game that has made Super Bowl Sunday an unofficial US national holiday - follows a season of turmoil for a league accused of complacency or even conspiracy in its handling of issues ranging from domestic violence to concussion dangers.
Even as the hype-machine rattled into high gear in Arizona this week, the murder trial of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was opening in Massachusetts.
Scandal trails Pats
The Patriots themselves will take the field trailing a whiff of scandal, the league still investigating whether they purposely deflated footballs to gain an advantage in their playoff triumph over Indianapolis.
For critics, "Deflategate" is just further proof that Belichick's glittering post-season resume has been built on the back of rules bent to breaking point.
But even those put off by Belichick's gruff demeanor must find it hard to argue with his five Super Bowl rings - two as the defensive coordinator for the New York Giants and three as head coach of the Patriots.
Carroll, on the surface, is the warm and fuzzy opposite of Belichick, but has produced Seahawks teams the Patriots coach admires for their "relentlessness."
Now Carroll's Seahawks will try to usurp the Patriots' throne as the league's dominant team, gained with Super Bowl titles in 2002, 2004 and 2005.
The Patriots will be playing in their eighth Super Bowl overall, and seeking to reassert themselves after falling in the title game in 2008 and 2012.
Brady can join his boyhood idol Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks with four Super Bowl wins.
The 37-year-old's legacy is secure no matter the outcome on Sunday, with a league-leading 49 touchdowns and 7,017 passing yards in the post-season.
His excellence has belied his unheralded entrance into the league in 2000, when New England took him in the sixth round of the entry draft, 199th overall.
Wilson, Brady's opposite number in Seattle, has also outstripped expectations since being drafted by Seattle in the third round in 2012.
Considered by many NFL experts too small at 5-foot-11 to play the position effectively, he outshone Denver's future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning in last year's Super Bowl.
To be sure, Wilson was aided then, as he will be now, by the Seahawks' punishing defense, which has proven capable of dismantling the league's finest attacks.
Nevertheless, the Seahawks still bring the fire of underdogs, even a Super Bowl triumph failing to erase the sting of being overlooked on draft day.
"It's not necessarily proving people wrong," said Doug Baldwin, who like fellow Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse was undrafted. "It's more so proving ourselves right." - Rappler.com