THE New England Patriots rallied to beat the Seattle Seahawks in what will go down as one of the greatest Super Bowls of all-time but who the real winner is could well be debated for decades to come.
The build-up to the Super Bowl had been dominated by a controversy over deflated footballs used by the Patriots in a blowout win over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC title game that earned them a trip to Arizona.
A whiff of scandal continued to hang over yesterday's game even as the Vince Lombardi Trophy was hoisted and confetti fell from the roof of the University of Phoenix Stadium still trembling from New England's heart-stopping win.
"We won that (AFC) game 45-7, we won today 28-24," defended a defiant Patriots owner Robert Kraft through the celebratory din. "Our people didn't touch the balls. I love our team, I'm proud of our guys.
"We're going to carry on and hopefully continue to do well. Every year if you're privileged to get to this game, hard things happen. I'm so proud of (Tom) Brady and (coach Bill) Belichick for handling things the way they did.
"I love them. And all our Patriots fans should feel very good."
As the NFL's investigation into "Deflategate" continues, the spotlight of suspicion remains firmly fixed on the Patriots with some fans even questioning why New England was allowed to play in the Super Bowl at all.
The controversy has dominated the sport headlines for two weeks and left stains on one of the NFL's most successful franchises and two possible future Hall of Famers quarterback Brady and coach Belichick.
In the 20 years since Kraft bought the franchise, the Patriots have made the playoffs an eyebrow-raising 15 times and played in seven Super Bowls winning four.
A battling Brady spent the game rewriting the Super Bowl quarter-backing record books, setting new marks for single-game completions (37), most career passing yards (1,605) and career touchdowns (13) to claim a third most valuable player award.
"It's just a lot of mental toughness, I think the whole team had it," said Brady when asked how the team was able to deal with the controversy and focus on the game. "Coach always says, ignore the noise and control what you can control."
But the Patriots and Belichick, the only coach to take a team to six Super Bowls, have also developed a reputation as a team not above a bit of skullduggery.
In 2007, Belichick was fined $500,000 and the Patriots lost a first-round draft pick after an investigation found New England had videotaped an opponent's signals on the sidelines in what became known as 'Spygate'.