Brace yourselves.

Super Bowl XLII is six days away, and until the New York Giants and New England Patriots actually play the game in Glendale, Ariz., you won't be able to turn on your TV, log on to the Internet, turn on your radio, or open this newspaper without being reminded of the importance of the nation's biggest sporting event.

It will be almost impossible to avoid Super Bowl party plans — whether you're hosting one, attending one or just hearing other people talk about theirs.

Super Bowl Sunday isn't an official holiday, but it might as well be. Tens of millions of Americans will gather in groups to watch the culmination of another NFL season. Last year's Super Bowl featuring the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears was watched by an average of 93.1 million American viewers.

"This is the biggest game of the best sport in the world, and this is what you fantasize about growing up as a little kid, playing in your back yard and things like that," Patriots receiver Donte Stallworth told reporters last week. "This is it."

No other event attracts as many viewers on a yearly basis as the Super Bowl. Casual sports fans will be out in full force, not only to watch the game but also the commercials and the halftime show. Many of the millions of people who watch the game will hardly care that the 42nd Super Bowl will crown the champion of the NFL's 88th season.

That isn't the case for the participating teams and their die-hard fans.

"No matter all the hoopla and all the stuff that surrounds the game, at the end of the day it is going to be us vs. the Patriots on the field, and that is what we really have to focus on," Giants receiver Amani Toomer told reporters last week.

People who are planning on watching the Super Bowl will be given plenty of opportunities to familiarize themselves with the Patriots and Giants before the game begins. Remember when a two-hour pregame show for the Super Bowl seemed like a stretch? Times have changed.

The NFL now has its own network, the NFL Network, and it has already started what it is calling a nine-day, 213-hour pregame show. It will televise preview shows in regards to Sunday's Super Bowl, but the network will also show highlights and full replays of some selected past Super Bowls.

The highlights and replays will serve as reminders that the game rarely lives up to its pregame hype. How could it?

But there are at least some intriguing storylines in this year's Super Bowl that will no doubt be analyzed, dissected and overblown until kickoff. The obvious ones are the Patriots attempting to become the first team in NFL history to finish 19-0, and Giants quarterback Eli Manning trying to follow in the footsteps of his older brother Peyton, who led the Colts to the NFL title last year.

The Super Bowl madness actually started last week when photographers snapped pictures of New England quarterback Tom Brady wearing a protective boot on his right foot while walking around New York. Reporters learned that Brady was wearing it because he sprained his ankle in the Patriots' 21-12 win over the Chargers in the AFC Championship game.

Then he wasn't wearing the boot. Then he wasn't at practice when reporters were allowed to watch it later in the week. Patriots coach Bill Belichick predictably refused to address any questions about Brady's health.

By Sunday, when the Patriots headed west for the big game, Brady was no longer wearing the boot. But you can bet the speculation about his health will be discussed ad nauseam until Super Bowl XLII kicks off.

In any other week, Brady strolling around a big city wearing a protective boot probably wouldn't have caused such a stir. But he's getting ready to play in the Super Bowl, the game that almost always fails to live up to the pregame hype.

New England Patriots (18-0) vs. New York Giants (13-6)

Sunday, Feb. 3

Glendale, Ariz.

Kickoff: 4:17 p.m. , Ch. 13

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