By Julian Linden
EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Reuters) - The Big Apple was transformed into one massive party on Sunday as New York and New Jersey prepared to host the 48th Super Bowl between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks.
Times Square was swarming with thousands of football fans soaking up the atmosphere before crossing the Hudson River to New Jersey for the biggest game in American professional sports, due to start at 6:30 p.m. ET (2330 GMT).
Across the United States, millions of people were having their own Super Bowl parties in preparation for a game that has all the ingredients of a classic.
The two teams left their Jersey City hotels in the early afternoon and took the short bus ride along the Garden State Parkway to MetLife Stadium, which will be packed with over 80,000 spectators.
Hours before the game, players from both teams strolled out on to the field, jogging and stretching and throwing the ball around as the stands began to fill.
For the first time in the 48 years of the Super Bowl, the game will be played outdoors in a cold-weather state but Mother Nature has been kind to fans and organizers, with temperatures hovering around 50 Fahrenheit (10 Celsius).
All eyes will be on Denver quarterback Peyton Manning who is poised to complete one of the most remarkable seasons in the NFL's storied history.
Two years ago, the 37-year-old's prospects of returning to the Super Bowl seemed forlorn after he needed surgery to repair his injured neck and was released by the Indianapolis Colts, who he had already won a Super Bowl with.
The Broncos took a gamble on his health and Manning has repaid them for their faith by leading Denver to their first Super Bowl appearance in 15 years while breaking a series of passing records and being named as the regular season's Most Valuable Player for a record fifth time.
Manning's combination with Denver wide receivers Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker has transformed the Broncos into the highest scoring team in the NFL - averaging almost 38 points a game.
Part of the intrigue of Sunday's game is that the Seahawks boast the best defense in the league, conceding just over 14 points per game, offering a delicious contrast in styles that has helped whip America into a football frenzy.
Seattle have labeled their almost impenetrable secondary defense the "Legion of Boom." led by their outspoken cornerback Richard Sherman, who has become the unwitting villain trying to spoil Manning's fairytale.
The Broncos, with experience on their side, are the slight favorites with Las Vegas bookmakers although history favors defensive teams in the Super Bowl's cooker-pressure atmosphere.
The Seahawks are making their second appearance in the big game and bidding for their first win with a youthful team brimming with bright-eyed optimism.
Their young quarterback Russell Wilson, who is in his second season in the NFL, is 12 years younger than Manning but has been a model of composure and consistency and seemingly unfazed by all the hype.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)