HOUSTON -- It was worth it: the hundreds in airfare, the nights in a strange new city, the $7 light beers at Reliant Stadium. When the fourth quarter ended on Adam Vinatieri's field goal, securing the Patriots' second Super Bowl triumph, Patriots fan Christina Meo pronounced herself satisfied.
"Worth it? Absolutely," said Meo, who had a perfect end zone view of the winning kick. "Except my legs didn't stop shaking the whole time."
John Dubie of Plaistow, N.H., sat a few seats to Meo's right with his son, John Jr. The Super Bowl was a present to Dad, a disabled veteran. And a super gift it was.
"I told my son that even if they lost, it would still mean the world to me being here," said John Sr. "But this was like the frosting on the cake."
And more fun beckons: The Patriots' victory parade will be tomorrow, starting at noon in Copley Square and finishing at City Hall Plaza, Mayor Thomas M. Menino said.
Menino -- who, along with Governor Mitt Romney, attended the game -- said the Patriots' down-to-earth attitudes were models for New England.
"It's all about teamwork for them," Menino said.
As Vinatieri's field goal sailed between the uprights, Patriots fans leaped to their feet, embracing, pumping fists, and hollering. Carolina fans, by contrast, began putting on their coats and streaming for the exits.
Fireworks skyrocketed into the very top of Reliant Stadium, and cannons shot confetti into the air that rained down onto the field.
"It's unbelievable to come down here. It was my dream," said Larry Wilson of Holden, Mass., who pulled a string on a device atop his head that enabled a toy Patriot to kick a small stuffed Panther. (He yanked the string often.) "This is what I wanted to do -- see the Patriots in the Super Bowl."
Ditto that for hundreds of the Patriots faithful, who swarmed through Reliant Stadium yesterday in their Sunday best: Brady and Bruschi jerseys, painted faces, and plastic red, white, and blue beads draped around their necks. After a week of hype, star-studded soirees, and cocky prognostications about the Patriots' chances, it was time to savor the victory.
"You come down south, it's worth every penny," said Kelly Doughty, 33, of Woburn, Mass.
At least 25 local, state, and federal agencies coordinated security for Super Bowl XXXVIII. But all the checkpoints and screenings did not stop a nearly naked man from dashing onto the field just before the second half and dancing a jig near the 25-yard line. As police rushed toward him, he scurried in the opposite direction before players tackled him. He was handcuffed and carted off the field, surrounded by 15 police officers and security guards.
The victory was a sweet introduction to Patriots football for Katie Brasington, 13, of Duxbury, Mass., and her brother, Hunter, 10. Katie had her face painted with the Patriots' logo as did Hunter and their father, Evan. It was the first NFL game ever for both kids, and they were transported with excitement at being here.
"I screamed when my dad told me [they were headed to Houston]," said Hunter.
Katie said one of her teachers at Duxbury Middle School had jokingly offered her an A-plus grade in exchange for a ticket.
"Other kids in school asked, `Can I be in your suitcase?' " she added with a red-white-and-blue grin.
Michael Sharpe of Needham went to the 1997 Patriots-Packers Super Bowl without his wife, Lisa. She insisted that she come this time. But what of the Sharpe boys, ages 10, 12, and 14?
"I said, `Guys, you've just got to wait,' " said Michael, 39.
Next year, perhaps?