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Super Bowl ratings better than expected

Overnight ratings for Sunday's Super Bowl show that about 43.5-million homes in the country's 47 largest TV markets watched the Rams seal a 23-16 win on the final play, Nielsen Media Research reported Monday.

The 43.2 rating for the game, televised on ABC, was 7 percent higher than last year's figure. Denver's 34-19 win over Atlanta, telecast on Fox, garnered a 40.2 rating. Though an estimated 127.5-million people watched that game, it ended up being the lowest-rated Super Bowl in a decade.

Sunday's game was the 19th-highest rated of the 34 Super Bowls.

The ratings figure for this year also translates into 62 percent of homes with their TVs on during the game being tuned to the Rams and Titans, up 1 point from last year.

Some analysts had said ratings could suffer from the absence of a large-market team. St. Louis is the nation's 21st-largest market, and Nashville is the 30th.

"Any time you're getting a 60 share, you're getting three of every five viewers watching television, and that's an unbelievable reach," Carroll said.

With two small markets, ABC said last week it hoped for a 42.0 rating, but the close game caused ratings to grow throughout the night.

RAMS PARADE: Thousands lined downtown St. Louis streets to welcome the team.

Coach Dick Vermeil led the parade down Market Street in a wagon pulled by the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales, and players followed in 60 pickup trucks.

The six-block procession began about 40 minutes late and was slowed to almost a standstill as people overcame a police barrier to swarm the team.

"Thank you very much, world champions," Vermeil told the crowd. "As a representative of these guys, the management and the coaching staff, I'd like to thank you for your support. I'd like you to know that the Rams aren't world champions. St. Louis is world champions."

The parade ended at Kiener Plaza, where with the Gateway Arch in the background several players addressed the crowd. Few words were audible beyond the first few rows, but the crowd burst into cheers after every sentence all the same.

TITANS: The first order of business is for owner Bud Adams to sign coach Jeff Fisher to a contract extension. Fisher has one year left on his deal.

Four players will become unrestricted free agents Feb. 11, chief among them right tackle Jon Runyan.

Around the league

49ERS: Exiled co-owner Eddie DeBartolo won't return to the team soon despite the end of his yearlong NFL suspension today, a family spokesman said.

"No one has discussed Eddie coming back, neither Eddie's side nor Denise (DeBartolo York's) and John York's," Sam Singer said. "Eddie is a stockholder but holds no role with the team and will not hold any role in the future. It's full speed ahead under the Yorks' leadership."

DeBartolo York and her husband, John, assumed management of the team two years ago when her brother ran into legal problems.

Eddie DeBartolo ran the team for 20 years, but he quit as chairman and left a managing role with the family business in December 1997 after he became entangled in a Louisiana gambling fraud and extortion case.

In March 1999, commissioner Paul Tagliabue suspended DeBartolo for the season and fined him $1-million. The sanctions followed DeBartolo's guilty plea to failing to report a felony arising from the criminal case, which also involves former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.

PRO BOWL: The league and Hawaii are close to an agreement to keep the Pro Bowl in the islands through 2005.

The game has been played in Honolulu the past 20 years, and the current contract ends after the 2001 game.

Hawaii is paying the league $3.5-million for this year's game, to be played Sunday at Aloha Stadium.

Orlando made a pitch to lure the Pro Bowl in the mid-1990s, but the league decided to keep the game in Hawaii, where it has sold out 19 of 20 times.