John Stefany and Dave Odenbach aren't football fans, yet they make a big deal out of the Super Bowl.

But rather than gathering a group of friends in front of the TV, the Minneapolis couple consign their gigantic Samsung flat-screen to the basement, freeing up space for their annual standing-room-only potluck.

They call it Soup or Bowl -- get it? -- and here's how it works: Stefany and Odenbach invite just about everyone they know -- well, at least the ones who like to cook -- and ask them to prepare a favorite soup. At a designated time, the guests squeeze into the kitchen, the soups are displayed on a table, each cook offers a brief sales pitch, the hosts dole out bowls and spoons and another good time is had by all.

"It's a great party to throw because, as the host, you don't really have to do a whole lot," said Stefany. "It's about making sure that you have enough bowls [their collection now tops 60], putting out things for folks to drink and making sure that there's something for dessert. And because it's a Sunday night, everyone clears out relatively early."

Having just marked its 12th iteration, Soup or Bowl has grown into a much-anticipated event among the couple's friends and acquaintances, for both the company and the eats.

"It's the one annual party that I try not to miss -- in part because everyone goes that extra mile," said Nate Schoch of Minneapolis. "You're not going to see chicken noodle here."

No kidding. Although no prizes are awarded ("we gave that up a few years into it," said Stefany), competition remains quietly fierce among soupmakers.

"There's a great show-off factor," said Odenbach. "Someone is always trying to show up with a sophisticated new bean or an edgy new spice that no one has ever heard of before. It's that kind of a crowd."

While the basic framework has remained the same over the years, certain aspects of the event have evolved with the times. Invites that once were printed are now delivered via Facebook, and longtime Soup or Bowl-ers have witnessed the transition from Dutch ovens to high-tech slow cookers.

"Before, everyone wanted a place on the stove," said Stefany. "Now, everyone has joined the Crock-Pot generation and is vying for an outlet. I should have bought more power strips."

A scheduling glitch meant that 2011's jam-packed event -- 53 guests devoured and debated 19 delicious soups -- was held a few weeks ahead of the Packers-Steelers showdown, proving that the party doesn't need the hook of the Big Game to be a rip-roaring success.

"It's easy socializing," said Odenbach. "There are no awkward conversations, because there's this one thing that everyone can talk about, and that's soup."

Rick Nelson • 612-673-4757