February 22, 2010 12:00 PM

Not so long ago, rumor had it that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were supposed to be headed for the mother of all Hollywood breakups, hashing out custody for their six children. She was controlling and bored, he was laid-back but miserable (and growing that protest beard to show it), and, so the stories went, the last place they wanted to be was anywhere together. So what to make of the happy couple who showed up with their son Maddox at the Super Bowl in Miami on Feb. 7, where they cheered on the New Orleans Saints to victory, and incidentally, snuggled and even smooched in front of thousands of witnesses? “They were having a good time,” says an observer, “holding hands and talking and laughing with each other.”

Take that, gossip mongers. A week earlier, as talk of a split seemed to grow deafening, Pitt and Jolie stepped out for a glamorous Hollywood night at the Directors Guild of America Awards. And on Feb. 8 the pair launched a different kind of counterattack, filing suit against the British tabloid newspaper News of the World—which reported Jan. 24 that they had met with a lawyer to plan a separation—for printing “false allegations about their relationship.” In a statement, the couple’s British attorney Keith Schilling said that Pitt and Jolie didn’t meet with a lawyer or make any agreement leading to a separation. Why take on this story rather than previous reports? Schilling wrote that not only did the paper refuse to retract its story, its claims “have now been widely republished by mainstream news outlets.” (When reached, News of the World had no comment.)

Leaving the legal maneuvering to their attorneys, the couple focused on spending quality time with Maddox, 8, who sported a Saints jersey with quarterback Drew Brees’ number. (The family owns a home in New Orleans, where Brad has helped build low-income houses, and where he and Mad also caught a Saints’ playoff game Jan. 16.) Perched in the Seattle Seahawks’ suite (team owner Paul Allen is a friend), Pitt, 46, and Jolie, 34, cheered wildly for touchdowns, stole kisses and doted on Maddox. After the game the trio were able to sneak away to some luxurious digs: Allen’s opulent 414-ft. yacht Octopus, which features two helipads and a swimming pool. “Brad flew in on Paul’s helicopter, and the family stayed on the boat,” says a source. (It wasn’t the first time the Jolie-Pitts were guests of their billionaire pal: They stayed at his estate in the south of France in 2008 before the birth of twins Knox and Vivienne.)

After their Miami stopover, Jolie headed to the Dominican Republic and Haiti on a humanitarian trip to support earthquake relief. Next up the family plans to head to Europe, where Jolie will film the thriller The Tourist with Johnny Depp—with a possible location in Venice.

France, where the family leases a sprawling chateau estate, is one of Pitt and Jolie’s favorite spots, where Maddox, Pax, 6, Zahara, 5, Shiloh, 3, and Vivienne and Knox, 19 months, can run around without fear of flashbulbs. And those are a half-dozen exceedingly important reasons for the couple to make things work for the long haul. “They have six kids together!” says a pal. “They’re not going to just leave each other with six kids at stake. They’re deeply in love and committed to their family.”