Romney also had a fairly amusing reference to his five sons, saying that made him "used to people saying something that's not always true but just keep on repeating it and ultimately hoping I'll believe it."
If there were few funny lines, there were also no real gaffes, as in Al Gore's distracted sigh or George H.W. Bush's infamous glance at his watch.
But Romney did unwittingly unleash countless laughs across cyberspace when he made his surprise reference to Big Bird, saying to PBS's Jim Lehrer, the moderator, that he would cut the government subsidy to the public broadcasting network — even though he was fond of Big Bird.
One thing was clear from the many thousands of tweets speculating on Big Bird's fate: The yellow creature with the high-pitched voice had become the star of the night, rivaling Joe the Plumber from the 2008 campaign.
WHERE'S THE BEEF? ACTUALLY, IT WAS THERE
For political communications professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson, it was the debate's format, not the body language, that was significant — and heartening. "This debate was substantive and informative," said Jamieson, of the University of Pennsylvania. "The differences between the candidates were clear. It focused a lot of attention on a limited number of areas; learning will be high from this debate."
And while she hesitated to come right out and pick a winner, she noted that Romney had "benefited dramatically from the evening." She added, though, that it's always harder for the incumbent, because there are four years of a record to attack, whereas the incumbent has less to work with.
Jamieson, a veteran analyst of debates, also was pleased with the tone of the night.
"There weren't nasty little asides to score points," she said. "It was an extremely respectful and polite evening."
Unless, of course, you're a big fluffy bird that could be out of a job.
Follow AP National Writer Jocelyn Noveck on Twitter at http://twitter/JocelynNoveckAP.