Kelly has hottest of seats for coldest Super Bowl yet

Next February, the first cold-weather outdoor Super Bowl will take place in New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium.

NFL players have expressed strong reservations about the prospect and you can be sure that anybody who enjoyed the party atmosphere in New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII will bemoan the chillier streets and extra layers of clothes.

But this is the Super Bowl. Even if the mid-winter freeze has New York and New Jersey in its usual icy grip, players and fans will deal with it just as they do every other play-off game played in tough conditions.

A much more serious doomsday scenario for chief organiser Alfred F Kelly Jr is the rush for tickets if either (or worse both) New York team makes history as the first Super Bowl hosts to play in the game itself.

“I would probably have to enter into a witness protection programme,” joked the Irish-American whose grandmother hailed from Cork. “The requests for tickets would be in the thousands.”

In early 2011, Kelly, 54, was handed the role of overseeing the organisation of next year’s decider and the massive festival that dominates the week leading up to the game. He had just retired from a 23-year career at American Express, where he spent the final four years of that tenure as president. Prior to that, one of his more intriguing jobs was head of information systems at the White House from 1985 to 1987.

But all that paled into insignificance when the smooth running of America’s biggest sporting event became his retirement project.

“Preparations are going quite well,” he told me on Monday, ahead of an event at which he will speak tomorrow night in the Irish Consulate on Park Avenue organised by the New York Irish Network.

“It’s a Super Bowl of a lot of firsts and, as a result, that brings some challenges and issues that Super Bowls of the past haven’t encountered.

“Chief among them is that it’s the first time that two states have jointly hosted it. That requires some planning. Then, of course, there’s the real prospect of cold weather in a stadium with no dome.”

This is something that Kelly and the host committee have embraced, however. The logo for Super Bowl XLVIII features a snowflake and the George Washington Bridge which brings drivers over the Hudson River from New Jersey to New York.

“We’re not shying away from the weather. We’re going to stare it down. The good news is that New York and New Jersey are both states that have very strong government and lots of experience in dealing with inclement weather and are able to clear streets and bridges very professionally and efficiently to facilitate travel by car. We’re also blessed in this area of the country by one of the largest rail transportation systems in the world. Our hope is to be the first mass transit Super Bowl, taking advantage of our subway and rail systems to move as many people around without them worrying about traffic, getting lost or having some fun, having a drink and trying to find someone else to drive them.

“Football fans in general are very sturdy people who are used to being out in the elements. Quite frankly, a little bit of chill and a few flurries certainly has a romantic ring to it, but it’s also a lot better than the prospect of torrential rainfalls and getting soaked to death.”

While the game itself will take place in New Jersey, Manhattan will be the centre of most of the other activity.

The game is projected to generate almost €450m for the region and ‘Super Bowl Boulevard’, which will stretch up along Broadway from 34th Street to 44th Street, will be the hub.

The spotlight on the game itself will be a little stronger than usual for many reasons, not the least of which is the unprecedented delay just after the half-time entertainment three months ago.

The Baltimore Ravens’ victory was literally overshadowed by a stadium power cut in New Orleans which almost turned the game on its head after play resumed.

“It certainly didn’t effect the quality of the game — it actually enhanced it,” Kelly remarked. “It was unfortunate for the great city of New Orleans and the fantastic job they did for the entire Super Bowl week. But clearly as a result of that we are paying extra special attention to power and we’re making sure we bring in all the experts we need to ensure that that won’t be something that is repeated.”

*johnwriordan@gmail.com Twitter: JohnWRiordan

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