Off-field fun

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Photographs Courtesy of the NY/NJ Super Bowl Host Committee.

Al Kelly and company pull out all the stops for a ‘Super Bowl of firsts’

Growing up in Crestwood and attending Iona Prep and Iona College in New Rochelle, Al Kelly was a Green Bay Packers’ fan. It’s safe to say though that Kelly is now a NY/NJ football fan with equal allegiance to the Giants and the Jets. Indeed, delivering the keynote speech at the Westchester County Association’s Annual Leadership Dinner in November, he playfully chided president Bill Mooney for sporting a jersey bearing Giants quarterback Eli Manning’s number (10), using salty language to muse about what Jets’ owner Woody Johnson would say.

There’s good reason for Kelly’s interstate gridiron bipartisanship: He’s the president and CEO of the 2014 NY/NJ Super Bowl Host Committee, charged with overseeing the activities leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Noting that the Super Bowl is the annual crowning moment of America’s most popular sport, Kelly, former president of American Express, is flush with enthusiasm.

“This is a phenomenal opportunity for the region and a platform for the things that are valuable to the region.”

It’s a viewpoint he shares with Johnson and Giants’ owners John Mara and Steve Tisch, with whom, he says, he’s had good chemistry from the moment he was brought to their attention by a search committee.

“This is a Super Bowl of firsts,” Kelly, a Harrison resident, says. And of dualities. It’s the first time a Super Bowl has been hosted by two teams and two states that, he observed at the WCA dinner, are captained by not-so-retiring governors, New York’s Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey’s Chris Christie.

It’s also the first Super Bowl to be played in cold weather outdoors. But don’t expect Kelly to be checking the long-range forecast.

“I can only control what I can control by preparing for different types of weather,” he says.

Rather than worry about what’s beyond them, Kelly says he and the host teams decided to concentrate on what they could do. Since it is a Super Bowl of firsts, he remembers all of them thinking, “Let’s jump on the bandwagon and make it really different from the others.”

The way they have done that is to go Broadway – literally. From Jan. 29 through Feb. 2, Broadway will be closed to traffic from 34th Street to 48th Street to become Super Bowl Boulevard, complete with the full range of offerings – arts, retail, sports, media – that the region, a cultural juggernaut, has to offer.

But the action won’t be confined to Broadway. There will be hockey at Yankee Stadium and college basketball at Madison Square Garden.

Nor are activities limited to the week leading up to the Super Bowl. There’s the “Join the Huddle Tour,” a four-truck caravan winding through 48 sites – 24 in New York, 24 in New Jersey – that’s filled with memorabilia and exhibits, including an exploration of legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi’s New York roots, two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning’s jersey, a display on Joe Namath and the Jets’ stunning triumph in Super Bowl III and a glass case ready to contain the Vince Lombardi Trophy, which is made by another New York institution, Tiffany & Co. (See related story.) The caravan will be on the move until February when it will be parked between 35th and 36th streets on Super Bowl Boulevard.

Then there are the charity initiatives, like the nonprofit NY/NJ Snowflake Youth Foundation, which the host committee created to develop after-school activities for area youngsters; coat drives with New York Cares and Jersey Cares; and blood drives with the American Red Cross, the New Jersey Workplace Blood Donor Coalition and the New York Blood Center.

All of this takes manpower (about 11,000 volunteers) and money ($60 million raised through corporate and individual sponsorships). But the Super Bowl of firsts is also expected to generate about $550 million for the region.

Yet it’s not just about making money or even showcasing what the region has to offer. It’s about being hospitable. And so, Kelly – who’s duties won’t end until the police escort delivers the competing teams to MetLife Stadium and the NFL show kicks in – is happy to strike that delicate balance as he straddles the Hudson River.

“My job is many things,” he says, “but ultimately I’m an ambassador.”

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