Kelly to oversee preparations for first cold-weather Super Bowl

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Looking to jump back into the job market in January, former American Express president Al Kelly had his sights set on a traditional corporate job.

Instead, the 52-year-old will run the biggest one-day sporting event on the planet -- the Super Bowl.

Kelly was hired as chief executive officer for the 2014 Super Bowl at New Meadowlands Stadium, a position from which he will oversee preparations for the NFL's first open-air, cold-weather Super Bowl.

"I for one hope there is a little white stuff in the air in February 2014 and a relatively chilly temperature," Kelly said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "That's what football in the northeast in February should look like and feel like."

The $1.6 billion New Meadowlands Stadium, which opened last year, is the only stadium to serve as the home to two NFL teams, the Giants and Jets.

Talking to Kelly, it's easy to hear the excitement in his voice as he embarks on what will be an almost three-year job, one he never envisioned.

A search committee for the game's host committee approached Kelly in January to gauge his interest.

"I kind of dismissed it as interesting but probably not for me, as I was looking for more traditional corporate CEO roles," said Kelly, who left American Express about a year ago. "I guess they gathered a bunch of names and after the Super Bowl got at it in earnest and called me back and said, 'People view you as somewhat of an intriguing candidate.' "

Kelly eventually sat down with host committee co-chairs Woody Johnson, the Jets' co-owner, and Jonathan Tisch, a Giants co-owner and treasurer, and the three developed a good chemistry.

"The more I talked to them, the more intrigued I got, and at that point, I was pretty convinced this would be a great way to spend the next three years," Kelly said.

Kelly wouldn't disclose his salary.

"All I am looking for is fair compensation, and certainly it's a job I am comfortable with the compensation," Kelly said. "It may not be the same as corporate money, but I am perfectly satisfied."

Kelly has attended three Super Bowls, the Cowboys-Bills game in Atlanta in 1994, the Giants-Ravens contest in 2001 in Tampa, Fla. and the Giants-Patriots game in Glendale, Ariz., in 2008.

One might assume that Kelly is a Giants fan based on his attendance pattern, but he says that would be a mistake. He grew up a Packers fan because his grandfather attended Fordham and had ties to Vince Lombardi.

"Until my recent move, I had my No. 15 Bart Starr helmet, but my wife finally put it into a dumpster," said Kelly, who recently spent seven months at home caring for a very ill daughter who is in now "good shape."

Kelly calls himself a New York fan, saying he attends Giants, Jets, Knicks and Nets games, and among his five children, there are both die-hard Mets and Yankees fans.

In the next few months, Kelly intends to speak with the people who ran the last five Super Bowls and those who are running upcoming games in Indianapolis and New Orleans.

Kelly defined his job as making sure that the Giants and Jets fulfill all the promises they made in May in getting NFL owners to award them the contest. He also wants to make sure the region makes the most of the economic opportunity presented, which some have estimated at $550 million. He also hopes to drum up future business for the region.

"We want to be able to illustrate that we can take the biggest game on the biggest stage and make it a grand success," Kelly said, adding the final goal is to develop a philanthropic nature to the game which will benefit some charities.

Said Johnson: "We believe we have secured one of the best minds in the business world to guide us as we set out on this historic endeavor."

Tisch said Kelly's professional career has been highlighted by success.

"At American Express, he set effective, strategic objectives, drove operating excellence and assembled focused teams that produced top quality results, helping to mold the company into the innovative marketing and customer service powerhouse that it is today," Tisch said.

NFL owners voted in May to play the 2014 Super Bowl in East Rutherford, marking the first time they had awarded the game to a cold-weather site that didn't have a domed stadium.

The NFL had required an average temperature of 50 degrees or a dome for a team to even bid on the Super Bowl, but the league bent the rule to let New York and New Jersey bid.

The coldest kickoff temperature in Super Bowl history was 39 degrees. Average February temperatures in East Rutherford is 24 to 40 degrees. Of course, the possibility of snow, freezing rain, blustery winds and all the accompanying elements could make this one of the most interesting Super Bowls in history.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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