By Tom Canavan
---- — EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The NFL draft is history. Organized team activities are under way. Minicamps will follow next month, and training camps will open a month after that.
The 2013 season is on the horizon and so is the cold-weather Super Bowl.
The title game on Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium is less than nine months away and no one knows it better than Al Kelly, the chief executive of the New York-New Jersey host committee.
In the past two years, Kelly has built an organization, made plans, raised money, recruited volunteers and spent hours with local, state and federal authorities making sure everything connected with the game will go off without a hitch, whether it snows or rains or sleets or — unexpectedly — is pleasant.
Bottom line is the stretch run for the big game has started.
“Time has flown,” Kelly said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press Thursday. “When I started, there were two Super Bowls that could happen before ours. Those (Indianapolis and New Orleans) have happened and now we’ve gone from being double-decked to being at bat, and now there are three on deck behind us.”
Earlier this week, the NFL awarded the 2016 Super Bowl to San Francisco and the 2017 game Houston, setting off celebrations in those cities.
Just three years earlier in a meeting in Dallas, the owners took the gamble on a bid by the Giants and Jets and decided to play their showcase event in a non-domed, outdoor stadium in a cold-weather climate just outside the country’s biggest city.
The building blocks were laid the first year. High-level planning was done last year.
“Now, we are in the third phase, which is we have and continue to make specific decisions about what’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen and where it’s going to happen,” the former American Express executive said. “We’re moving into a lot more of the very detailed, executional planning that is required.”
One area of concern is obviously security in the wake of the bombings at the Boston Marathon.
Kelly said the NFL has always stressed security for the Super Bowl.
For those who attended the Super Bowl between the Giants and Bills in Tampa, Fla. during the Gulf War in 1991, memories of strict control were in the forefront, and that was a decade before the Sept. 11 attacks.
“The Super Bowl is a Level 1 security event, which in and of itself brings together a number of security protocols and involvement not only of local law enforcement but federal law enforcement,” said Kelly, who was at the world financial center for both terrorist attacks in 1993 and 2001. “It’s not something I can personally control other than we provide information to law enforcement so they can do their jobs.”
The Super Bowl isn’t just the game. There are dozens of events during the week which require movements of teams, the media and officials. This might be the most complicated because it will involve two states, a body of water and one of the most congested road systems in the world.
“It’s very much about execution now,” Kelly said.
If the game comes off well, it might set the stage for more cold-weather Super Bowls. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft expressed an interest having a title game outside of Boston.
“If we do a good job with this Super Bowl and people have a positive experience, then I do believe it is more likely that other cold-weather cities will bid for and possibly be awarded Super Bowls in the future,” Giants co-owner John Mara said Thursday.
There is obviously some work still to be done on this one, particularly in terms of volunteers and transportation.
Some 16,000 volunteers have been recruited. That number is close to what organizers need, but Kelly is hoping to sign up more than 20,000 as a precaution for some people getting sick or moving or failing to pass the security checks.
Kelly said New Jersey Transit plans to extend the platform at the Secaucus transfer station to handle 10 cars and double-deck cars. He also said the signal system would be upgraded, adding he hopes 15,000-20,000 people use the rail system to attend the game.
The under-construction American Dream mega mall, formerly known as Xanadu, was not part of the New York-New Jersey bid for the Super Bowl and Kelly does not expect it to have a role in the game.
The host committee and the NFL, which runs the game, are working to make fans at the stadium a bit more comfortable in case of cold weather, but Kelly said they have not finalized those plans.
For the next nine months, Kelly said his focus will be delivering the best possible Super Bowl for everyone. After that, he’ll be looking for work again.
Kelly expects to ride a number of emotions on game day.
“I expect to have my family and extended family with me at the game, enjoying the game of football,” he said. “It’s the ultimate game every year so I certainly plan on having fun. At some level it should be a sense of relief. I hope there is a sense of pride, for sure, and then there could be a sense of a little bit of letdown, that all that effort has happened and now at the end of the day as the Lombardi Trophy is raised we’ll begin a different project, which is shutting down something we built up.”
After that, Phoenix is on the clock for 2015.