Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
Recent NFL history suggests that it is unlikely that the Ravens will return to the Super Bowl next year. But if they do, Al Kelly is confident that their quarterback will show up in the Meadowlands on Feb. 2.
"I'm guessing Joe Flacco would choose to come, I think," Kelly said from New Orleans Thursday, a bit of an edge in his voice, "regardless of what he thinks about it."
What Flacco thinks, as the football world knows by now, is that the idea of an outdoor Super Bowl in a northern city is "stupid" and "crazy."
Although Kelly believes "people in Flacco's camp are in the minority," the quarterback is far from alone. Thus it has been a strange, busy week for the CEO of the Super Bowl XLVIII Host Committee in the days leading up to Super Bowl XLVII.
In between doing what hosts-to-be always do -- observing what his predecessors do both right and wrong -- he has done a series of interviews designed to answer the questions of a nation both skeptical and curious. Kelly understands.
"There is just a tremendous amount of fascination about a Super Bowl in our region," he said. "I think more people are clearly very bullish about it. But I think there are people in wait-and-see mode."
The public-relations push began last week with a City Hall news conference at which some specifics were unveiled, notably a "Super Bowl Boulevard" down a closed portion of Broadway. (The league and media will be based in Manhattan, the teams in New Jersey.)
Per the game plan, Umenyiora endorsed the idea of a New Jersey Super Bowl, but he acknowledged that Flacco's opinion is not uncommon. "Most players probably would share his opinion," he said, "but for me it's different, because I've actually been in big games in cold weather and we've prevailed." (See Green Bay, Wis., January 2008.)
Hirschhorn said Flacco's words initially were hurtful, but not for long.
Just to make sure, MetLife issued statistics downplaying the effect of cold on games in general and on Flacco in particular. "I've never heard so much conversation a year in advance of a Super Bowl before," Hirschhorn said.
No one has. At last, effective Sunday, the countdown will be in months and days, not years.
Kelly said plans are going well, with strong support from everyone from politicians to sponsors to volunteers. He said the publicity this week has led to a spike in volunteers, about 12,000 of whom have registered. Eventually it will be about 15,000, but it has not been determined what their outfits will look like, with some slated to work inside, others outside. "We will have a much more varied volunteer uniform [than usual]," Kelly said.
Details, details. Kelly and his staff have spent the week sitting in on meetings, touring venues and attending events. He likes the color-coded signage that guides visitors. He noted a need for more electric outlets and wireless Internet capacity. He said the media party Tuesday was "spectacular" but lacked sufficient . . . garbage cans.
"You can't ever underestimate the small things that matter," he said.
The biggest variable is the one no one can control. Remember: Heavy snow the week of the game that impedes the ability of visitors to spend money would hurt the larger cause even more than heavy snow on Sunday that impedes the ability of the quarterbacks to throw footballs.
We shall see. Only 366 days to go.
With Tom Rock