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Meet the men behind the Bowl: Kelly

Kelly performs his "matchmaker'' job, not for perks or money, but simply for the opportunity to work on the big game.

By BABITA PERSAUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 24, 2001


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[Times photo: Mike Pease]
Michael Kelly applied for his job with the Super Bowl task force after he made his mark as the executive director of the Tampa Bay Final Four executive committee.
TAMPA -- Michael Kelly, responsible for assuring the Tampa Bay area is ready for Super Bowl XXXV, was the kind of high school student who made straight A's, took serious notes, loved sports -- and threw up.

Before a big test, before a big basketball game, he would get nauseous. "You want to get an A, you want to play well. A lot of it was self depression," he said.

No more.

With ease and confidence, Kelly handles the high-stress job of executive director of the Super Bowl XXXV Task Force, the local behind-the-scenes team assembled in 1999 by the National Football League. If a national promoter wants to schedule a venue for a concert Super Bowl week, the task force helps find one. If the NFL Experience needs volunteers, the task force does the recruiting.

"We're the matchmaker between the NFL and the local community," Kelly said.

It's not the most glamorous of Super Bowl jobs, or the highest paying -- Kelly makes $60,000. The paycheck isn't the perk. "You wake up and you're working on the Super Bowl," he said.

Originally from Washington D.C., the son of a nurse and administrator for the International Monetary Fund, Kelly, 30, grew up going to Redskins football games and basketball games at the University of Maryland and Georgetown University.

The road that led him to the Super Bowl started with an ad for a basketball job.

"Tampa Bay Final Four executive committee is looking for executive director," read the December 1997 issue of the NCAA News. He wasn't looking to leave.

He had a wife, a house and two cats. He was content as director of athletic operations and facilities management at Wake Forest University, his undergraduate alma mater.

He applied without thinking about it too much, stressing his experience at the South Florida Sports Festival in Fort Lauderdale, his first real job. It featured 35 sporting events including cricket, track and field, softball and inline skating.

Kelly, then 23, learned everything there. Recruiting volunteers. Registering athletes. Scheduling events.

"I tell this to students now when I speak, it might have looked better on paper to go to work for the Dolphins, but then, I would have been able to learn just a little bit. In a grassroots organization, I was able to do a ton of stuff."

The bottom-of-the-totem pole experience impressed the panel of interviewers at the Final Four. Kelly made his mark on Tampa Bay with that job. But his position ended after the game.

What now?

J. Leonard Levy, a Tampa businessman and sports booster who was on the Final Four executive committee, suggested Kelly apply to the local task coordinating the Super Bowl, chairman Jack Wilson.

Kelly already had the contacts in the community, Levy said, and the traits: "You never had to ask him to do something twice."

Kelly works with seven directors, who then work with about 100 volunteers and interns. Their downtown Tampa office is low-key.

No cherry wood furniture. The carpet is low-tread. The chairs, roll-away. The walls bare, except for "Tampa Bay's Got Game" posters. Stacks of folders on the floor.

The team is young, vibrant. Vanessa Brewer handles finance. Ken Elder, marketing. Stephanie Owens Royster, minority and women-owned businesses. Reid Sigmon, security, transportation and law enforcement. Krista Soroka, events. And Jennifer St. John, volunteers.

Many on the staff worked with Kelly on the Final Four.

Kelly's job ends March 31. He stays months after the game to fill out reports, document what the task force did.

He hasn't had any job offers so far, he said recently. But he's not worried.

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