Speaking to the media for the first time since the Jets entered the playoff race and the death of his eldest daughter, 30-year-old Casey the very next day, Jets owner Robert Wood (Woody) Johnson IV said simply, “This has been a brutal couple of weeks for me.”
However, Johnson is working hard to balance his personal loss with the stratospheric rise of his football team. Knowing there is nothing he can do to change what happened with Casey; Johnson has divided his focus into two worlds – personal and professional. Yet all of those disparate emotions came to a head when Coach Rex Ryan handed Johnson a game ball in the locker room following the Jets win over the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wildcard game.
“When I got that ball, that was too many things that hit me at once,” Johnson said shaking his head.
Johnson decided to attend the game because he felt that if he expected his players to play after some of their own personal losses (which several have experienced this season), he should expect the same thing of himself.
Now as things continues to move forward at hectic pace, Johnson reflected on the road that has brought the team to this point and almost all of it begins and ends with Rex Ryan. From the moment Ryan arrived for his first interview – 30 minutes late and coming off a loss in the AFC Championship game to the Pittsburgh Steelers - the team knew it had its man.
“When Rex came into the room, it was obvious to us that this was a guy that deserved a shot,” Johnson recalled. “[With his family history] he’s been a coach longer than his years.”
Immediately the entire culture and atmosphere of the team changed as everyone embraced their new head coach’s buoyant and open personality, as well as his leadership abilities. Ryan’s assertion in his opening press conference that the team would be meeting the President of the United States because they would win a Super Bowl with him at the helm was met internally with excitement and awe.
In this new era of openness, Johnson has found himself mingling with fans in the post-game parking lot getting their feedback, most of which he said is positive – at least to his face. He has enjoyed these interactions, getting what he called the “flavor of what’s going on out there.”
“We’ve finally got the light that we work for our fans and we want to tell you everything,” he said. “Our foibles, our successes, the fans deserve all of that.”
The one bit of unpleasantness that has hung over the organization this year is the matter of the PSLs, better known as Personal Seat Licenses. This has put fans in the position of having to buy not just tickets, but the seats themselves; in essence, buying the right to buy the tickets.
Johnson said he understands some of the opposition, but on the other hand points out that fans can now own these seats for the life of the stadium and that the price is “reflected in what the stadium cost.” He also indicated that the team has seen a surge in purchases starting in December.
With the biggest game in a decade looming on the horizon, and a possible Super Bowl appearance so close they can almost touch it, Johnson is anticipating big things. “In 1998, I was watching [the AFC Championship game],” he said, and then paused. “I think we’ll come closer this year.”
And where has Johnson put that very meaningful game ball? It is in the possession of his three-and-a-half year old son, who may be young, but according to his father, already seems to understand the meaning behind it and treats it with loving care.