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Thursday & Long: Woody and the Attention-Loving Jets


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Thursday & Long: Woody and the Attention-Loving Jets

5/13/2010 4:53 PM ET

By Dan Graziano


Woody Johnson and the Jets are back in the news, which is where the billionaire owner and his team like to be. Whether it's for a big-name player acquisition, some outrageous new boast from head coach Rex Ryan or even, as it was Thursday, over the issue of unsold PSLs and the inconceivable notion that Jets home games might be blacked out in the New York market if the new stadium seats don't start selling, Johnson loves that the Jets have become the most talked-about team in the NFL.

"I'm delighted, because at the end of the day, we're in the entertainment business," Johnson told FanHouse on Thursday in an exclusive interview. "And if we're more interesting and more entertaining, that leads to being more successful. We have confidence that when the fans get to know us, they're going to like us."

So bring on the tabloids and their back pages. Bring on HBO's "Hard Knocks" cameras, which will follow the Jets around this summer during training camp. Let Ryan run his mouth and say whatever he wants to say. The Jets don't want to hide from anybody.

Johnson encourages his GM to return the media's phone calls. He'd encourage Ryan to be himself, if that were necessary. And he makes sure the players in the locker room know it's okay to talk to the media at length, and in detail, because he believes that's the best way for the fans to get to know the team.

"The avid fan wants to get to know the player," Johnson said. "They want to know about the Xs and Os, too, and they want to watch the games and see us win. But they want to know, for example, that D'Brickashaw Ferguson is a good cook on the side and things like that. So we have a very open policy in terms of the media because the media is extremely valuable in terms of letting the fan know about the Jets, good or bad."

That "open policy" is relatively new, of course. Johnson called Ryan "a natural" with the media (which he is), and said it's Ryan who directly encourages the players to engage with the reporters who show up to cover the team. Eric Mangini, the coach who preceded Ryan, discouraged his players from talking to the media, occasionally going to far as to fine them for doing it. Johnson doesn't say that Mangini's firing after the 2008 season had anything to do with that. But he does say that, once they were looking for a new coach, Ryan obviously fit what he was hoping the organization could be.

"First of all, he arrived at the interview about an hour and forty-five minutes late," Johnson recalled. "And he managed to make that go away in about one minute. Just the way he talked -- I mean, he apologized, but did it in a way that was very easy and natural and very Rex."

"We're not underdogs, as last year proved. If you look at the last 10 years and our record, we match up well with them and any team in the league."

-- Woody Johnson comparing his team to the Giants

Add to the opinion Johnson and the front office had of Ryan as a football mind, and the strong impression he gave that he was a leader and a potential team-builder, and Johnson knew he had his man. Nothing he's seen since has dissuaded him, and in fact the organization's faith in Ryan is a big reason the Jets haven't shied away from bringing in baggage-heavy players such as Antonio Cromartie, Santonio Holmes and Jason Taylor.

"In each one of those cases, we felt it was a manageable risk, that we had the resources to deal with them and whatever they brought, and that deep down these were good young men who have made some mistakes, as we all have, but would add something to the team," Johnson said. "And when I've met with each one of them, I've come away feeling the same way."

He insists, however, that such acquisitions, along with that of LaDanian Tomlinson and, in prior years, star players such as Brett Favre and Mark Sanchez, were made for football reasons, not to court the back pages.

"The thing we're courting is the Super Bowl," Johnson said. "That's what we're courting. All of those moves, everything we do is about winning games."

One of the reasons I wanted to talk to Johnson was my theory that a lot of what Johnson and the Jets have done -- from the player personnel moves to his brash criticism of commissioner Roger Goodell over the phantom coin flip that awarded the Giants the first game in the new Meadowlands Stadium -- has been done as part of a marketing plan. My thought was that it benefits the Jets to be the squeaky wheel, since they're stuck in the same market and the same building as the Giants, who are more well-established and have a larger fan base.

But when I put to Johnson the question of whether the Jets benefited from playing the feisty underdog -- the Mets to the Giants' Yankees, to make a baseball comparison -- he rejected the question's premise.

"It's just not true. It's not the case," Johnson said. "We're not underdogs, as last year proved. If you look at the last 10 years and our record, we match up well with them and any team in the league. So that's not the case. If you want to compare it to the Mets and Yankees, whatever you want, it's not true. We're co-tenants, and when we meet them on the field it's going to be ferocious."

Co-tenants the Jets are with the Giants in their new stadium. It will not, as the previous one was, be called "Giants Stadium." The Jets and the Giants are working together to secure a naming-rights deal for their new building. Johnson said progress has been made, but he hinted later that no decision would be made on that until after the 2014 Super Bowl site is determined the week after next. The Jets and Giants both want that year's Super Bowl to be held in their new stadium, and they believe an announcement that the game will be held there will help them in their negotiations with the corporations looking to buy the naming rights.

"The Super Bowl would add to the history of the stadium, the allure of the stadium," Johnson said. "And whoever the naming rights sponsor is would be cast in that light of having had the foresight to want to have their name on that building when that game is held."

The stadium issue was the one making headlines on Thursday, of course, after Johnson admitted in a New York Post story that more than 10,000 Jets PSLs remain unsold with four months left before the start of the season. But Johnson defiantly insisted that the seats would all sell and that fans need have no fear of games being blacked out.

"We're selling every day. In fact, this has been one of our best days," Johnson said. "We feel confident that we're going to sell out."

And assuming they do, things all seem to be lining up for Woody Johnson and his attention-loving Jets. They're coming off a thrilling season in which they defied outside expectations and advanced to the AFC Championship game. They'll be stars on HBO this summer. They're a popular early pick to snatch the AFC East crown away from Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Patriots. They're moving into a new stadium where they're equal partners with the Giants. The cameras love them. The newspapers love them. The fans love them.

All they have to do now is win and make it all stick.

"[The stadium] is a chance to create something really great," Johnson said. "To put the Jets in position for 50 more years. We're single-minded in what we want to do. We're not in this to be second-best, third-best or fourth-best. We want our organization to be the best, and that's what we're working to do in every aspect."


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In a nut shell... this is what has happened over the past decade:

The Jets became a good football team, with a competent front office.

So, after getting fat for years by dumping on the "Same Old Jets" that just never seemed to be able to get it completely together, except of course for the Parcells years, the media is now in a state of "how dare they."

The press can't dump on the team anymore, so now they are trying to paint the picture that there is something wrong with having an owner that wants to win... how dare him.

How dare the Jets sign hall of fame players like Faneca, Favre, Tomlinson, Taylor, Richardson in an effort to provide championship-caliber veteran leadership in the lockerroom... we (the press) liked it better when they were signing guys like Jay Feidler.

How dare the Jets trade for accomplished players like Santonio, Cromartie, Braylon, Kris Jenkins... we (the press) liked it better when they were trading for guys like Justin McCareins.

How dare the Jets draft guys like Revis, Mangold, Brick, Sanchez, Harris, Keller, Shonn... we (the press) liked it better when they were drafting like:


Long story short, the Jets have become a good team.

Respect is hard to come by in this league... because the Jets were so bad, for so long... they are TAKING it now.

The "lets quietly do the right thing" approach didn't work - we got better and still got no respect. Rex has brought the mentality that we will take respect, where it is not given.

The media is pissed, because they didn't get to be the one's who changed the tone... but they can't go after the players, because they are good... and they can't go after the coach, because he is loved... so they are going after the owner, because he (in their minds) is an easy target. I hope Woody gets a ring, so he starts to get respect for wanting to win, and for building a winner... the league and media kiss Kraft's ass and Jerry Jones' ass for the same thing... why is Woody scrutinized?

Because how dare he take the "Same Old Jets" away from the media to kick around.

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