It was just three months after Woody Johnson had bought the Jets for $635 million that Bill Belichick, the HC of the NEP who had spurned him, drafted Tom Brady.
The year was 2000, and 21 years later, it is never a good time to remind Jets fans one more time that Belichick and Brady won six Super Bowls together, which means that the scoreboard reads Robert Kraft 6, Woody Johnson 0, and that sobering fact followed Johnson to the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center where he held court for the first time since his return as Jets chairman.
He wore a green cap with a white “NY” and a white short-sleeved shirt with a green Jets logo, and he was his perennially optimistic self nevertheless — thrilled with the general manager and head coach his brother Christopher hired while Woody was insulated from the Adam Gase Era as the former president’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, thrilled with the new franchise quarterback the GM and coach drafted, and simply thrilled to be back with the final say for the toy he bought for a mere $635 million. According to Forbes, the Jets are valued now at $3.2 billion. Enough to ease the pain of no Lombardi Trophy.
“This is the best job you can have in the world,” Johnson said.
Imagine if the job entailed winning.
In the midst of an answer, a helicopter buzzed overhead, and I said to Johnson: “Don’t worry, that isn’t Bill Belichick.”
He smiled and said: “Can you guarantee that?” And then he finished his answer.
As he begins his second act, this is his last chance to change his football legacy, and the irony of it is that the most recent decisions his kid brother Christopher made while he was gone will dramatically shape it one way or the other.
“I think Chris made some unbelievable choices and lucky to get both of these gentlemen,” Woody said.
Belichick leaving after one day as HC of the NYJ then drafting Brady is the worst kind of bad luck possible. But if you believe that luck is the residue of design, some of the past designs on Woody’s watch are better left by him in the rearview mirror:
Firing GM Mike Tannenbaum and keeping Rex Ryan.
Signing Tim Tebow.
Pairing Ryan with GM John Idzik.
Drafting Geno Smith.
Pairing coach Todd Bowles with GM Mike Maccagnan.
Drafting Christian Hackenberg.
“You’ve gotta have faith,” Woody said.
Easier said than done, of course, for the long-suffering Jets fan:
Breaking: Mark Sanchez runs into offensive lineman’s butt and fumbles as he falls.
Breaking: Hired Gun Brett Favre sends lewd text to Jenn Sterger.
Breaking: Rex Ryan foot fetish revealed.
Breaking: Geno Smith has jaw broken in locker room by teammate.
Since the last time the Jets reached the playoffs, they are 59-101.
It is time for Woody Johnson to trust GM Joe Douglas and rookie coach Robert Saleh more than he has trusted or believed in any of his previous GMs — aside from Bill Parcells in 2000 — and head coaches, and let them properly support and develop new franchise quarterback Zach Wilson.
Saleh will be Johnson’s sixth head coach since Belichick bolted. Joe Douglas will be his sixth general manager. Wilson will be the fourth quarterback since 2000 the Jets have drafted in the first round.
Woody on Douglas: “Anybody that’s related to Ozzie Newsome [as Ravens colleagues] has pretty much got a gold star, right? They’ve lasted. You’re impressed with Joe’s demeanor. He’s very, very calm. He’s also good about telling the truth. He’ll tell you the way he feels, and he’ll lay it out to you so it’s no B.S.”
Woody on Saleh: “He’s been unique in ability to communicate, and that’s really what it’s all about. Everybody has to feel part of the team, you have to make ’em feel part of the team. He’s got a tremendous philosophy that he’s trying to talk to the team about every day. I think it’s a winning philosophy. He’s got the ingredients to be really good.”
Woody on Wilson: “He’s a talent for sure. … He looks as advertised.”
There wasn’t a thing Woody Johnson could possibly say that would assure Jets fans that better days are ahead, or compel them to break out into an impromptu “J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets!” chant.
But you knew he would try, it’s his job again to sell tickets, especially now that MetLife Stadium will be open to one and all again:
“The building feels really united now.
“I really see a tremendous vibe in the building and on the field and in the classrooms that gives me a lot of hope.
“I think that some good things are coming down the road here, and maybe we’re going on a different road than we’ve gone on.”
The road not taken.
“The leadership is very impressive to me, and I’ve seen a lot of leaders.”
I asked him what the biggest lesson he has learned as owner.
“It’s all about managing the people and getting the right people, making sure you help them achieve the goals that they want in life,’’ he said. “When they interview Super Bowl-winning teams, it’s all about the team, and it’s all about that special feeling of working for each other and covering for each other. That might be something that I’ve learned, I’ve gotten better. But it is the most important thing, is how do you do that, how do you do that?”
No one wants to find the elusive answer more than him.
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