Christopher Johnson was like all members of Jets Nation on Monday night in Detroit eagerly anticipating the start of the season and the start of quarterback Sam Darnold's NFL career. Well, not like most fans, since as the Jets' CEO he was en route to the visiting owner's box at Ford Field for the start of the game.
That's when he learned of Darnold's inauspicious first pass.
"I was on an elevator and I knew we had the ball because I was trying to get from the field to the box," Johnson told Jets reporters in the Atlantic Health Training Center boardroom this afternoon. "I heard a huge roar from the crowd, and at that point I knew we did not have the ball. I looked through the glass wall of the elevator and saw a replay of the pick. And my heart sank, like every Jets fan's heart sank."
But Johnson also had seen Darnold, the NFL's youngest opening day starting QB of the Super Bowl era, handle everything thrown his way, from combine interviews to the draft to OTAs to training camp to preseason games. He knew his heart wouldn't be sunk for long.
"Sam has an amazing ability to put adversity behind him, so when something goes wrong, he quickly pivots to what comes next," he said. "And I had great faith even after that pick-six. I thought, 'OK, he's been punched in the face, let's see how he responds. I think he's going to do a good job.' "
Darnold indeed rebounded smartly and so did the Jets in what was in many respects a record 48-17 opening-night victory in the Lions' initially hostile den. And that has the Jets CEO this week trying to maintain his own even keel.
"I've been working since then to keep my enthusiasm level at an iceman kind of thing," he said. "It was a great game, but it was one game. [Defensive lineman] Steve McLendon at the end of the game spoke to the other players and I think he had the right frame of mind. He said, 'We're 1-0 and every game we have to approach it like we're just 1-0. We haven't done much.' That's really where we are."
Christopher, like his brother, Woody, who turned the job over to him to become U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, has taken a measured approach to running the Green & White. Despite saying, "I'm not a patient man necessarily," he declined last year to put any ultimatums on general manager Mike Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles and he declined to do so again today.
"Number one, it's highly counterproductive. I can't imagine why that would be a positive thing," he said. "Just like we did last year, you can make advances that don't show up in the win-loss record. We were a team to be reckoned with last year. I think we will be this year, too, maybe more so. But I'm not going to put a playoff mandate or a win-loss record mandate out there."
Yet any hurdles look more easily surmountable with the great start. The young quarterback is in place, the team has started out victoriously, and the front office's careful yet aggressive approach is working. Johnson said ticket sales "are well ahead of where we were last year" and that Sunday's home opener against the Dolphins is "trending toward a sellout, and I hope we get there."
Also like his brother, Johnson has an instinctive feel for where Jets fans' hearts are now, even considering his one-game-at-a-time philosophy.
"Next year we have the most money in free agency and I think there's reasonably going to be some interesting free agents coming out. It'll be another chance for us to improve the team. Maybe expectations should ramp up here. But for right now, I think this team is advancing. I'm happy with what I see so far."