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Johnson Speaks of His Loss, Team's Success

The franchise-record 16 speakers of simulated crowd noise was deafening outside the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center as head coach Rex Ryan put his players through another practice for Sunday's AFC Championship Game at Indianapolis.

But inside the center's boardroom, Jets owner Woody Johnson could easily be heard as he discussed his mixed emotions of seeing his first-year head coach and his team fight to within one game away of playing in the Super Bowl while also losing his oldest daughter, Casey.

"This has been a brutal couple of weeks," Johnson told beat reporters in his plainspoken manner today at an informal news conference at which he offered his first public comments about the passing of his daughter. "I think what you do, what I found myself doing, is it's two different worlds and that's the way you handle it. One doesn't really help the other because the other is reality — I lost a daughter. There's no way to bring her back. ... I wish I could change it but I can't."

Johnson and his family mourned their loss, but several days after Casey's death, the Jets played their AFC Wild Card Game at Cincinnati on Jan. 9. The owner said he traveled to the game "because I thought it'd be weird if I ask the players to come play a game after they've had a tragedy in their family, and I don't go. So I had to do it."

And he showed his emotions in the locker room after the Jets prevailed, 24-14, and the players presented "Mr. J" with a game ball.

"When I got that ball, that was just too many things that hit me at once," Johnson said, adding of the honor, "That was awesome. To win a game like that was just huge. It's like Horatio Alger. Nobody believes you can do it except we believe we can do it. It's just kind of that mindset."

Johnson reflected again of his first experience last January with Ryan, who was 45 minutes late to his job interview with the Jets after the Ravens had just lost at Pittsburgh in the AFC title game.

"He walked into the room in a way that only Rex, as I've come to know him, could do it," the owner said. "Just with a confidence, an air of humor, he was apologetic, profusely, and he's just a guy who's extremely comfortable in his own skin. Then we started talking about his ability, how he puts a team together. He's obviously a defensive guru, but how do you put a team together, and what is teamwork and give me some examples of how you do it.

In the next several hours of interviewing, Johnson said, "it became pretty apparent that Rex was our guy. ... It was obvious to us that this is a guy who deserved a shot. And we think we made the right decision."

But before the rightness of the decision became obvious to all, there was the roller-coaster ride that has been the Jets' 2009 season — the high of the three-game season-opening winning streak, the low of six losses in seven games, and the roaring stretch run to seven wins in their last eight games that has yet to end.

"Rex is doing amazing things for the franchise, for the New York Jets, for New York," Johnson said of the Green & White mania that continues to sweep the metro area. "I mean, you see it, you feel it as you're walking around. I've never seen anything like it."

Johnson has never come this close to the NFL's big prize in his 10 years as the Jets' chairman and CEO. This is the Jets' fifth time in the playoffs on his watch. Twice, in 2002 and 2004, they won a wild-card game but then lost in the divisional round.

He was asked about the last time the franchise got as far as the conference championship, after the 1998 season, two years before he took control of the team.

"I was watching the game. I don't remember exactly where I was," Johnson said. "I think we'll come closer this year."

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