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Woody's Passion Enters Second Decade


For Woody Johnson, the coin flip flap of the past week was already yesterday's news.

"I'm done with that and moving forward," the Jets owner said, in an exclusive interview with, on the question of the coin toss that he wanted to see decide whether the Jets or Giants got that first regular-season home game at the New Meadowlands Stadium in September. "I would say it was a disagreement over the process and that was it."

But Johnson's role in the debate over that prize game speaks to the passion he brings to his job as the Jets' chairman and CEO. He does it for his team, for the fans, for his principles. Some still seem to think Robert Wood Johnson IV is Mr. Nice Guy. Well, he is a nice guy, but as he begins his second decade as the Jets' owner, he continues to come out swinging when he feels the need.

"I've been fighting for 10 years," Johnson said. "We're going to fight hard. We fought hard for the stadium. We fight hard to win every year. And there are lots of decisions the public doesn't know about that are difficult and confrontational.

"I'm extremely passionate about it."

Moving forward, Johnson's passion now takes him to the NFL Annual Meeting in Orlando, Fla., from today through Wednesday, then back home to the day-to-day business of this most important offseason in Jets history. Important because it's the next offseason, of course. Yet with the memory of January's AFC Championship Game appearance still fresh and the opening of the new stadium now less than a half year away, Woody is enjoying the process, along with general manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Rex Ryan, of prepping the Jets to attack the 2010 season.

"We've Made the Team Better"

"I think Mike's done a great job of doing what he does, which is being resourceful and looking for players that fit our team and our coaching staff and our objectives at each position," said Johnson of Tannenbaum and company's transactions so far, with the list topped by last Sunday's signing of legendary tailback LaDainian Tomlinson and the trade for cornerback Antonio Cromartie the week before.

"He and his scouting staff are to be commended for getting things done. These deals are never easy to do, they're never easy.

"And we're under a very difficult set of rules, 'the Final Four,' " he said, referring not to his NCAA bracket sheet but to the unrestricted free agency signing restrictions placed on the four conference championship teams in this uncapped year. "So I think, especially in that way, it looks like we've made the team better."

Johnson is understatedly eager to see what Tomlinson has left in his tank. He thinks it's more full than a lot of NFL experts think.

"LaDainian is pretty much a household name — a long name, but a household name," he said playfully. "People know who he is because of what he's done and the kind of person he is. He's a humble person who is a Hall of Famer. We thought it was a good mix for our team because of his experience in the league, with our system, and what he's able to do for a young quarterback like Mark Sanchez. This could work out to be a very good system for him. We're a running offense. This is what we do."

As for TJ going to KC, opening the doors for LT to leave SD for NYC, Johnson took the same high-road approach as Tannenbaum did on his Tuesday conference call with reporters.

"I'm really not going to comment on Thomas Jones, other than to thank him, which we tried to do probably not sufficiently, for the tremendous leadership and production he had here," the owner said. "We were very lucky to have had Thomas in our building and playing for us. It was really an honor for us."

That honor was underscored, if you didn't hear about it, by the Jets purchasing a full-page ad in Sunday's Kansas City Star thanking Jones for his three years of service.

A Decade-Long "Apprenticeship"

Woody didn't go through his roster, but he's excited to see what Year Two of Ryan as his coach and Sanchez as his QB can do. On Leon Washington, the boss said, "We fully expect him to be back and be in Leon Washington form." His Jets defense is looking to go from being merely the consensus No. 1 unit in the NFL to being the kind of dominant D that comes along once in a decade.

And they'll be doing it in a shining football fortress, one of the NFL's new crown-jewel stadiums. That's a lot to process, if you think about it all at once.

"I can tell you I'm just grateful to all the people who've been involved in building the stadium," Johnson said. "It's been 10 years of work. Many, many people have been involved in that. I thank them for that hard work. And being able to work with the Giants, the Tisches and the Maras, it wouldn't have gotten done without them.

"And it's been an apprenticeship for me for 10 years — I think it is for every owner in terms of learning better what it takes to put a team together, a successful team on the field," he said thoughtfully. "The type of coaching staff and football leadership we've got now with Mike and Rex, our great coordinators and coaching staff, that's really a positive."

Just how positive that is, said Johnson, shows up in the players. And despite the comings and goings on every team at this time of year, the Jets still have the look that says last year's finish was no fluke.

"You don't see a lot of weaknesses here," Johnson said. "We've got a lot of potential. A lot of guys have their arrows pointed up. But we have veterans, too, and you need that perspective. So I'm passionate about it and always hopeful. I don't ever go into a season thinking we're going to lose any games.

"And this season," said the owner with just a hint of that fighter's edge of his, "will be done different."

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