FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Christopher Johnson didn’t see Sam Darnold’s interception on the Jets’ first offensive play Monday night.
He did hear it, though.
“I was on an elevator [at Ford Field] and I knew that we had the ball,” the Jets’ chief executive officer said Wednesday. “I was trying to get from the field to the [luxury] box and I heard a huge road from the crowd at a point where I knew we did not have the ball. I looked through the glass wall of the elevator and saw the replay of the pick, and my heart sank, like every Jet fan’s heart sank at that point.”
But Johnson was like any other Jets fan who watched Darnold regain his composure and become a major factor in a stunning 48-17 win over the Lions in his first NFL start. He loved what he saw.
“I thought, 'OK, he’s been punched in the face, let’s see how he responds,' ” Johnson said. “I think he’s going to do a good job.”
It was further affirmation of the Jets’ bold trade to move up to No. 3 to eventually land the USC star, and Johnson, who is running the team in the absence of older brother Woody, was delighted to see the outcome.
Christopher Johnson has presided over the team since the start of the 2017 season after Woody accepted President Donald Trump’s invitation to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom. The younger Johnson has been there from the start of a rebuilding movement that already looks to be producing solid dividends, with Darnold looking more and more like the answer the Jets have been desperately searching for at quarterback.
And while Johnson himself hasn’t played a role with the on-field operation – leaving that to general manager Mike Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles – he has deftly fostered a healthy environment in which to work. A hands-off owner on major decisions, Johnson last year drew praise from his players and coaches for his handling of the controversy over protests during the national anthem. And his patient handling of a team in transition – there is no playoffs-or-else edict – has created an atmosphere conducive to building a winning team.
But that doesn’t mean he’s content with just being good. He wants his team to be great.
“I’m always going to want to go to the Super Bowl,” he said. “If you’re in this league and you aren’t trying to get to the Super Bowl and that isn’t your expectation from Day 1, what the hell are you doing here?”
He is careful not to meddle, though. When asked about the decision to go with Darnold over Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater, who has since been traded, Johnson quipped: “I took no role in that whatsoever. That’s not my strong suit. I’m not yet Jerry Jones.”
It was a subtle yet unmistakable tweak of the Cowboys’ owner, who is in on every decision – on and off the field – in Dallas. Jones is also a critic of Johnson’s stance on the anthem policy, so there may have been more reason to take a jab.
Johnson told Newsday after owners meetings in May, during which the league instituted a rule requiring players to stand for the anthem or else remain in the locker room, that he respected the players’ right to protest as a way to draw attention to social justice issues.
Johnson declined to speak directly on the anthem issue Wednesday, citing the league’s recent decision to suspend its May ruling and continue dialogue with the NFL Players Association.
“I obviously feel strongly about this,” said Johnson, who joins his players and coaches as they stand and lock arms for the anthem. “But I’m hopeful the players association and the league will come up with something that respects the players and the fans and the flag.”
In the meantime, Johnson’s focus is on his team, which is coming off a resounding win and has rekindled expectations that haven’t been here since the early days of the Rex Ryan era.
“It was a great game,” Johnson said, “but it was just one game. I’m trying to keep that in mind. I think that the fans can legitimately be excited. They should be.”
Yes, they should. After years of frustration, this really does feel different.