AFC Championship Sunday: Johnson's personal journey
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Woody Johnson is torn between two different worlds, trying to enjoy his team's incredible postseason journey while still coping with the death of his daughter.
The Jets' owner is ecstatic his team is playing for the AFC Championship for the first time since 1999 and is on the doorstep of their first trip to the Super Bowl in 41 years. However, his heart is still broken because he lost his daughter, Casey, who was found dead from unknown causes in her Los Angeles apartment Jan. 4.
"One doesn't really help the other," Johnson said Thursday in his first extensive interview since his daughter's death. "The other's the reality. I mean, I lost a daughter. There's no way to bring her back or any of that. But on the other hand, with the team, Rex [Ryan] has been doing amazingly and amazing things for the franchise, for the New York Jets, for New York. I mean, you see it and you feel it as you are walking around.
"I've never seen anything like it."
Johnson said the last couple of weeks have been "brutal" on him and his family. He was overcome with emotion in the Jets' locker room Jan. 9 following their 24-14 wild-card win against the Bengals, when Ryan presented Johnson with a game ball.
"After I got that ball, that was just too many things hitting me all at once," said Johnson, who's owned the team since 2000. "When you have a major loss, you have to show your emotions. So, you do show your emotions whether you have to or not. I still, just on a personal level, think of it all the time, obviously. But, so do other players who have played.
"The reason I went to that game, I thought, 'Geez, it would be kind of weird if I asked the players to come play the game after they've had a tragedy in their family and I don't come.' So I had to go."
Johnson couldn't say for sure how much the Jets' current run has aided in sales of the personal seat licenses for the New Meadowlands Stadium. He said there was a flurry of activity last month, though he said it could be attributed more so to the holiday season. He said non-PSL seats in the upper deck are already sold out.
He's also come to grips with the venomous words of angry fans still up in arms because they feel they're being priced out of the $1.4 billion stadium.
"I accept the criticism. I wish it weren't the case," Johnson said. "I wish there weren't the PSLs in some respects, although I do think it gives the fans, it gives the seat holder something they haven't had before -- which it really gives them the ownership of that seat for the life of the stadium, which is something that could be important, is important to some people."
Something else that's important: getting rid of the CIA, fortress-like environment that enveloped the franchise during the Eric Mangini era.
"This is not a secret," Johnson said. "I want to include the fans in everything. Every experience that they want -- if they want to know something, if they want to experience something, I invite them out here. If you want to see practice, if you want to go on the team plane even, if you want to do something, we'll try to make it happen for you because if it's big for you, it's big for me."
Few things are bigger than the game the Jets are currently preparing for.
"It's great to get our team up to a level where we are competing at this level -- for the AFC Championship," Johnson said. "This is a great, great thing for us. I mean, it's the second time in 12 years ...
"I think we'll come closer this year."
First Published January 24, 2010 12:00 am