FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Christopher Johnson has spent the past 17 years as a trusted confidant behind the scenes for his older brother’s New York Jets.
He’s now front and centre as the man in charge of the franchise that Woody Johnson bought in 2000. And he’d love more than anything to deliver on a dream that would satisfy long-suffering fans — and give him some serious sibling bragging rights.
"What I really want to see happen is for us to go to the Super Bowl," Christopher Johnson said Wednesday before his face lit up with a slight grin. "I promised my brother I’ll leave him two tickets at will call. Every little brother wants to show up his big brother."
Johnson has stepped into the role as the Jets’ acting chairman and CEO with Woody now serving as the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom for President Donald Trump.
"It’s your team," Christopher recalled Woody telling him at the time. "Don’t mess it up."
Speaking to reporters for the first time, Christopher Johnson made it clear during the 20-minute boardroom session that not only does he intend to not screw things up, he has visions of bringing the franchise to new heights.
"The biggest challenge is to earn the trust of the fans," he said, "to have them know that I care about this team deeply and I’m going to do everything I can to make it a great team again."
These are tough times for Jets fans, who are enduring an 0-2 start during a rebuilding season that could rank among the worst by the time Week 17 rolls around.
The team shed itself of several big-name players with big contracts during the off-season and left a roster filled with youth and inexperience.
It all has many fans and media suggesting that the Jets might be sacrificing victories for better chances at the No. 1 overall draft pick — and perhaps, a franchise quarterback — next year.
"It couldn’t be further from the truth," Johnson said. "I mean, I want to win every game. Every player in that locker room wants to win. What you’re seeing, I think, are growing pains. These are young guys. … I think you’re going to see this team get better and better and better. That’s what I’m looking for.
"And, we are definitely not tanking."
During the next 15 weeks, Johnson will be focused on how the team looks overall — its attitude and development — instead of the final record.
"My brother said early in the spring to not judge the team on wins and losses, but its progression, and I agree with that," Johnson said. "I think it’s going to be obvious to all if this team is progressing."
That is the factor by which Johnson will proceed with making decisions on the fates of coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan. Johnson was complimentary of both when asked about his early season assessments of them. He speaks to Maccagnan almost daily, and to Bowles a few times a week.
Bowles, in his third year, has impressed Johnson with his ability to "strike the right balance of really everything" with his in-game calls and relationship with players.
Johnson also praised Maccagnan’s keen eye for talent, saying it’s "extraordinary," and later adding: "I’ve seen nothing to dissuade me from that here."
Christopher said Woody frequently bounced ideas off him during his own decision-making process. Big brother won’t have any input in the current situation.
"It would be great if I could do that with him, but he really has a full-time job over there," Christopher Johnson said. "We are not discussing football. He’s out of it. He said, ‘I’m stepping away from football.’ That’s his full-time job, and it’s a huge job."
While on a much smaller scale, so is the task of turning around the Jets, who have gone from playoff contenders to potential league laughingstocks in just two years.
He understands the fans’ frustrations and has rooted for the team since Joe Namath delivered the franchise’s only Super Bowl victory. Johnson will begin trying to connect with the fans in person, starting Sunday during the Jets’ home opener at MetLife Stadium.
That’s when he’ll hear from those who pay to see his team play. And he’ll be able to send his message to them directly.
"I can’t say what that perception is, exactly, but what I hope it is, is that this is a team on the rise," Johnson said. "I mean, there’s some growing pains right now, no question. But, we’ve got a plan and I’m going to do everything I can to support the people in this building.
"And, I’m hoping that the fans, who I care deeply about — I’ve been a fan since I was a little kid and I bleed green like they do — appreciate what we’re doing to get back to greatness."