Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Updated: May 26, 2:03 PM ET
Johnson realizes Super Bowl dream
By Rich Cimini
IRVING, Texas -- The idea was hatched in September 2005, when the New York Giants and New York Jets agreed to become 50-50 partners in a new stadium. Jets owner Woody Johnson mentioned it to his Giants counterparts: Let's bid for a Super Bowl. To them, it sounded as realistic as a glass hammer.
"I said, 'Yeah, we can consider it,'" Giants co-owner John Mara said Tuesday at the NFL spring meetings, rolling his eyes for effect. "I wasn't sure we'd be able to get much support, but the more we started talking to people, the more we discovered that maybe there would be support, maybe it's not such a crazy idea."
The crazy idea became reality at 4:22 p.m. ET, when the New York/New Jersey region was awarded the 2014 Super Bowl -- Super Bowl XLVIII, for those counting by Roman numerals at home. Somehow, they managed to convince the NFL membership it would be cool to play in the cold -- a historic first for the Super Bowl.
There are many reasons why the Giants and Jets were able to pull it off -- a new $1.6 billion stadium, the lure of New York, the influence of the Mara name in league circles -- but one of the keys was Johnson.
Johnson, the same owner who can't seem to satisfy his own PSL-disgruntled fan base, played an absolutely vital role in landing the Super Bowl for New York/New Jersey. He was like a Chihuahua on the leg of a stranger's pants, refusing to let go. People told him a cold-weather Super Bowl wouldn't fly, but Johnson didn't back down.
Late Tuesday afternoon at a posh hotel outside Dallas, after the champagne bottles had been popped and after the high-fives had been exchanged, Mara and fellow Giants owner Steve Tisch offered unsolicited praise of Johnson's tenacity.
"He was absolutely relentless," said Mara, who has shared a few disagreements with Johnson over the years -- most recently the skirmish over which team would play the first regular-season game in the new Meadowlands Stadium.
Tisch described Johnson as "the cheerleader who got us from 'Why?' to 'Why not?'"
Johnson appeared almost giddy at the news conference, calling himself a "Jersey boy" who longed to bring the big game to his home region. Good for the economy, he said. Good for the housing market. Good for morale in these post-9/11 times.
"New York has gone through a lot ... and is currently getting battered from every direction," he said afterward.
Let's not be na´ve: The Jets, perhaps more than the Giants, needed the Super Bowl. There are thousands of unsold PSLs, and the exposure and cache of hosting a Super Bowl is bound to help ticket sales.
There's also the issue of the naming rights for the stadium. With a Super Bowl coming to town, the stadium should be more attractive to companies. It's not a stretch to say this may have been a $500 million victory for the Jets and Giants.
"It certainly isn't going to hurt," one team official said, smiling.
So, yes, there was financial incentive to bring a Super Bowl to the region, but there also was a measure of civic pride -- and maybe ego -- that factored in. These men might be millionaires in fancy suits, but they, too, are competitive -- just like their players and coaches. Something like this also adds to their legacy.
"It couldn't be a bigger moment for the Jets and the Jets' fans," Johnson said. "For the Jets to finally have this is huge. To have the Super Bowl, and to have that credibility in the league ... it's a resounding victory."
Five years ago, Johnson was conditionally promised the 2010 Super Bowl, but it hinged on building the proposed West Side Stadium in Manhattan. That was an easy promise for the owners to make, because there was going to be a retractable roof. That controversial project was killed by the politicians, so Johnson hooked up with the Giants.
The day they signed the partnership for the new stadium, Johnson started promoting the idea of a Super Bowl.
"I give him credit," Mara said. "He was relentless. Once we started talking to owners and talked to the commissioner and talked to people in the league office and people on the Super Bowl committee, we started to gain some momentum. We started to think, 'Why not?'"
At the league meetings last fall, Johnson, Mara and commissioner Roger Goodell were spotted in the corner of a room, deep in discussion. They were talking Super Bowl 2014.
Seven months later, Woody's folly became reality. And that's no snow job.
Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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