NFL team owners used to environments so controlled that they get police escorts for Super Bowl games found no buffer from the media during spring meetings at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Atlanta.
Getting into their meeting rooms required traversing the lobby where reporters sprawled on couches, poised to pounce and glean the smallest snippet.
New York City team owners got the most attention. They also were the most accommodating — standing still until reporters ran out of questions.
Giants’ third-generation owner John Mara exhibited a patrician calm, making it fun to fathom his reaction upon seeing his niece Rooney Mara play the lead in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”
Jets owner Robert Wood Johnson IV, aka “Woody” and an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, was chatty. Jets players cried when he told them coach Rex Ryan would be returning for the 2014 season “The players love him,” he said. He came back later to discuss his family’s Minnesota roots (not the Johnson side) and his boyhood visits.
New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson arrived at the meetings just in time to lose out to Minneapolis as host of the 2018 Super Bowl. Using a walker to cross the lobby while surrounded by a phalanx of staff, Benson, who is 86 and just had knee surgery, later tripped and went to the hospital.
The best-dressed award went to Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, a Pakistani native and self-made billionaire, sporting impeccably tailored suits and a flawlessly coifed mane of dark, curly hair.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones came off as Mr. Congeniality, but he didn’t want to chat much. He’s shorter than he looks on TV and smells like crisp soap. In contrast, affable Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis leaned against a lobby wall in a scruffy T-shirt and jeans, smelling of cigarettes. When he wondered how he would get a $500 million subsidy for a new stadium, a reporter pointed to the fraying zebra-print duffel at his feet and said, “You could sell some Zubaz bags like that one.”