Video by Max Whittle
LONDON — It’s 8:30 a.m. Saturday when Shad Khan saunters onto the deck of Kismet, his superyacht, for a morning yoga session. He looks as if he’s just woken up, his hair tussled and messy, his eyes glazed. Khan had hosted a party at a club the night before that lasted until 1 a.m. “If anybody left sober, hey, it was their bad judgment,” he says.
Khan begins to stretch, as Leanne, one of the yacht’s yoga instructors, lights an incense stick. They decide they’re going to do the Sun Salutation, one of the more basic yoga routines. “Make it hard,” Khan asks politely, and Leanne starts walking him through the poses—Downward Dog, Swan Dive, Warrior One. Khan takes deep breaths as he contorts himself. He closes his eyes and tries to meditate, even though he’s surrounded by sounds of the city, cranes and machinery clanging in the distance. The yacht is docked on the Thames, in Canary Wharf, near the East London financial district, which is fitting, considering the boat’s owner.
In the 1970s, Khan developed a new bumper that revolutionized the auto industry. He then bought Flex-N-Gate, an auto parts manufacturer, and turned it into a billion-dollar business. His net worth is now $7.1 billion, which makes him, according to Forbes, the 72nd richest American. He used that wealth to buy two sports teams—the Jacksonville Jaguars and London soccer club Fulham FC—and that’s what’s brought him to town. The Jaguars are playing here on Sunday, in what will be their fifth annual trip to London. Khan agreed to allow The MMQB shadow him this weekend, as part of our “24 Hours” series, as he takes in the festivities.
After 10 minutes, Leanne increases the difficulty, as Khan requested. His breathing is getting labored, his face red and strained. He’s on the mat on all fours, his posterior in the air, with Leann in his ear: “Push your bum right up into the sky!” Then Khan brings his right leg forward and slowly begins to rise with his hands up as if he were signaling a touchdown. “Reach! Reach! Reach! … Beautiful.” Now the finale. Khan stands up, leans back, with his hands high above his head, and then brings them down, clasped as in prayer, his eyes closed. He shakes his head and exhales. “Focus on our intention for the day,” Leanne says to him. “Whatever that may be. It could be anything or nothing—as long you’re happy with it.”
Some people wonder about Khan’s long-term intentions, if maybe he’s planning to move the Jaguars to London full-time someday. The thought alone makes Jaguars fans and the entire city of Jacksonville nervous. His intentions for the day are more or less clear: He’ll host a party on his yacht, mingle with countless business associates and check in on his soccer team. What he doesn’t know yet is that the following day he’ll have a PR crisis on his hands, with the U.S. President making inflammatory remarks toward NFL players, and he’ll join the team in a demonstration during the national anthem. It’ll be an eventful weekend.
But for now, briefly, the city sounds stop, and Khan finds a moment of peace.
Saturday, 10:17 a.m.
28:13 hours until the anthem
After the yoga session, Khan retreats to the Kismet’s gym and spends 30 minutes on the elliptical, 10 in the sauna, and the rest getting ready for the brunch party he’s hosting on his yacht this morning, the third party he’s hosting in three days. Khan emerges from his bedroom looking more put together now. He’s dressed in a black striped shirt and black slacks, his mustache is curled so it’s pointing upward at the ends, and his hair is slicked back.
Khan had just gotten a haircut the previous week; the new look caught the yacht’s work staff by surprise. After he bought the Jaguars’ in 2012, for an estimated $760 million, he’d decided to let his hair grow out. At its longest it went well down his back. It was his own way of rebelling: He had had long hair in college and had cut it to look more professional in the business world. When he bought the Jags, “I said, you know what? I’m at a stage in life where I don’t care,” Khan says. “How many guys at this stage in life have long hair?”
Khan already stood out among his peers. He had just become the first non-white owner in NFL history. He was a Muslim who was born in Pakistan and immigrated to the United States as a teenager to study engineering at the University of Illinois. One of his first jobs in the States was as a dishwasher. He had quite the backstory. The hair only made him stand out more.
His wife, Ann, his college sweetheart, had made him cut it. But he kept his signature mustache. It’s kind of a family tradition; his father and his grandfather both had one. He points out that Pakistani men typically wear mustaches, and maybe this is one way Khan stays connected to his roots, to his family, to his past. He started growing his in 1972, when he was 22, and he hasn’t gone without it since. He’s so protective of it that he grooms it himself. “I couldn’t recognize myself today without a mustache,” Khan says. “That’s the mojo.”
27:57 hours until the anthem
Down on the dock, buses carrying about 175 party guests arrive. As they approach, they stop and gawk at the boat. The first thing they notice is the 13-foot silver Jaguar statue at the helm. The second thing is its sheer size. The Kismet has five decks and is 312 feet long, the length of a football field, making it the 44th largest yacht in the world. Khan paid Lürssen, the German shipbuilding company, about $200 million to build it.
The guests eventually form a line on the dock and enter a white tent, where they check their shoes and are given a pair of white slippers, apparently normal procedure to protect the yacht’s silk carpets. Guests filing on board are greeted by a staffer playing classical music on a piano in the foyer. Other staffers are standing by to give guided tours. They walk people through Khan’s bedroom and point out its features, as if this were a museum.
The Kismet, to be fair, may be nicer than some museums. The boat has three full bars; two hot tubs; a swimming pool; an exercise room; a barbershop; a full spa complete with a sauna, a steam room and massage table; two helipads; an 18-person dining room table; a sundeck; a band stage; and a four-story elevator. If the mood should strike, the mast can also be converted into a basketball hoop. The 3-point lines are already drawn on the deck, and the staff can set up netting to prevent an errant jump shot from bouncing into the sea.
Anyone can rent the Kismet, and take it anywhere they want, for $1.2 million a week. “Plus expenses,” notes Olav Hinke, one of boat’s captains. That’ll all cover the ship’s 28-person full-time staff, including three chefs, who are there at your beck and call. Bill Gates took the Kismet to Cabo once.
Khan uses the yacht for pleasure, sure, but he also uses it to host business partners and potential new clients, especially those he wouldn’t normally meet in Jacksonville. On Thursday night he hosted a party on the yacht on behalf of the NFL, a celebration kicking off the league’s slate of London games. There were British dignitaries, business people and celebrities in attendance, and Jamie Callum, an English jazz-pop singer, performed.
Here now, for brunch, Khan is hosting a party for Jacksonville movers and shakers, everyone from team employees to city officials to corporate partners. “Once a year, this is a chance for us to make a make a good impression and show our appreciation to our sponsors,” Khan says. “We have a number of prospects here, too, and they need to see a certain standard. It’s got to be a unique experience. Like, hey, this is how we roll.”
27:16 hours until the anthem
Khan grabs a cup of coffee and circles the room, mingling with his guests. People are helping themselves to the “Mimosa Bar,” the “Blood Mary Bar” and the vast assortment of food options. There’s a smoothie station and a pancake station, with nine topping choices and syrups. Servers come by passing out bowls of smoked salmon mac and cheese, bowls of beef with poached egg, bowls of spiced poached plums and French toast.
Lenny Curry, the mayor of Jacksonville, is in the corner chatting with his wife and holding a Bloody Mary. He’s heard the speculation that Khan may move the Jaguars to London someday, and he’s not worried. “Shad loves Jacksonville,” Curry says. “What he says in public is what he says in private. He brags on the city. He loves the people there. He sees the potential.”
Curry points to how Khan has invested money back into EverBank Field, where the Jaguars play. Over the past five years, Khan has spent $175 million upgrading the stadium, splitting the bill about 50-50 with the city. He renovated the club seats, added lavish features like swimming pools and cabanas, and installed massive new video boards. Next to the stadium, he just added a practice facility and a 5,500-seat amphitheatre modeled after Radio City Music Hall. He plans to host concerts there on Saturday nights before Jaguars games.
Now Khan is thinking bigger. Earlier this year he won a bid to develop 70 acres of land near the old shipyards near downtown Jacksonville, on the St. Johns River, next to EverBank Field. The project is expected to include a high-end hotel and first-class restaurants, office space and retail stores, apartments and condos. Khan wants all the buildings to have “a soul, have character to them,” he says. “You see that in Barcelona, or in Paris.” This is all expected to cost north of $500 million in private funding, and Khan is expected to foot a good chunk of that.
“Shad has said, this is the one great chance that Jacksonville has to change its face,” says Paul Harden, Khan’s Jacksonville-based lawyer, another partygoer. “[Shad] doesn’t do anything small, as you can see by his boat. He seeks out the greatest architects in the world, the greatest land planners in the world. He looks at a piece of property that’s sat there untouched for 50 years and sees a great new city.”
26:43 hours until the anthem
As Khan roams the room chatting with people, so does Mark Lamping, the president of the Jaguars, Khan’s right-hand man. After Khan bought the team, Lamping was one of Khan’s first hires. Lamping had worked as an executive with Anheuser-Busch and the St. Louis Cardinals and overseen the construction of MetLife stadium. Then Khan gave him an unthinkable challenge: turning the Jacksonville Jaguars into an international brand.
That was one of Khan’s first grand ideas. Before the stadium renovations, before the downtown development project, Khan raised his hand in 2012 when the NFL was looking for a team willing to play one game a year in London, on a regular basis. Before the league could decide whether it could move a team across the Atlantic permanently, it needed to see if the London market could throw its support behind one team. It needed a guinea pig.
Khan viewed playing in London as another way to make money, another way to make the Jaguars viable in small-market Jacksonville. The Jaguars say that this one game in London now accounts for about 15 percent of their annual revenue, simply because the game is played at a larger venue, Wembley Stadium, and, unlike Jaguars home games, it typically sells out.
The move also introduced the Jaguars to a new market, a new set of sponsors and fans. To take full advantage, Khan created a Jaguars London bureau and moved three staffers here full-time. He has them handle London-based ad deals and oversee a number of community initiatives, including a flag-football league for middle-schoolers, a nationwide flag-football tournament for young adults and a clinic where Jags coaches teach American football. About once a month Lamping comes to check in on the team’s local interests.
The strategy seems to be working. Lamping says that a portion of the team’s ad dollars now comes from international companies. (Just how much? He won’t say.) The NFL’s UK office says the Jaguars are the eighth-most popular team in London, as measured by jersey sales, as of June 2017. There seems to be a growing pool of British NFL fans to draw from, too: 40,000 people bought ticket packages to attend all four games here this year.
Mark Waller, the NFL’s vice president for international, says the next step in the NFL’s London experiment is expanding to playing eight games a year in London—simulating an NFL regular season—and having one team play in two of those games, in back-to-back weeks. The Jaguars could volunteer to be that team. “We’d listen if it meant further strengthening the franchise in Jacksonville,” Khan says. For now, the Jaguars are only committed to playing one game a year here, for three more years, through the 2020 season.
By then the chatter about moving a team to London could really pick up. The league is targeting 2022 as the year a team could potentially move. The CBA will be expiring in 2021, TV contracts will be coming up for renewal, and the league should have a better understanding about the logistical challenges of having a team based in the U.K. “That would appear to be a logical time where all three things come together,” Waller says.
Is there a remote chance that the Jags move here permanently? “It’s pointless to speculate,” Khan says. “I mean, is there a remote chance that I win the lottery?” He laughs, as if he’s proven his point. It’s left unsaid that he is already worth more than any lottery winner.
Now in the corner of the yacht party a similar question is posed to Lamping. He says everything that the Jaguars do in London—the events, the sponsorships, the initiatives—is to earn money to make the team sustainable in Jacksonville. “Everything we’re doing in London is to make us stronger in Jacksonville,” he says. It sounds like a stock answer.
“You understand, I have to ask the question,” I say.
“And you understand I have to dodge the question,” Lamping says, laughing.
26:04 hours until the anthem
It’s time to leave the Kismet. As the guests start filing out, members of the boat staff pass out gift bags containing Jo Malone’s “Lime, Basil, and Mandarin” wax candles. Everyone retrieves their shoes and walks over to a smaller boat that Khan has chartered to take his guests to the Fulham game that afternoon. Sailing down the Thames sounded better than taking a bus through traffic. As the boat heads west down the river, it passes the Tower of London, the Shard, the London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Palace … It’s as if Khan is giving his party a floating tour of the city.
Khan enjoys coming to London. It’s the financial capital of Europe, so he can set up any number of business meetings. He also enjoys the nightlife, the culture, the food. He’ll make sure to have at least one good Indian meal before leaving town. “London has better Indian and Pakistani restaurants, I would say, than India and Pakistan,” Khan says. “Because the better chefs, their aspiration is to go overseas, and then you’ve got the ingredients. God knows I’ve been to enough Indian and Pakistani restaurants in my life. London and Toronto are the two best.” Of course, Khan owns the Four Seasons hotel in Toronto, too.
15:05 p.m. … 23:25 hours until the anthem
Khan settles into a seat in the Chairman’s Box just after kickoff, with a Fulham scarf around his neck. After volunteering for the Jaguars to play a game in London, Khan went looking for an English soccer team to buy. Pairing the two, he thought, would “create some synergies,” he says. It’d also raise the Jaguars’ London profile further, for sure. But he had to find the right team, a non-divisive team.
“English football is very tribal,” Khan says, “so you don’t want to offend the NFL fans. Like, Hey, I’m not going to support the Jags because it’s associated with Newcastle or West Ham. Clubs that draw a very, very strong emotion.” He chuckles. “Fulham is unique team. Everybody loves Fulham.” That’s true in the States because Fulham has a history of signing prominent American players—Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra, Brian McBride, among others. It’s to the point that some call the club Fulhamerica. “And then there’s their profile,” Khan says. “They have the most educated, highest income English football fans. They’re set in a great neighborhood, right on the Thames.” Khan bought Fulham in 2013 for an estimated $300 million, and installed his son, Tony, as director of football operations in February of this year.
Khan moves to the edge of his seat, his arms crossed, his eyes trained on the action. He’s a ball of nerves through the first half, fidgeting and running his hands through his hair. Fulham is playing Middlesbrough, the club that spent more money than any other in the Championship (the division just below England’s top-level Premier League) during the player transfer window. Middlesbrough is the clear favorite, but Fulham is attacking and applying pressure early on—and missing a great chance to strike.
“OHHHHHHHHH!” Khan yells in unison with the crowd after one errant shot. He throws his head back, hits his face and then buries it in his hands. “C’MON! … Oh Jeez!” After each subsequent miss Khan keeps covering his face and slumping further into his seat.
The halftime whistle comes, and the owner retreats down a corridor to the Chairman’s Lounge, where his family and close associates gather during intermission. Glasses of Champagne are poured and awaiting his arrival, and so is a buffet stocked with lamb rump, paella, and fried mushrooms.
“Ah sh--,” Khan says, half talking to himself as he enters the room. “I thought we played well. Not to have a goal is just…”
“Well, they’re supposed to be really good,” his wife, Ann, says of Middlesbrough, trying to console him.
“Well, we had so many chances. They’re on their back foot. I mean, we should be up two to nothing right now.”
Khan peruses the buffet.
“Ah God, it makes me sick.”
22:12 hours until the anthem
Khan decides to watch the second half with Ann, who prefers to watch on a TV in the lounge. As the game resumes, everyone else clears out of the room except for Alistair Mackintosh, the Fulham CEO. Khan watches most of the half in silence, standing cross-armed, staring at the TV. Mrs. Khan and Mackintosh know it’s probably best to leave him be.
The game is still scoreless in the 70th minute when Fulham sends in Aboubakar Kamara, a promising young forward, to inject some energy into the affair. “Here he comes!” Ann yells. “AK-47!” (Kamara wears the number 47.) Fulham discovered him thanks in part to a statistical model Tony Khan developed to evaluate players. Shad paid six million euros this summer to sign Kamara away from French club Amiens SC. “You see he’s big, he’s got pace, he’s got power,” Mackintosh says. “The [accuracy] is probably the last bit he’s got to work on.”
Kamara’s impact is immediate. Four minutes after coming on, he makes a hard-charging run down the middle, receives a pass just inside the box, and then … air-mails a shot well over the net. “GAH C’MON!” Khan yells. He hits his face again. “OH MY GOD!”
The game is coming down to wire, and Khan starts pacing. Then in the 86th minute, Fulham gets another chance: a ball comes looping into the box, and Kamara outleaps two defenders to head it home. Khan throws his hands up, jumps a bit, and wraps Mackintosh in a bear hug. Then he lets out a tribal yell. Ann is screaming at the top of her lungs.
Watching the replay on TV, Khan checks his watch. “Now, what time is it? What is it, three minutes to go? Now, we can’t have another Norwich experience where we give up an equalizer in the 87th minute.”
“Oh, please,” Mackintosh says.
Khan is more nervous now than ever, pacing and fidgeting, and Middlesbrough is on the attack. “C’mon, guys,” Khan says. “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon. Oh there we go. … C’mon, c’mon.” He’s urging his players on through the TV, when there comes a roar from outside the room. A second later, Khan sees it: a Middlesbrough corner kick has Fulham scrambling, and an awkward bounce sends the ball right to a Middlesbrough players’ foot—and then the back of the net.
Khan is so stunned he doesn’t react at first. “That was … I mean … That is … Aw f--k.” He turns away from the screen and then comes back to watch the replay. “That is the heartbreaker,” he says, punching one hand with the other. Khan grabs the back of the chair in front of him as if he wants to strangle it. “How many times?” he asks, turning toward Mackintosh, who silently shakes his head. Khan folds his arms. “F--K!” he shouts.
Khan is quiet again for the final few minutes, which unfold without any more drama. “Dammit,” he says as the whistle blows. The other guests return to the room, and Khan wanders around, trying to forget the result. He eats a chocolate cupcake and grabs a glass of Champagne. He takes a long sip, and it hits him again. “Aw f--k,” he mutters.
21:01 hours until the anthem
Long after the game ends, some guests are still milling about when Jim Woodcock, Khan’s personal public relations man, approaches him with a question. A national NFL reporter has reached out asking Khan to comment on the statements President Trump made about the NFL at a rally on Friday night in Alabama. Trump had criticized the league for being overprotective of brain injuries and had called for owners to fire players who were kneeling during the national anthem. Khan hadn’t seen the comments in full until just now.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’ You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it. They don't know it. They’ll be the most popular person, for a week. They'll be the most popular person in this country.”
Woodcock wants to know whether Khan wants to issue a statement.
“I mean, we’ve been on the record…” Khan says.
“Where do you stand?” Ann asks, curiously.
“I think people have a right … ” Khan begins. “As a matter of fact, Roger Goodell came out today and stated that players have the right to do what they want to do.”
“Why don’t we just let the Goodell statement stand,” Lamping suggests.
They decide to hold off on making a statement, for now. At least until tomorrow.
20:00 p.m. – 22:00 p.m.
16:30 hours until the anthem
Khan goes to dinner at an Indian restaurant with his family. After, he retires to The Dorchester, a luxury hotel located across the street from Hyde Park in central London, where he’ll spend the night.
15:49 hours until the anthem
Khan is looped into a group message chain with Woodcock and Tom Coughlin, the Jaguars’ executive vice president of football operations. They discuss the possibility that the players respond to Trump’s comments tomorrow in some uniformed fashion. They agree to sleep on it and reconvene in the morning.
Sunday, 11:45 a.m.
02:45 hours until the anthem
Khan climbs into the back of a silver Mercedes van that will chauffeur him to Wembley Stadium for the game. In the car with him are Ann, Woodcock, a business partner and the partner’s wife. (Khan asked that the partner not be identified, to protect the nature of their discussion.) Not long after the car takes off, the business associate leans over to Khan: “A lot of chatter this morning about the President’s comments.”
Back in the States, Trump’s comments about the NFL have dominated the news cycle for the last 36 hours. A few owners have already released statements, but everyone really has their eye on how the players would react to Trump. Because the Jaguars and Ravens are playing in London, their game will be the first on the Sunday schedule, and their players will have the first opportunity to respond.
People will be watching for Khan’s response, too. After the President’s comments, reporters noted that Khan was one of seven NFL owners who contributed $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee. “I supported him in the campaign because I loved his economic policies and I thought, you know, politicians do a lot of stuff to get elected,” Khan says. “The way you govern in this country is by being in the middle. I fully expected him to move to the middle and really provide leadership on immigration, secure the borders. But I was just appalled, right after his inauguration, how things started out, [with him] being more divisive and really being more polarizing on religion and immigration.”
Several times, Khan pleads to Woodcock that he’s “already on the record” about where he stands on Trump. He’s referring to a New York Times story from Super Bowl week in February, in which Khan said he opposed Trump’s travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim countries. He hadn’t been looking to make a statement then; he’d just happened to bump into Times reporter Ken Belson in Houston. “For me it was personal, and what triggered it was really the anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant rant,” Khan says. “There weren’t too many Muslim immigrants at the Super Bowl. Ken Belson asked me and I told him, because I think I have a … that’s how I feel. You get a moment. Now, if I wasn’t a team owner and I was just an average guy on the street, I wouldn’t have had that opportunity. But once you get it, you have to do the right thing.”
02:23 hours until the anthem
Woodcock leans over and gives Khan an update. He’s just received a message from a Jaguars PR staffer at the stadium: “Calais Campbell is rounding up the team in 10 minutes. I think they’re planning something.” Khan nods. “If our players are getting together, developing exactly what they want to do, we’ll find out what it is and support them,” he says.
What the players could decide to do could be a variety of things, though. They could kneel, they could link arms, or they could boycott the anthem altogether, remaining in the locker room. Colin Kaepernick had become a lightning rod among NFL fans specifically for kneeling during the anthem. Kaepernick started kneeling last season, as a way to draw attention to racial injustice in the United States, and a large faction of people, including the President, had come to think that Kaepernick was disrespecting the flag or the military. Some believe that Kaepernick is out of a job now because the league and the owners are blackballing him for him kneeling.
Khan had been the rare owner who’d already come out and said he’d support signing Kaepernick. He repeated the same thing in the ride to the stadium. “I’d have no issue at all,” Khan says. “I think: God bless him.” Then why haven’t the Jaguars’ signed him? Khan says he’s left it up to his football people, namely Coughlin. He says, “There’s not much more to say, other than, we look at it: does it help us or doesn’t help us? They do the research and they say, Hey, the system that we have, the offensive system, the players that we have, we’re better off with them than we would be with adding a Kaepernick, for example. It’s that simple.”
If one of the Jaguars decided to kneel today, Khan says he’ll be all for it. “I think the essence of American is the freedom to express yourself. I think if somebody does that by kneeling, God bless them. It’s not something that I would do. But that’d be a personal choice. There shouldn’t be any way to punish, ostracize or in any way make them feel bad.”
As the van pulls up to Wembley, Woodcock, the PR man, is talking Khan through the scenarios, if some of the Jaguars did decide to kneel. “You know what? They’re going to do whatever they want to do,” Woodcock says. “You can’t stop ’em. But to what degree somebody can say, just understand, you’re going to be part of a different conversation if you do that, by the act of kneeling versus if you locked arms.”
Khan pauses and thinks for a moment. “We’ll go there and meet with the team,” he says.
01:47 hours until the anthem
The car arrives at Wembley and Khan is immediately ushered to the locker room, where the Jaguars’ powers-that-be are set to have a meeting in coach Doug Marrone’s office. In the room are Khan; his son Tony; Coughlin; Marrone; Dave Caldwell, the general manager; and Woodcock. Also in the room, representing the players, are the Jaguars’ five captains: Telvin Smith, Paul Posluszny, Marcedes Lewis, Brandon Linder and Arrelious Benn.
The group speaks in private for about 40 minutes. For most of the time, Khan stays quiet and listens to the others. The players have just wrapped up their own players-only meeting, as organized by Calais Campbell, a 10-year veteran who’s well respected in the locker room. They had opened the floor for discussion and found that there was a wide array of opinions on what people wanted to do during the anthem. Some players wanted to stand, some wanted to kneel and some wanted to sit. Some felt passionate about the issue and others felt torn. They ultimately decided they wanted to do something as a team, something to show that they supported one another and their right to free speech. “Whatever we did, we wanted to show that we were together with the guys that wanted to kneel,” Smith would later say.
The players suggested that everyone on the sideline during the anthem line up, side by side, with their arms interlocked, as a sign of unity, next to the players who would be kneeling. Khan was all-in. Recalls Smith: “It was sigh of relief when the owner comes in and says: ‘We’re with you. Whatever you want to do, let’s do it.’ ”
01:03 hours until the anthem
Khan is standing on the field near the endzone, waiting to do an interview with Sky Sports, when he spots Steve Bisciotti, the owner of the Ravens. Bisciotti breaks into a big smile walks over, grabbing at an invisible ponytail on the back of his head. He’s surprised by Khan’s haircut. “It was a crime, Steve! It was a crime,” Khan says chuckling, as they embrace.
“Did you lose a bet or something?” Bisciotti asks, grabbing the back of Khan’s head.
They chat for about five minutes, Bisciotti mostly quizzing Khan about the Jags’ experience in London. This is the Ravens’ first game here, and he’s curious. This sort of thing happens all the time. Among the other owners, Khan is the London expert. “A lot of the owners thought we were crazy [when we volunteered to play in London], but now this is something very popular,” Khan says in a radio interview with talkSPORT, the local radio station that broadcasts the Jaguars’ games. “Especially visiting teams, a lot of the owners come up to me and say, ‘Hey, who are you going to play next year? We’d love to come.’ ”
00:05 hours until the anthem
Khan is standing on the sideline, shifting his weight on his feet and making small talk with Woodcock, when the Jaguars finally take the field. “LET’S GO JAG-UARS! LET’S GO JAG-UARS!” the crowd chants, an ocean away from Jacksonville. The captains walk out for the coin toss, and when they return, without any announcement required, the entire team—coaches, players, support staff—line up shoulder to shoulder on the sideline.
Khan quietly makes his move and inserts himself in the chain at the 49-yard line, in between two of the captains, Telvin Smith and Marcedes Lewis. Smith stands a bit more upright when he feels Khan next to him. Khan has his left arm wrapped around Smith’s arm so tightly that his hand was clenched against his chest in a fist. He stiffens his posture, too, as cameras move in to capture the image: the NFL’s first non-white owner standing arm-in-arm with two African-American players in a demonstration in response to the President’s remarks.
After the anthem ends and after the rendition of “God Save the Queen,” Khan pulls Smith in for a hug and whispers in his ear: I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life.
Up in the owner’s suite, Khan is still buzzing from the anthem demonstration, pacing back and forth as he watches the game. People are already lauding him on social media for joining the demonstration. Soon, Goodell will reach out with a message: “That was very powerful. Thanks for your leadership.” Later, Khan will pose for a picture with two young boys and link arms with them as he had down on the field. “Like this!” Khan says, smiling.
The mood in the suite is festive, because the Jaguars are playing their best all-around game since Khan bought the team. Quarterback Blake Bortles throws four touchdowns. The defense sacks Joe Flacco twice and picks him off twice. The Jaguars dominate from start to finish and roll to an easy 44-7 win, their largest margin of victory since 2007.
Khan keeps an eye on the action, pumps his fist and yells with every touchdown, but as the Jaguars’ lead grows, he chats more with his guests. In the second half, Khan has a long conversation with David Cordish, the real estate developer who’s done work developing sport complexes in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and St. Louis.
This is how Khan is during Jaguars’ home games, too—ever the host. There’s always someone new to meet, a new deal to discuss, another photo to take as the owner with the cool mustache. The Jaguars have had five consecutive losing seasons under Khan, and many people still think he is the most interesting thing about the team. “Shad really looks forward to the day when the performance of the Jaguars on the field allows him just to become a footnote,” Lamping says. “He’s not uncomfortable in how important of a role he plays, but sometimes he might get a little uncomfortable with why he’s getting all the attention. And we talk about this. It’s like, Shad, if we had a better football team, you wouldn’t have to.”
Midway through the fourth quarter, with the Jaguars up 44-0, a staffer wheels out a bucket of ice holding three bottles of Champagne. Laurent-Perrier “Alexandra” Grande Cuvée Rosé, 2004 vintage. Each bottle can cost upward of $200. A staffer begins pouring glasses, and Khan passes them out. Everyone gathers in a circle, and Ann Khan gives the toast:
“To the future! … To the Jags!”
In the corner of the room, Paul Harden, Khan’s Jacksonville lawyer, takes a sip of bubbly and surveys the room, the Champagne flowing, everyone celebrating. “I remember Shad saying one time, ‘This is how we do it when we’re 2-14—can you imagine if we start winning?’ ”
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