On NFL Sundays, there’s always the trite talk about football teams “going to battle” or “going to war.”
Suzanne Johnson, the wife of Jets owner Woody Johnson, is spearheading a critical project that makes what makes the Jets’ drama seem utterly trivial by comparison.
Johnson, who grew up in a Ukrainian neighborhood in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village after her father, Stefan Ircha, emigrated to the United States at age 21 following World War II from Ternopil, a town outside of Kyiv, is the brains, heart and soul behind a $1 million relief effort by the Jets to aid the Ukrainian people amid the senseless war taking place there.
“My father came to this country after World War II at 21 with like $5 in his pocket and not speaking English,” Suzanne Johnson told The Post. “He came to this country for opportunity after the war. He went through Red Cross, then to a local Ukrainian church that aided him in getting an apartment and brought him into the community.
“He met my mother [Marie] at a Ukrainian dance, got married and had their family. When I grew up, I grew up in a very solid Ukrainian community. I don’t think I had an American friend who wasn’t Ukrainian until I went to high school. Ukrainian was a big part of my life because it was all I knew.”
Now, with Russia having invaded her home country, all Suzanne Johnson wants to do is help. So, with the blessing of Woody, that’s what she and the Jets are doing, recently rolling out a $1 million relief effort that’s being broken up into 10 parts so that supplies are most efficiently delivered to their destinations.
The first $100,000 was send to Plast Scouting, which is using the funds to purchase critical medical supplies to treat wounded Ukrainians, along with medical technology such as portable, wireless ultrasound equipment.
The second $100,000 went to Razom, which provides humanitarian war relief and recovery on the ground and also is focused on purchasing medical supplies for critical situations like blood loss and other tactical medicine items.
The 10 different organizations are being vetted by Johnson through her ties to the Ukrainian community so that the materials don’t get slowed by red tape.
“Right now, medical supplies and armor are needed,” she said. “They need night-vision goggles, bulletproof vests. This is dire. People are dying every day. They need the supplies now. This is not a rebuilding phase. This is dire straits.”
There’s been a lot to be excited about with the Jets’ recent NFL draft, which appears to have produced fresh talent that has potential to lead to significant improvement on the field.
There’s a lot to be proud of what Suzanne Johnson is doing for the people of Ukraine. She has not forgotten where she came from and is not oblivious to how fortunate she is to be in a position to help.
Johnson is a 9/11 survivor who was working in 2 World Trade and was late for work on that fateful morning after tending to clients. She was on the phone with her boss, who was in the office when the second plane hit.
“I always feel that God saved me there; I got a pass,” she said. “Then I met my husband and I’m living this wonderful life. I’m very aware of my blessing and I share my blessings whenever I can.”
Suzanne met Woody in 2004 when her best friend who lived in her apartment building bumped into her in the hallway one Saturday and asked, “What are you doing tomorrow? Do you want to come to a football game?”
Her friend was friends with the Johnson family and that football game was a Jets game.
“The most fortunate I feel is that my husband has always embraced my background and always embraced my family, he’s always embraced my community,” Suzanne Johnson said.
Many times, you hear of a sports franchise donating money for worthy causes. For Suzanne Johnson, this is unique because it’s personal. This is in her blood.
“I bleed for these beautiful young men that are fighting this war,” she said. “I pray a lot. I pray there’s a resolution.’’
All of this places a powerful perspective on the stresses of NFL Sundays, particularly for the Johnsons’ Jets, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2010.
“Ours is nonsensical stress in football, it’s make-believe stress,” Suzanne Johnson said. “People not having clothes on their back, having been displaced from their homes, having no school … these are stresses that affect people for a very long time.”