THE TEAM PLAYER
Jon Bon Jovi, 41
Rock Star/ Owner of Philadelphia Soul, The New Arena Football Team
Jon Bon Jovi Sits In An Ornately decorated room atop the Ritz-Carlton. Dressed in dark jeans and a black V-neck sweater that clings to his still-trim frame, he is wooing potential sponsors for his Philadelphia Soul Arena Football League team, along with co-owner and local developer Craig Spencer and team president Ron Jaworski, the former Eagles star. Over the past few months, as the Soul ownership group blitzed the city in search of support, Jon was there at every step, waxing passionate about sports and why he's fallen for the AFL, which he pitches multiple times in a single meeting as “electric fooball”. He came up with the team name and fought for it over his partner's objections. He can recite the AFL's emergency quarterback rule. In fact, he's done so much research on the league- "due diligence," as he likes to call it- it's almost easy to forget this is the guy who's sold just shy of 100 million records.
On this day, a trio from Lankenau Hospital hopes to become the Soul's health-care provider. As they promote their "special events," including a grandparents' day, the man who sings "Your love is like bad medicine, bad medicine is what I need, whoa-oh-oh" takes notes. Jon also listens intently as a Harlcy-Davidson franchise CEO wonders if the Soul's mascot, which has yet to be designed, will be physically able to ride a motorcycle.
"That might be something you want to consider," he says, as Jon, with his left hand pensively wrapped around his chin, nods. "And the team colors are blue and gray?"
Jon reaches into his worn leather messenger bag to produce a mounted illustration of the jerseys.
"It's baby blue”, Jon says. "Pantone 299." The Harley guy stares back blankly while Jon's reference to the printer code for the color roars right past him.
Jaworski, for one, is impressed. When this all started, Jaws doubted whether this feather-haired former Ally McBeal flame was serious enough to make it work. After all, the ex-QB tried to bring an AFL team here twice before and failed. Craig Spencer shared the same concerns. He'd worked with Will Smith on a real estate deal chat collapsed when the former Fresh Prince made it clear that Spencer's Arden Group would deal with his associates, not Smith himself. Jon, though, shows up for every meeting, every pitch, sans entourage.
He learned how to handle his business the hard way. In 1991, after firing longtime manager and friend Doc McGhee, he knew that if he would ever survive the business- the work- of being Bon Jovi the rock god, he'd need to become Jon the businessman, the manager, the promoter. "When Doc and I split, I took control of [the band], and they have faith in me on a whole different level," he says. "I know what I do, and I know how to do it." Jaworski swears his new buddy, his new boss, is the real deal.
"He is deeply committed," he confides after Jon and Spencer take off for a private meeting with Jeffrey Lurie and Joe Banner of the Eagles. "There are thousands of guys who would throw their money at it. There's no one who would put the energy, the effort, that Jon's put into this. No one."
YOUNG JON B0NGI0VI WANTED TO BE AN athlete, not a singer. Though he ended his playing career as a Pop Warner linebacker in Sayreville, New Jersey, his son, eight-year-old Jesse James, is picking up where Jon left off—though in this case, Daddy can take Jesse's whole Pee-Wee team to meet the Giants. Countless Sundays spent watching the G-Men with his dad cemented Jon's devotion to the team, so much so that old losses still sting. At the Soul's pep rally in October, when told the disgraced Giant whose mistake led to the Eagles' 1978 "Miracle at the Meadowlands” victory was in the house, all five-foot-eight of Jon said, “Bring him to me. I want a piece of him." Jon could probably arrange a meeting with the guy, now that he watches games from the sidelines and pals around with quarterbacks. But he remembers what it felt like as a kid, standing in an endless shopping-mall line to get an autograph from one of his heroes, Willie Mays. He pleaded for a second signature for his little brother, who was laid up in the hospital. Please, Jon begged the slugger. The Say Hey Kid said no.
“I never forgot it, y'know," says Jon from an office chair at the Soul's Market Street headquarters. "That's why I don't want anyone like that on this team. I want great athletes, but I won't compromise what we stand for."
The 18-year-old AFL offers a different brand of football than Birds fans are accustomed to- indoors, on a 50-yard field, the same players on both offense and defense, and an emphasis on scoring. Music blares from kickoff to the final whistle, and with fans sitting literally on the sidelines with no protective glass like in hockey, any routine pass play can end up a Lambeau Leap. There's a "Fans' Bill of Rights," which promises that players will be role models and fans will have access to the team and coaches at every game. It's also cheap as dirt: A season ticket for all eight home games is as little as $80, less than a lower level seat for a single Flyers face-off. That fan- friendly atmosphere, along with the fact that NFL franchises are hard to come by- and expensive, no matter how many platinum records hang on your wall- caught Jon's interest. And as much as he wants all this to be about football, he knows that without "Bon Jovi, the arena rock franchise," there would never have been an estimated 1,000 people at a pep rally on the steps of the Spectrum on a workday, along with the Mayor, the Governor and Heather Locklear. Sports radio would laugh at spending 10 minutes, much less three consecutive days, plugging an alien version of the game that's earned its following in this town through decades of blood, sweat and boos.
Jon understands the power his celebrity holds, the infectious energy he radiates, and that deep down, every guy wonders what it feels like to hold a microphone- and with it, the carnal passions of bra-hurling women and the admiration of their boyfriends- in one's hands. So when the league introduced Jon to Craig Spencer, the "getting to know you" phase of their relationship began on Jon's private jet, en route to a show in Los Angeles, and lasted four more days on the road. Jon says he rolled out his "dog and pony show” again to convince their head coach, AFL championship winner Mike Trigg, to join them. Their general manager, team president Jaworski and the league commissioner all sipped from the rock-'n'-roll chalice, and to a man, they were wowed.
Whether even an almighty rock triumvirate of Jon, Bruce and Mick combined could make the AFL succeed here is debatable, but if this city will ever embrace a fifth team to complement the Big Four, the Soul is it. It helps that the AFL season starts a week after the Super Bowl, a potential off-season fix for the guys who paint their faces green and count calendars until mini-camps. That NBC may carry up to nine Soul games, with the rest likely to air on Comcast, also helps. And just to be sure, season ticket-holders in the sweetest seats ($960 and up per package) will meet the team before the season starts- at a private Bon Jovi concert. Before then, Jon and the Soul will stay busy, prepping for tryouts and the league's expansion draft. The band is never far away, either; just this afternoon, Jon took a final listen to "The Last Man Standing," a track off an album on its way this month.
Heading out of his new digs on Market, Jon stops to take in the surroundings, which are staffed with only a handful of people and rows of unoccupied desks.
“I like our offices," he says, genuinely pleased. “Our offices are really cool."
JON'S ALMOST TWO HOURS LATE FOR A photo shoot, the last obligation before he can point his driver toward Rumson, New Jersey, where his pregnant wife, Dorothea, and three kids wait for his return home. He powers down the window, sitting back far enough to hide his face from view. Watching as he pulls on a Marlboro light would make the surgeon general himself take up the habit- the health risks fade, blotted out by the overwhelming cool of a man who, by his own admission, has seen a million faces and rocked each and every last one of them. Lost in thought, he gazes out at City Hall. It's the same look that's in the video for his road weary lament, "Wanted: Dead or Alive," when a black-and-white Bon Jovi stares out the tour bus window, haunted by thoughts of the long journey ahead. Perhaps it's in moments like these that he considers, for the first time since he was playing Jersey Shore bars for $100 a night split between 10 guys: Failure is a distinct possibility.
At the photo studio near Independence Mall, Jon Bon Jovi becomes exactly what you imagined he'd be, with no sign of Jon the Businessman anymore. He doesn't need the photographer to tell him he looks "gorgeous." She does anyway. He may have a few more creases and a little less upper register to his voice these days, but he's still Bon Jovi. He needs no direction, slipping deftly from the Pucker to the Full Smile, in which he flashes that set of unnaturally square, white teeth. The Half Smile follows, then the Grin. Instinctively, he knows to close his eyes when the photographer's flashbulbs explode to test the lighting. He even pulls off the Pucker while tossing an AFL football to himself, holding eye contact with the spinning pigskin. Once, he drops the ball.
“I own the team," he says. "I can't play for it."