Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: Just outside Des Moines, IA
The NFL's "Agent of Chaos"
by Adam West, Sports Illustrated
Down a disturbingly dark and purple hallway, deep in the bowels of Joker Field in Altoona, Iowa, a security guard apologized for the flickering lights overhead.
"It's all kind of creepy," he admitted, referring to the buzzing and popping of the lights that feel more like an abandoned subway tunnel than a brand new NFL stadium. "The bulbs actually work fine. So do the circuits. But Ledger keeps the electricity on some kind of interrupter. He actually likes it this way."
The guard was referring, of course, to the reclusive and mysterious owner and general manager of the NFL's Des Moines Dragons, the "Clown Prince of Social Media" himself, Jack Ledger. The owner who bought the Lions and moved them to Des Moines, only to stock the team with players exclusively from Iowa, has been a virtual recluse since the controversial move. No media interviews. No podium talks. Many of the players have never even met him.
His eccentric ways have even spawned a meme that runs on his own social media network, a tagline question, "Who IS the Joker?"
For the first time since the Dragons came to life, I was about to find out. Granted the first, exclusive, one-on-one interview with the mastermind who lives not in a press box, but in the basement. Not in the spotlight, but down a hall with flickering lights.
The security guard keyed a code into a metal door painted neon green, in sharp contrast to the purple. The door unlocked with a clang. Then the guard merely nodded me through and left me at the end of the hallway, either to go in … or not.
Upon entering, it was clear I was in no ordinary NFL GM's office. No mahogany desk. No crystal decanter of scotch on a side table. No trophies on the wall or autographed footballs.
Only a plain, metal desk in the center of a room filled with televisions and computer monitors. And sitting behind the desk, his fingers steepled before him and his unusually wide grin, sat Ledger.
"Come in," he said. "Sit."
I tried to make small talk. To break the ice. Start with pleasantries.
He would have none of it.
"You came here to ask questions," he said, cutting me off. "So ask. Question number one? What's behind door number one?"
I looked over my notebook filled with bullet points and potential questions. In the stark light of the office, lit only by the radiating light of the screens all around me, many of my planned questions suddenly seemed so quaint. Trivial. Even chummy. And with Ledger's disquieting grin almost leering back at me, the Dragon king seemed more interested in making chum out of me than being a chum.
I decided to cut to the heart of it while I still had time.
"How long do you intend to maintain your commitment to Iowa-only players?"
His answer was brief: "I'm a man of my word."
"But what's the bigger plan? Surely you can't hope to win Super Bowls that way."
"Do I really look like a guy with a plan?" he asked, skeptically. "You know what I am? I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it! You know, I just ... DO things."
It was not the answer I had expected. For the rest of my all-too-brief 20 minutes in the belly of the Dragon beast, none of the answers I got matched my expectations.
I tried pressing the issue of his larger goals: "You're Iowa-only strategy has been incredibly effective at building a fan base. The Dragons are selling out nearly every game now."
"It's not about money," he replied, cutting straight to the heart of my implied question. "It’s about sending a message."
“Nobody panics when things go 'according to plan,' even if the plan is horrifying!" he said. "No, my philosophy is to introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos."
"So you're purposely antagonizing the NFL with your unorthodox ways? Won't football fans eventually feel … I don't know …"
"No, you don't know, do you?" he asked. "You think I'll be the villain, the bad guy. But I assure you, Mr. West, I'm not a monster. I'm just ahead of the curve."
"So you're an innovator?" I asked.
His response still chills me as I write this. I can't honestly say I know what he meant by it.
"I'm an agent of chaos.”
Part of me wanted to believe the Clown Prince was putting on a show for my benefit. Like I had stumbled into a Halloween performance or perhaps down the rabbit hole. But Ledger seemed so … sincere. He also seemed … dare I say it?
How else do you describe an interview so utterly surreal? What kind of billionaire works from an isolation chamber that looks more like a surveillance room in an inner city police precinct than an office? Who purposefully flickers the lights in the hallway on the way to his inner sanctum?
I wanted to understand him more. He wanted to speak in vagaries. I wanted to understand his plan. He insisted he had none. I wanted to know where the Dragons are going. He led me down paths until I got lost.
I'm sorry, dear reader, that I can't give you a more comprehensive picture of the man behind the Dragons. I'm sorry that the interview didn't answer many of your questions, for it didn't answer hardly any of mine.
I can only conclude that of among all the obscure and disjointed things Jack Ledger told me that day, before I tucked tail and power walked back up that creepy, flickering purple hallway into blessed daylight once more, he did say one thing that couldn't have been more clear and couldn't have been more true:
“They laugh at me because I'm different," Ledger said. "I laugh at them because they're all the same.”
Winner of 6 FOFC Scribe Awards, including 3 Gold Scribes
Founder of the ZFL, 2004 Golden Scribe Dynasty of the Year
Now bringing The Des Moines Dragons back to life, and the joke's on YOU, NFL!
I came to the Crossroad. I took it. And that has made all the difference.