Shad Khan committed to big things for Jags in London

When Jaguars owner Shad Khan was a child growing up in Lahore, Pakistan, he would often pore over a map of London's Underground subway system given to him by relatives and imagine what the intricate web of pipes, dots and tubes looked like in person.

Though he was more than 5,000 miles east of the United Kingdom, Khan felt the draw of London's vibrant culture, economy and traditions. Khan has pride for Pakistan, but London was always a North Star of sorts -- a place he needed to be.

"The sun never set on the British empire in Pakistan," Khan said in an interview with this week.

He finally made the trip as a teenager in 1967, stopping over on his way to America and staying with family members who had been ingrained in the city's daily life since the early 1920s. It was like dropping the illustrated version that had become so detailed in his brain and seeing a vivid photograph for the first time.

"Ever since I was a baby ... it was almost ... this was the place they were always talking about. Getting over there was like finally putting all of the sights, smells and sounds to a lot of the stories we'd heard about," he said. "I almost felt like I knew London before the first time I went there."

He thought about this after purchasing the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011. The NFL was feverishly looking to grow its fan base overseas, but there was, according to Khan, little momentum or motivation for an established owner to also become the face of American football in London by playing regular home games there. It would take away a home game from season-ticket holders. It could irk more traditional fan bases. He understood, but was also not ashamed when "nobody was raising their hand" to jump on board.

In 2012, the Jaguars agreed to a deal to play one home game per year in London for four years, beginning in 2013. Now, as he walks the streets, the dream has come full circle. He is recognized. He is prodded for information about Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles and his offense.

"People will stop me on the street and they know -- Jaguars. It's a certain street recognition we didn't have years ago."

He added: "It's fun. We're getting advice from fans as to what we should be doing, which is wonderful. They care. I think it's just one more metric on the dashboard that says we're moving the needle."

He is also excited for the next step, which begins in London on Sunday against the Bills in the first game to ever be streamed by the NFL live for free on Yahoo. It was an expansion of a plan that, according to Khan, has made the Jaguars' home page one of the most popular among NFL teams, with a majority of the traffic coming from overseas.

The Jaguars' current London deal ends in 2016. When asked recently to give a specific portrait of the future, he was coy, but confident. (Khan, through a spokesman, declined to answer a question about playing multiple home games in London each year, though he did say in September that he'd like the Jaguars to play an annual home game in London for "a long time.")

"I think, I don't want to scoop anything here," he said last week about his search for a long-term agreement with the NFL and London. "But let me say: Stay tuned until (sic) Thursday."

This is Khan's fourth complete season as owner, and in that time, his team has won a total of 10 games. When he took the reins, Khan had the unenviable task of selecting the right coaches and executives to turn around a club with a brittle foundation and no inherited franchise quarterback.

He arrives in London with the Jaguars at 1-5 and in last place in the AFC South. But he feels like his fortunes are changing.

His club has done all the right things. The Jaguars have wholeheartedly embraced analytics. They hired a fiery defensive-minded coach -- Gus Bradley -- who toiled under Jon Gruden and Pete Carroll and a general manager -- Dave Caldwell -- who stemmed from the pristine Bill Polian tree. They selected Bortles with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft; he currently ranks sixth in total yardage (1,630) and fifth in touchdown passes (13). In terms of cumulative play, a strong argument could be made for Bortles being one of the top 12 quarterbacks through the first quarter of this season.

But with an expanding fan base comes heightened expectations. Jacksonville edged the Miami Dolphins in Week 2, but the Jags were walloped by the Patriots in Week 3. They took the Matt Hasselbeck-led Colts to overtime but lost in Week 4, then fell in consecutive games against the Buccaneers (2-3) and Texans (2-4). In London, just like in Jacksonville, Khan is not immune to questions about the next phase of his rebuilding process.

"You know, it's basically -- you have to give Blake Bortles some more time, and what are you doing to make him the next Tom Brady?" he said. "Some of those are pretty well thought out. Others are a little more superficial."

When asked specifically about his level of patience with both Bortles and Bradley, Khan said he is taking a long-term approach. If nothing else, he sounds determined to let Caldwell and Bradley have an appropriate amount of time to shape the team in their image.

"I think if you look at metrics, Blake is a second-year quarterback and I think he's doing much better, quite frankly. I think there is a lot of work to do, and Gus and Dave Caldwell have done a lot of heavy lifting. We're to the stage now where we'll be seeing some of the results.

"I'm very, very optimistic and believe in what they are doing. It's frustrating and maddening at times, but if you know football, regrettably it's the right thing to do."

Today, Khan, who also owns Fulham FC, is a pro when it comes to navigating London.

When he brings American friends or business associates, he is often in the posh and exclusive Mayfair area. When he brings his children, there are other attractions to see.

"When I'm alone, it's East London," Khan said. "I don't know if you know London well, but it's really hardscrabble East London. Very much reminds me of the London I knew 50 years ago. Also, a lot of the Pakistani restaurants, the hardcore ones, are over there."

He is, at age 65, indoctrinated in a global perspective that few owners in his NFL business have. In his early years, it was forged from Pakistan with a longing eye toward London and America. In his formative business years as an enterprising motor parts manufacturer in Illinois, it was further shaped while looking to Japan -- the only country that would entertain his revolutionary ideas for customized car parts.

Now he is trying to turn around a uniquely American business -- the Jaguars -- with an eye to London again.

His story parallels that of the Jaguars to the point where having London, the second center of his universe, as another home was almost an inevitability.

"I really believe in fate or destiny, and I believe the Jacksonville Jaguars were my destiny," Khan said. "I believe, when it's all said and done, it couldn't have worked out better for me ... man, oh man, this was just perfect."

*Wake up and watch with the world. The NFL is live on Yahoo. For the first time ever, the NFL is streaming a live game on Yahoo. Bills vs. Jaguars live from London, Sunday, October 25th 9:30 a.m. ET. *

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