Welcome to the refreshed All About the Jersey! It’s a new look, but it’s still the same Devils blog that’s all about the Devils and what’s relevant to the Devils.
To celebrate the new look and feel of our sports communities, we’re sharing stories of how and why we became fans of our favorite teams. If you’d like to share your story, head over to the FanPosts to write your own post. Each FanPost will be entered into a drawing to win a $500 Fanatics gift card; this is the link to the contest rules. We’re collecting all of the stories here and featuring the best ones across our network as well. Come Fan With Us!
In order to do that, though, I think it’s best to state where we are coming from. Why are you a fan of the New Jersey Devils? I’ll start with my story.
I must first admit that one of my earliest memories is seeing a hockey game on SportsChannel. I think it involved the Islanders. OK, it wasn’t that great of a memory. And I thankfully did not become a fan of the team that used to represent suburban Long Island. That would be terrible if that happened. Not the worst possible outcome, but it’d be bad.
My first awareness of the New Jersey Devils beyond just seeing their name in the Sports pages of the Star-Ledger was from a book I received from a friend of the family in the early 1990s. She actually bought two, children-level books about two teams. One was about the Boston Bruins. It was OK. The other was about the New Jersey Devils. That, I read too many times than I care to count. A lot of it just jumped out at me. They were from New Jersey. They wore red. They had - and still do have - a really cool logo. The biggest achievement in the book was their Cinderella playoff run in 1988. It wasn’t just their first playoff appearance; that team went to the Wales Conference (now the Eastern Conference) Finals against Boston. I wish I still had the book so I could look back and see how much was actually explained. I know Jim Schoenfeld was a focal point. I think it referenced the infamous “Have another donut, you fat pig” incident. I know the book treated that run as a wonderful story – because it was. Unfortunately, the “we’ll get them next year!” attitude the book closed that story with didn’t really happen as the team wouldn’t reach the Conference Finals until the mid 1990s. But I didn’t care or really know that then. I just liked the book.
It wasn’t until I was 10 when I really got into the sport itself. A number of different factors came together. Being 10, I was just more aware of things in the world. The Devils were somewhat available on TV. That alone was exciting. Hockey is just a fantastic game. It’s fast, it’s action-packed, it’s exciting even when there’s no score or no “push,” and there’s a lot going on. Television was important; we didn’t go to hockey games then. After becoming such a fan, even then, it was only a once-in-a-while occurrence. So television was how I initially followed the team. What also helped then was that a lot of the kids in my neighborhood was into street hockey – mostly with rollerblades. Whether it was in front of my house, just down the road, somewhere else, or even going as far as dragging nets to the local park and playing on the old tennis courts. I bought in, getting roller blades, gloves, sticks, and so forth. It wasn’t long before I joined a recreational league in north Edison – though that came a little later. And so my days were filled with school, games (NHL 94 became real popular, real fast too), and hockey. I chose the Devils and I really liked my choice. The Devils in 1993-94 were really good, which also helped. Scott Niedermayer was just wonderful to watch. Ditto John MacLean and Stephane Richer. It was even cool to see Jim Dowd – from Brick, New Jersey – do things.
Then there was Scott Stevens. He was my first favorite player, was crushing it in both a metaphorical and literal sense on the ice. He still is one of my favorite Devils. I savored every hit while appreciating - or what I thought was appreciating - how he defended. It led me to want to play defense in rec. roller hockey. It led me to a whole bunch of mental gymnastics to make me believe he was robbed of the Norris Trophy in 1994 and that he’s better than Ray Bourque. His hit on Eric Lindros is to me what the Chuck Bednarik hit on Frank Gifford was to old football/Eagles fans. In other words, the Greatest Hit of All Time. He was the best example of a captain I can think of, leading by his actions than spitting verbals to the media like some overrated chump named Mark. When the Devils retired his number, I paid any amount of money I could to get a ticket and drive myself - for the first time ever, I used to hate driving alone - to a Devils game because I realized I couldn’t miss that moment. And I’m glad I didn’t.
Going back to when I was 10, 11 years old, there was this goaltender starting out who eventually took the job of Chris Terreri that turned out to be arguably the most successful player in team history: Martin Brodeur. I still am amazed that my first season in following the Devils and caring about what they did started at about the same time as Brodeur’s career. I got to see him sparkle in net, not really understand what a butterfly goalie was and how Brodeur was different, and win the Rookie of the Year trophy. I thought he’d be a very good goalie. That would be an understatement; I had no idea of what was to come. (And he’d supplant Stevens as my favorite player in time.)
Say what you want about bandwagons and so forth, but in retrospect, this was a team on the rise. That made it easy for a 10-11 year old kid like me to really fall in love with the team.
Unfortunately, the same logic applies for other teams and in that same neighborhood in Edison, a lot of the kids became Ranger fans. OK, a few were from or have family ties to New York City. Regardless, I got to hear a lot about the Rangers and how much better they were and how much the Devils suck and how much better Mike Richter will always be compared to Brodeur (nope) and how much better Brian Leetch was than Scott Stevens (eh…nah) and how great Mark Messier was and how great Adam Graves was and that real fans appreciate guys like Jeff Beukeboom and so on and so forth. The snottiness, teasing, and bragging got a lot worse during and after the playoffs. It was not a happy time for me or my fandom. How it ended was very upsetting. Those who remember 1994 and how that season ended know it was a kind of hell for the Devils fans.
But that whole season started a desire to want to see that New Jersey team succeed. To have a team in my state, where I’m from, where I live (and still live), succeed at something. To have a young Brodeur add a Stanley Cup to his Calder Trophy. To have Scott Stevens - my favorite player - lead a team to glory. That was what I wanted. That and shutting up the Ranger fans. (This time also developed a deep loathing of the Rangers).
Fortunately for a young me and the Devils fans in the world, I didn’t have to wait long to get what I wanted. The Devils rose out of that hell. By the following year, the Devils reached heaven through sweeping Detroit in 1995.
They did it again in 2000 in Dallas with what I think was the greatest goal in team history and the greatest goal I ever seen that won a Stanley Cup.
And again in 2003 by knocking off the Mighty
Gigueres Ducks of Anaheim.
Three times in nine years; something that rival team has yet to do since 1994. I certainly didn’t hear a whole lot from Ranger fans in those years - and not even today despite an excessive number of specials on MSG celebrating The One True Year of Hockey. While the Devils were surging, I just grew more and more interested. Learning what I could about the players, the stats, the coaches, the management, the greatness of Lou Lamoriello - who still deserves a statue at Championship Plaza, and so forth. My partisanship grew in the face of larger complaints about the Devils from others regarding how they played the game. If the Devils were killing hockey, then I’d smile amid their domination. Those years of greatness are in the past now, but the love I developed then remains. Even after all of the knowledge, all of the years, all of the times, all of the games, and all of the life in between. Even to this day, even with the understanding of tanking and so forth, I still get excited when the Devils are holding onto a one-goal lead late in the game or beating on a rival. And, of course, I love to write too many words all about them.
It all started in that 1993-94 season. The decision that they were my favorite team, wanting to see their success that - in retrospect - they were on the cusp of, and the feeling that their winning made me happy. That’s why I became a fan of the New Jersey Devils. And I am a fan for life.
That’s my story. Why are you a fan of the New Jersey Devils? Come Fan With Us - and please let us know in the comments. Thank you for reading.