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FanFirst Fridays: Origins Edition

We all have a story about how we came to love the New Jersey Devils. The following is mine.

Picking a team as a young kid can lead you down some wild paths. Even a lucky enough one to meet Mr. Devil himself, Ken Daneyko.

Last week, I did my annual trek to Newark, New Jersey. The current center of the hockey universe. My son and I met a ton of great Devils fans, got showered by beer during the controversial Maple Leafs game and made a lot of memories I’m sure we will be talking about all year.

But we were constantly asked similar questions from people all week, in one form or another. Whether it was at a bar, on a podcast or at the game itself. And that question was: Which handle is Damon Severson’s burner twitter account? Vintage idiot. Classic.

No the real question people wanted to know was, “How did two people from California become hardcore New Jersey Devils fans?”

To be fair, I’ve been asked this question all my life. And the answer is somewhat simple. Uniforms. That’s how impactful the threads a team chooses to wear can make on someone. So when people talk about Reverse Retro choices, third alternates and dismiss them as unimportant, I kind of laugh because that was my gateway drug to this addiction.

My two favorite colors have always been red and green. Possibly because I was born in the month of December and just love the holiday season? I’m not really sure, but I grew up in Massachusetts and didn’t really become a massive hockey fan until I was 11 or so. Before that, I’d played mostly football. But I discovered hockey when my Dad was given free tickets to a Bruins-Whalers game on a random Saturday afternoon. I first fell in love with the Whale and their beautiful green jerseys and how dazzling they looked on the ice. But I didn’t fully commit to a team. I went to the Hartford Civic Center a few times to see the Whale and hear Brass Bonanza in person. It was a scene.

But later on, my brother and I went to another Bruins game. This time against the woefully inept New Jersey Devils. I think it was 1986 or 1987. Don’t remember the year, but it would change the course of my sports fandom forever. The team from the Garden State wasn’t good on the ice and the Bruins globetrotted the Christmas-colored Devils that night. If memory serves me correctly (which it may not, that might’ve been a game I saw on TV), Reed Larson scored from center ice on a missile that eluded Alain Chevrier. It was embarrassing and should’ve been the least likely game to EVER convert a new fan to a team. The Garden was joyous and loud and overwhelming. Yet, I was a strong-willed kid who never just followed others. I always sought to carve my own path and chose my team that night because of how amazing they looked on the ice, not how they performed. Those uniforms were gorgeous and the logo itself was one of the best in professional sports. I still think it is (the San Jose Sharks is probably my favorite).

I think my Dad, a diehard Bruins fan, and my four brothers, also mostly diehard Bruins fans except my youngest brother, thought I was gonna be a fashion designer or something given my fascination with uniforms and logos. They were constantly puzzled by my choice. They razzed me incessantly about it. They teased me like only people from Massachusetts can (if you know, you know). But I would not relinquish my choice. The New Jersey Devils, from a state I’d never been to, would become my all-time favorite team (I would later fall in love with the Oakland Athletics in baseball because of their green uniforms). I used to curl up in a corner of my house in northeast Massachusetts and use the antenna on a radio to try and catch radio broadcasts of the Devils. It would often be static, fade in and out, but I would lay there on the floor just imagining myself at Brendan Byrne Arena someday, cheering the team on in person.

I eventually moved to California in 1991 after my Dad had passed away at 47 years old of a heart attack. My Mom was devastated and wanted to be near her sister in Glendora, California. Remaining a Devils fan became a little more challenging, though I paid my Mom to have a ginormous satellite dish attached to her house. Remember what those used to look like?

It remained on my Mom’s home long after I moved out and she didn’t let me forget how obtrusive it was. Though my brothers could still get their Bruins and I would have my Devils. It created peace during that traumatic time period.

Fast forward to when my wife and I first got married, we wound up in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, of all places. My wife’s first job was reporting for the Allentown Morning Call. It was a mere hour and a half from what became Continental Airlines Arena. I went to multiple games there, forcing my wife to attend with me and wear the Devils black and red right along with me. I worked at Men’s Health Magazine doing publicity for the magazine (I got current Fox News personality Greg Gutfeld on many, MANY morning shows) and my boss at the time even went to a game with me. Being at the CAA was truly a dream come true.

And still, all these decades later, a little kid who fell in love with some uniforms and decided he would remain loyal to the team until his time on this spinning rock ends, has passed along this fandom to his kids. His kids, who don’t need to crouch in a corner of room and play with an antenna for two and a half hours, to follow a team. They just grab their phones wherever they are and open an app. As much as technology has served to harm us with our serotonin-sought addictions, it really has revolutionized sports fandom for the better.

That’s why these moments in Newark mean so much to me. I will turn 51 in about a week and a half and I’ve been a fan for about 35 of the years that the New Jersey Devils have existed. I’ve been through so many life events in that time. Marriage, anniversaries, children, tragedy, a pandemic. It’s just this has become a constant for me.

Maybe your story is much different than mine? Maybe you grew up a 15-minute train ride from Newark Penn Station and became a Devils fan that way? I’ve always loved hearing how people became fans of teams. And most importantly how you, the People Who Matter, joined on the Devils bandwagon?