When I Became A Fan:
The biggest question a sports fan gets asked is why are you a fan of your favorite team. Or at least this should be. Sports fans usually have favorite teams in all the major professional sports and college, and for some there is European Soccer. But who is your favorite team? The team that if they were in the Playoffs your life stops? The team who every time this is the slightest alteration in a hat or jersey, you are at your favorite sporting goods store to buy it. That is what we are asking and telling you, our favorite teams and the answers may surprise you.
Being the elder statesman of the Whats Brewin team, membership does have its privileges. Honestly, that is really not the case. What it does do is give me the luxury of going back a little further in time. Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, in the tri-state area, there was either the New York Islanders or the New York Rangers. The Islanders were in the midst of their glory days (winning four straight Stanley Cups). The Rangers were a team full of tradition, part of the “Original Six”.
Suddenly in October of 1982, this hockey team came from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. They were once the Kansas City Scouts and then the Colorado Rockies. Now there was a team called the New Jersey Devils that would play their games at Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, NJ. For people in New Jersey, it was a dream come true. We finally had a team that was not from New York at last. The Giants, Jets, Nets, and even Cosmos were New York imports but this team was New Jersey’s own.
My first game was an early season game against the hated New York Rangers. It was not hard to develop a rivalry with this team. They did not respect the team and New Jersey fans hated their arena being filled with a vast majority of Ranger fans. It was probably five Ranger fans for every Devil fan back then.
Then came October 8th, 1982. It was the first Devils-Rangers tilt in the Byrne as we called it back then. The arena was colder than most barns. It was almost in the middle of nowhere it seemed. The arena in and around East Rutherford built up dramatically in the last 29 years. Back then, there was a ton more marsh and swamp than there is now. Tickets were dirt cheap. My father got $18 face value tickets 15 rows from center ice for $9. Concession prices were dirt cheap compared to what they are now. Parking was $2 and that was it. Times were simpler then and a new team created its own “honeymoon period”.
Realistically my father and I knew the team was not very good but we had tickets and were going anyway to see what it was all about. I was playing hockey at the time and many of my friends were Islander or Ranger fans. The game was nowhere near a sellout with probably what felt like 1000 Devil fans compared to 10,000 Ranger fans.
The atmosphere was cool at first but gradually it would pick up. There were several different fights including one with Ken Daneyko that caught our eye. Daneyko took a lot of tough shots but ultimately held his own then took down his Ranger combatant.
It was the moment I looked over to my father and told him, “Yes I am a Devils fan!” That is when I really became a fan.
New Jersey would score a third period goal to win the game 3-2 and the feeling of your team winning was fleeting that first few years especially. However, for that one night it felt like heaven. New Jersey would only win 17 games that first year. It would be several years before they even made the playoffs.
But all it took was one night in East Rutherford to start my hockey fandom. That fandom has only grown over the last three decades. Since that night there were three Stanley Cup victories and so many memories. However, there is nothing like your first and to my Dad simply the biggest thank you I could ever give.