Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Faux Flashback: How to Go to a New Jersey Devils Game at the Meadowlands

Tomorrow night, the New Jersey Devils will begin their 35th season, their 10th at the Prudential Center in Newark.

Previously, they played at an arena at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

The following reflects the facts, as best as I can recall and/or determine them, as of the final season at the Meadowlands: 2006-07 -- the season before I started this blog.


Before You Go. East Rutherford's weather is practically identical to New York's. However, I should warn you that the Meadowlands Sports Complex is just off the Hackensack River, which is very wide, and when the winter wind comes blasting in off it, it can make the walk into and out of the arena very cold. That shouldn't be a problem in October, but, later in the season, it will be. So check your local weather before you go, and dress accordingly.

Of course, crossing the Hudson, Hackensack and Passaic Rivers does not mean you cross a time zone. You can leave your watch, your phone, whatever else you have that tells time, alone.

Tickets. The hockey capacity of the Arena is 19,040 seats. The fact that it looks so much like "1940" was totally unplanned. The Devils have, sometimes comically, had trouble filling the place. The average attendance in the 2005-06 season was 14,230 -- under 75 percent of capacity.

Seats in the lower bowl, the 100 sections, are $65 between the goals and $32 behind them. Seats in the upper tier, the 200 sections, are $52 between the goals and just $20 behind them. Expect those prices to go way up in the new arena. (UPDATE: They sure did.)

Getting There. Despite the fact that the Meadowlands Sports Complex is just 8 miles from Times Square, if you're in the City, getting to there by public transportation has never been easy. The only way to do it is to get to the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 41st Street & 8th Avenue (A, C or E train to 42nd Street), and then take the New Jersey Transit 320 bus in. Theoretically, you can get from bus station to stadium gate in 20 minutes. Round-trip fare is $8.00.
If you were hoping to take New Jersey Transit rail there, forget it. There's a plan in place to have a rail spur built by the time the new football stadium opens in 2010, but that doesn't help the Devils. This is a big reason why the new arena is being built in downtown Newark, just 3 blocks from that city's version of Penn Station.

If you're driving in from New York City, take the Lincoln Tunnel, which will empty out onto New Jersey Route 3, which will take you directly to the Sports Complex. From pretty much anywhere in New Jersey, take any road that will get you to the New Jersey Turnpike, and then get off at Exit 16W.

Once In the City. New Jersey is named for Jersey, one of the United Kingdom's Channel Islands, birthplace of Sir George Carteret, who in 1664 was granted the part of the former New Netherland across the Hudson River from what became New York. He gave the Colony of New Jersey freedom of religion. (The Borough of Carteret is named for him, the City of Elizabeth for his wife.) While the name was written as Caesarea in Latin, it is apparently not named for Julius Caesar: "Jers" comes from a word meaning "earl," and the -ey suffix denotes an Island, as with the other of the large Channel Islands, Guernsey.

East Rutherford, formerly named Boiling Springs, in Bergen County, is named for adjoining Rutherford, which was named for John Rutherfurd (note the different spelling), who represented New Jersey in the U.S. Senate in the 1790s, and later created New York City's famed 1811 street grid plan. East Rutherford is home to only 8,716 people (Giants Stadium can singlehandedly increase that tenfold), but pretty much the only famous person actually from the town is sportscaster Dick Vitale. (Noted Jets fan Edwin "Fireman Ed" Anzalone lives there, but is actually from Queens.)

New Jersey's State sales tax is 6 percent. (UPDATE: Now 7.) The major newspapers in North Jersey include The Star-Ledger (based in Newark), the Jersey Journal (Hudson County), The Record (Bergen County), the completely separate Daily Record (Morris County), and The Herald News (Passaic County). In addition, Central Jersey has the Home News Tribune (Middlesex County), the Asbury Park Press (Monmouth and Ocean Counties), the Courier-News (Somerset County), and The Times and The Trentonian (Mercer County).

Going In. The Arena opened on July 2, 1981, with a Springsteen concert. Like the rest of the Meadowlands Sports Complex, it is owned and operated by the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority. It was named the Brendan Byrne Arena, for the Governor who got it built (and successor of William T. Cahill, who got the rest of the Complex built).

In 1996, when the naming rights ran out, the Republican-controlled legislature, rather than renew the name for the former Governor (who served from 1974 to 1982), took revenue on him for instituting the State's 1st income tax, and sold naming rights to the highest bidder, which turned out to be Newark Airport-based Continental Airlines. Byrne wasn't bugged about it, saying, "I was immortal for 15 years." And no Devils fan will ever forget that the 1st Cup was won at a building with Byrne's name on it. He is still alive, at the age of 82. (UPDATE: Still alive, and active, at 92.)
Brendan Byrne, the Governor who couldn't be bought

The New Jersey Nets moved in shortly after it opened, and stayed until 2010, when they spent 2 years in the Prudential Center before moving to Brooklyn in 2012. The Devils arrived in 1982, and stayed until 2007 when the Prudential Center opened. Capacity for basketball is 20,089; for hockey, 19,040.
The Arena under its original name.

The official address is 50 State Route 120. If you drive in, parking is $5.00. If you take the NJT 320 bus in, it will drop you off at the northeast gate of the arena.

Unfortunately, this is one of those arenas, so common in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, that has 1 level of concourse for 2 levels of seats. It doesn't work when the attendance gets over 12,000 (and, as bad as Devils' and Nets' attendance is, it is usually over that).
The rink is aligned north-to-south. The Devils attack twice toward the north end, the end with the Stanley Cup and retired number banners. The press box is on the east side, so the Devils logo at center ice is seen right-side-up from the east stands. The south end is the stage end when the building hosts concerts. (UPDATE: All of these facts held true after the move to the Prudential Center.)
The arena is also the main home of the basketball team at Seton Hall University in nearby South Orange, and has hosted boxing. As I said, it opened with a Springsteen run, 6 shows. He also sold it out for 10 nights in 1984, 11 in 1992 and 15 in 1999. The Rolling Stones played here in 1981, Queen in 1982, The Grateful Dead 16 times from 1983 to 1989, Frank Sinatra in 1986, Michael Jackson in 1988, and Simon & Garfunkel, with the Everly Brothers, opening in 2003. Two nights before the 1992 Presidential election, Bill Clinton hosted a rally here.
Bill Clinton at the Meadowlands Arena, November 1, 1992.

The arena saw the Devils clinch the Stanley Cup on home ice on June 24, 1995, and again on June 9, 2003. (They also clinched the Cup away to Dallas on June 10, 2000.) It has hosted many NCAA Basketball Tournament games, including the 1996 NCAA Final Four, won by Kentucky over Syracuse.

Food. It's all over the place, but it's not particularly interesting. There are no cutesy names for stands based on local flavor or local sports legends. And between periods, the lines can get really long.

There are Carvel ice cream carts, serving in cones or cups designed to look like little black Devils hockey helmets, but that's as far as it goes with specialty stands. Hopefully, the move to Newark will be a wakeup call. (UPDATE: It was.)

Team History Displays. The Devils' banners are at the north end, the Nets' banners at the sound end. The Devils put both entire years on them, not "2003" or even "2002-03." They're flanked by their sub-Cup banners: 1988 Patrick Division Playoff Champions; 1995, 2000, 2001 and 2003 Eastern Conference Champions; and 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2003 and 2004 Atlantic Division Champions. (UPDATE: They have since won, and added banners for, the Division titles of 2007, 2008 and 2010; and the Conference title of 2012.)

The north end also has their 2 retired numbers so far, both for defensemen: 3, Ken Danyeko, 1983-2003; and 4, Scott Stevens, 1991-2004 (although it's listed as 1991 to 2005). The Devils do not yet have a team Hall of Fame, nor have they announced a 25th Anniversary All-Time Team, nor did they do so for their 10th, 15th or 20th Anniversary. (UPDATE: They have since retired Number 27, defenseman Scott Niedermayer, 1991-2004; and 30, goaltender Martin Brodeur, 1992-2014, although it's listed as 1990 to 2014).
Scott Stevens Night, February 3, 2006

The south end also has banners for the other team that calls The Rock home, the basketball edition of the Seton Hall Pirates. One is for their 1989 NCAA Final Four berth. Another is for the Pirates' 1953 NIT win. Others mark their 1991 Big East Tournament title, their 1992 Big East regular-season crown, and taking both in 1993. Another banner shows their 8 retired numbers: 3, Frank "Pep" Saul, guard, Class of 1949; 5, Walter Dukes, center, '53; 8, Bobby Wanzer, guard, '46; 11, Bob Davies, forward, '42; 12, Richie Regan, guard, '55; 24, Terry Dehere, guard, '93; 34, Glenn Mosley, forward, '77; and 44, Nick Werkman, forward, '64.

Saul, Wanzer and Davies were teammates on the 1951 NBA Champion Rochester Royals, the franchise now known as the Sacramento Kings, who also retired 11 for Davies. Regan played for the Royals later, and later still coached the Pirates. Saul also played on the Minneapolis Lakers titlists of 1952, '53 and '54. Dukes played for the Harlem Globetrotters, and in the 1955-56 season for the Knicks.

In 1998, The Hockey News celebrated its 50th Anniversary by naming its selections for the 100 Greatest Hockey Players. Since Brodeur was still active, they didn't choose players whose best years were outside North America and thus excluded Russian Hall-of-Famer Viacheslav Fetisov, and, for whatever reason, they didn't choose Stevens, either, the only former Devil they selected was Stastny.

Mark Johnson, Neal Broten and Jack O'Callahan of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team went on to play for the Devils. So did Bill Baker and Steve Janaszak when the team was still the Colorado Rockies. Broten and Ken Morrow were the only members of that team to go on to win a Stanley Cup: Morrow did so immediately, becoming a part of the Islander dynasty; Broten, whose brothers Aaron and Paul also played for the Devils (Aaron was the last original 1982-83 Devil still with the team, in 1989), took 15 years to do it, but scored 2 goals, including the game-winner, in Game 4 of the 1995 Finals to clinch the Devils' 1st Cup.

Stuff. There are several souvenir stands throughout the Arena, but there is no main team store. This is planned on being rectified in the new arena. The stands do sell a lot of devil-themed merchandise, including plastic horns, plastic pitchforks, and devil masks, looking a lot more like interpretations of the Devil than the mythical Jersey Devil for which the team was named, or like N.J. Devil, the somewhat mischievous creature used as a representation of the team and as its mascot.

If you're looking for team videos, you're out of luck. The 3 Stanley Cup wins are available in highlight packages, but the titles aren't all that imaginative: Heaven: The New Jersey Devils' 1994-95 Champion Season; Second Heaven: New Jersey Devils 2000 Stanley Cup Champions; and New Jersey Devils Stanley Cup 2002-2003 Champions. There was no official team history video to commemorate their 10th, 20th, 25th or 30th Anniversary (1992, 2002, 2007 and 2012).

Despite having now played for a quarter of a century, the Devils don't have very many books written about them. Probably the best is Martin Brodeur's memoir Brodeur: Beyond the Crease.

During the Game. Devils fans hate the New York Rangers and their fans. (Can you blame them?) And the Philadelphia Flyers and their fans. (Ditto?) And since a lot more Devils fans are Yankee Fans than Met fans, they also tend to hate the Boston Bruins and their fans. But we are not Ranger, Flyer or Bruin fans. And while New Jersey has a rough reputation, not helped by Mob stories, both real and imagined, you do not need to fear for your safety, inside the Arena or out on the streets: It's not in a bad neighborhood, or any neighborhood, and the East Rutherford Police are very thorough.

When the Devils are introduced, a natural song is played: "Hell's Bells" by AC/DC. (But no one has suggested renaming the Turnpike "the Highway to Hell.") The National Anthem is (or, if a Canadian team is the opponent, the National Anthems are) usually sung by Arlette Roxborgh, who uses only her first name professionally. She's been the Devils' anthem singer since 1999. (In other words, she predates the 2nd and 3rd Cups, if not the 1st, and she did sing at the Meadowlands.) She's from the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad, but has lived in Brooklyn and Staten Island as an adult.

With the arena in Newark, and staffed by people living nearby, it's not so strange to see black people at a Devils game. She wears a Devils jersey when she sings, with the name ARLETTE and the Number 1, which has rarely worn by a Devils goalie since the arrival of Brodeur, although Keith Kinkaid wears it now.
It was another black female singer, Irvington native Queen Latifah, who was the 1st person, other than a Devils player, to wear a Devils jersey on television, on her sitcom Living Single. On the back, she wore the Number 1, and the name was the name of the magazine her character, Khadijah James, owned and published: FLAVOR.

The mascot is N.J. Devil, a guy in a foam costume, with a stereotypical thin mustache and a goatee, but also a big, un-fanged smile, as if that makes "the Devil" look more kid-friendly.
You devil, you.

Indeed, the team name doesn't make sense: Aside from offending people of faith by making them think of Satan, the legend of the Jersey Devil comes from the Pine Barrens of South Jersey. That's Flyer territory.

Like many other hockey teams, the Devils' goal song is "Rock and Roll Part II" (a.k.a. "The Hey Song") by Gary Glitter. (UPDATE: Since his convictions on what would once have been quaintly called "morals charges," they've dropped it.) Devils fans point at the goalie who let the goal in, and yell, "Hey -- you suck!"

Like Islander fans before us, Devils fans will start a whistle, and punctuate it with the entire crowd (except for those rooting for the visiting team -- and, depending on the team, sometimes even them, as the Rangers are not admired around the NHL) yelling, "Rangers suck!" What we add to the old Islander chant is a reminder that "suck" used to mean not, "They are very bad," but, "They perform perverted sex acts," is, "Flyers swallow!" A lot of people bring children to the games, and I don't want to have to be the one to explain that chant.

This chant will usually start from the east side balcony, from Section 228, home of the 228 Crazies. They used to be the 228 Crazies at the Meadowlands. They're rowdy, but they're not that crazy -- unless you're a Ranger or Flyer fan who wants to start something. (UPDATE: With the move, they bought seats in Section 232 at the Prudential Center, and they're now the 232 Crazies.
After the Game. As I said, the police have a significant presence outside. Your walk back to your car, or to the bus stop, will be completely safe. If anyone does try to hassle you, a cop to complain to will not be far away. The 320 buses will leave for Port Authority for up to an hour after the game.

If you're driving, with easy access to Route 3, that's probably your best bet for a postgame meal, as there are plenty of chain restaurants. It's a typically tacky and commercial Jersey highway. Probably the most famous eatery/drinkery connected to New Jersey sports is Manny's Cocktail Lounge, a.k.a. "Manny's of Moonachie" (that's pronounced Moo-NAH-key), made famous as a watering hole by fans of the 1980s Giants. 110 Moonachie Aveue. (UPDATE: It has long since gone out of business. Its location has been replaced by a Cuban-themed restaurant and banquet hall, La Havana 59.)


With no pro teams still calling it home starting in 2010, the Izod Center (that name took hold in 2007 after the Devils left) mainly hosted concerts, circuses, and various family-friendly shows like Sesame Street Live, until this past January 15, when the NJSEA shut it down. The current plan is to demolish the Devils' 1st home in 2018.

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