I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was a Saturday night. June 24th, 1995.
I probably can’t squeeze my, uhhhh, much more muscular upper body into my Faith No More “King For A Day…Fool For A Lifetime” t-shirt anymore, but it still seems like it was just yesterday. I was 20 years old. Still a year away from my first taste of alcohol. Legally. But I still remember it like it was yesterday.
I’m talking, of course, about the night that the New Jersey Devils won their first of three Stanley Cups.
I did not attend the game…as a paying customer. You see, my friend Chris and I had months before bought our tickets to go to a collectibles show to obtain some autographs. I don’t remember who we were there to get. I have dozens and dozens of pieces of autographed memorabilia, and I just can’t recall. It doesn’t matter though, because this isn’t what I’m writing about.
I just called Chris. He thinks Steve Young was there. But he’s not sure. Neither am I. So we move on.
We didn’t know, months before, that this particular Saturday would happen to be the night the Devils, playing in the franchises first Stanley Cup final, would be going for the Cup-clinching win. It was, after all, only Game 4. And they were playing the heavily favored Detroit Red Wings.
Game 1 was the previous Saturday. I remember watching the game and hearing the Red Wings fans chant “Who cares?” after each Devils starter was announced. They were sitting there in Joe Lewis Arena just waiting for these games to be over with so they could raise their Cup. They were much better then this other team wearing white and red. I also remember Claude Lemieux scoring a few minutes into the third period, giving the Devils a 2-1 lead, the same score they would win Game 1 by. All of a sudden, the Red Wings and their fans cared a little.
Game 2 couldn’t come quick enough. It was Tuesday night. The first period didn’t bring much, and the second period was tied at 1 when….
It was a hit you could feel at home through your TV. And you knew what that meant. You knew the whole team was going to pick up their game. It was a series changing hit. You knew the Devils were going to win this one. And they did. Jim Dowd scored the game-winning goal in the third period, and Stephan Richer added another to give the Devils a 4-2 win, and a 2-0 series lead coming back to New Jersey.
Now, it may have been a little different for me than some of you who attended Game 3 on that Thursday night. I was at the arena 4 hours before the puck dropped. But I wasn’t there to tailgate. I was there to work. I worked at Brendan Byrne/Meadowlands/Continental Arena from the age of 16 until my mid-20’s. (Please note: When I say I wasn’t there to tailgate, it doesn’t mean I didn’t have a few drinks before the game). Speaking of having a few drinks, don’t mind if I do….
I’ve really got to get this place cleaned up…so I can fit more empty beer cases.
Anywho, where was I. Yes, Game 3. I walked into “work” and you could feel the excitement in the air. You could also smell it in the air. At least I think that was the smell of excitement. hard to tell in Jersey. I just know that all of us at work that day didn’t really work much. I was one of the lucky few who could actually pretend to work, while in reality we were finding good spots to watch the game. Not just any game. Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals. And this game was no contest. The Devils jumped out to a 5-0 lead before the Red Wings could score two late goals, but the damage was done. The Devils dominated the game. They won 5-2, and lead the series three games to none. All of I sudden, I started thinking about the poor Red Wings fans back home. All the energy they had spent chanting “Who Cares?” before game one. And then I laughed. And then I drank.
So there we were. Saturday, June 24th, 1995. We now knew that there was a strong possibility that the Devils could win the Stanley Cup that day. But we had other plans already. Plans that we really would prefer to not avoid considering we paid good money for whoever it was we were going to see at the show. Good money. Maybe there was more then one guy we were there to see. A strong possibility. Which meant more money. No refunds, no exchanges. But I don’t need to explain myself to you. Not 14 years later. So off we went to the collectibles show. Which meant we were not working at the BB/M/C Arena that day. Which meant we would miss the potential Stanley Cup clinching game for the Devils. Our Devils.
I think I forgot to mention that we got away with a lot back in those days at the Meadowlands. Things like getting completely hammered while on the clock. And passing out behind the scenes. Oh yeah, we were getting hammered on their beer. And liquor.
Which reminds me…
Ahhhh….refreshing, yet somewhat awful. But oh so good.
Now….without further commercial interruption, the conclusion of my story.
So we left the show and made a few phone calls. Actually, we made one phone call. I will not reveal our accomplice in this to protect the guilty. However, she agreed to help us gain entry into the building via sources other then any main entrances.
And there we were. Game 4. Stanley Cup Finals. I know we didn’t get there before the game started, but we were there well before it ended. We knew the game was tied 2-2 in the first, and we arrived sometime in the second period. I think we just missed Neal Broten’s second goal of the game in the second. Which meant we watched the third period from any spot we could find. I have no idea where we were in the building. I just remember watching. Watching Sergei Brylin score at right around the seven minute mark.
Watching Shawn Chambers score with about eight minutes left in the game. I started to get those butterflies. My New Jersey Devils were just minutes away from the Stanley Cup. The greatest trophy in all of sports. I have no idea what happened those last few minutes. All I know is they seemed to take forever. Mike Peluso knew it. Everyone knew it. The “Hey, Hey, Hey, Goodbye” chant was going strong. It was well deserved.
Then…”Last minute of play in the period. One minute”. Another eternity passed.
And then….3….2….1…”The championship to New Jersey! The Devils win the Stanley Cup!”. Those words spoken by the great Mike Emrick.
I remember jumping. I remember my hands hitting the ceiling. I’m sure it was the entrance way to one of the seating sections, but I could swear it was the top of the building. I don’t know how, but there must have been 100,000 people in that arena all of a sudden. The noise was amazing. I remember wondering where a certain Mr Gretzky was at that exact moment. I didn’t really care. But I knew he wasn’t there. He wasn’t on the ice with this “Mickey Mouse Organization”. I remember tearing up. I might have even had to wipe away a stray tear. So what?
I think I hugged some strangers. It’s what happens when you are a die-hard. It’s what happens when you spend every home game cheering on your team from inside the arena you work in. Every road game sitting in front of a TV or traveling hours just to see your team play on the road for 60 minutes.
It’s the best feeling in the world! It’s what being a fan is all about. I’ll drink to that!
Everybody gets one!
Those next few hours were a blur after the game ended. I remember thinking way back to game one. Those wonderful Detroit fans. How they must feel right now. And I remember thinking “Who cares!”
I have no idea how long we partied that night, but I remember the sun was stinging my eyes on the way home.
Of course, Devils fans have had the pleasure of two other Stanley Cup celebrations after 1995. But I remember that Saturday, June 24th in 1995 the clearest. I remember it like it was yesterday. You always remember your first.