“Hey, what are you doing?! Watch where you’re driving, man! Don’t mess with the Devils, buddy. We’re number one, we beat anybody! We’re the Devils! The Devils!! Hssss!!!” — David Puddy, Seinfeld
They say — whoever “they” are — that if you build a winner they will come. It’s an oft-repeated mantra in sports and I suppose, without facts to back me up, this is true. If ghosts were able to show up in Kevin Costner’s backyard it is somewhat reasonable to accept the notion that if a franchise presents a winner fans will show up to support them.
Very few sports cities support their teams through thick and thin. If your town is one of those who do, pat yourself on the shoulder. That’s one way to measure whether a city is a sports town or not.
Some sports markets defy all logic. Enter the New Jersey Devils. Once lampooned as a “Mickey Mouse” franchise by Wayne Gretzky in 1984 after the Edmonton Oilers spanked the Devils 13-4, the Devils organization under the stewardship of Lou Lamoriello -– who hired Rick Pitino to coach Providence basketball — has been one of the most successful pro teams in North American sports.
But where art thou, O Jersey fans? The recent announced attendance against the Montreal Canadiens was 7,500. Now that’s just not right for a perennial contending team. It’s not as bad as the 330 or so people who showed up in 1987 after a snowstorm, but still, it’s pretty saucy for a team that has won three Stanley Cups and reached the finals four times since 1995. Not to mention compiling an impressive regular season .620 winning percentage in the process. The Devils have come a long way since those dark, dismal Disney days.
And don’t think for one minute this is luck. Sound management has been the bedrock of the Devils franchise. By focusing on U.S. born players and players from the collegiate ranks, Lamoriello borrowed a page from the old Montreal Canadiens’ playbook that once looked to French Canada for inspiration and talent.
Boring hockey? Perhaps. But just like the Patriots, they get the results. And these positive results must have Rangers fan teeming red with anger.
Hey, did you know that the franchise name “Devils” derives from the legend known as the Jersey Devil who said to have roamed the state since the 18th century?
Hmm. Maybe he’s not a myth after all. Something has to be keeping the fans away.