The World According to Keitho

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One night in East Rutherford

Posted by keithosaunders on January 23, 2011

The date:  January 22nd, 1987.

The location: East Rutherford, New Jersey

The weather:  Blizzard

My friend and occasional guest blogger, Jeff, had tickets to the new Jersey Devils game versus the Calgary Flames.  It was a midweek night game and the plan, as per usual, was to meet him in Washington Heights at 5PM.  Jeff lives in the Bronx and at that time worked in Manhattan, while I was living in Brooklyn.  Rather than go back to the Bronx, which was out-of-the-way, Jeff had parked uptown very close to the entrance to the George Washington bridge. 

By the time five o’clock rolled around there was already a foot of snow on the ground and it was still coming down hard.  Jeff and I were young and fearless and we weren’t going to let a little weather stand in the way of  seeing the Devils and Flames bang and smash each other into submission.

Jeff had snagged the all-time classic blizzard parking spot.  He was at the end of the street facing downhill so he didn’t have to dig out of his spot — all he had to do was ease into traffic, make a right turn and we were on the bridge crossing the state line.  Once we hit the Jersey Turnpike the traffic came to a dead halt.  It was practically white out conditions and it was rush hour to boot. 

We inched along wondering if we would miss the start of the game.  We arrived at Byrne Arena an hour and a half later —  a half hour after the scheduled start —  but we soon discovered that the game was being delayed since many of the players were stuck in the same traffic!

When we entered the arena we found that we had it practically all to ourselves.  There were only 334 people who showed up!  An announcement was made inviting us to sit anywhere we pleased so we moved up to the front row behind the Flames penalty box.  The anthems were dispensed with due to the late start and the banging and smashing commenced.

I’ll never forget the strange feeling of being inside of a 20,000 seat arena with so few people inside of it.  It was like being at a practice.  The sound of the players being checked into the boards reverberated throughout the building like thunder and we could hear the players shouting at each other. 

At one point  the Flames designated goon, Nick Fotiu, received a five-minute major penalty.  As the PA announcer said, “five minutes,” Jeff waved the Daily News at him and asked him if he’d like to read the paper while he’s in there.  He actually turned around and threw a menacing glared our way.  It was scary so we moved up a few rows and kept a lower profile.

On the way home the snow had stopped after depositing two feet and the temperature had dropped into the teens.  There were abandoned cars that had spun into snow banks all over the Turnpike.  When we reached my house in Brooklyn the lock on my front door had frozen so Jeff climbed in through one of the unlocked windows and was able to open the door from the inside.

While we were at the game someone from the Devils P.R. office had circulated a sign in sheet asking us to fill out our address.  Two weeks later we received Devils t-shirts in the mail that said, “The 334 Club”  I wore mine for years until it disintegrated —  I believe Jeff still has his.  Four years ago. on the 20th anniversary of the blizzard, the Devils honored the 334 fans who attended that infamous game by giving us free tickets and inviting us to a post game banquet.  Jeff and I attended that game. 

Here I am 24 years later in Berkeley, California, where it was 67 degrees today.  It’s hard to believe that I attended a game in a blizzard at a time when the Devils were perennial cellar dwellers.  I’m glad I did.

2 Responses to “One night in East Rutherford”

  1. bkivey said

    What a great story! And a nice gesture on the part of the Devils’ front office. That’s a more exclusive club than those who have summitted Everest or flown in space.

    • Thanks Blair. One more thing about that night which I have just edited into the post: When Fotiu received a five minute major my friend held up his Daily News and cried out “Hey Nick, do you want to read ther paper while you’re in there?” That’s he turned around and glared at us. As Paul Harvey would say, now you know…the rest of the story.

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