The day was April 12, 2019, and the time was 9:30 a.m. As I sat at work earning enough money to buy those oh so coveted 200 level seats at the Prudential Center next season to see Jack Hughes, a man named Dan was up to something very different.
You see, Dan is a New York Islanders fan, and while most of us were off at our 9 to 5’s or sleeping in, Dan was already in the parking lot of Nassau Coliseum pre-gaming for the New York Islanders playoff game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Let me reiterate that: he was tailgating at 9:30 a.m. Puck drop wasn’t until about ten hours later.
The early morning sun and drive time commute of
The more I think about Dan, the more jealous I get: both because his team actually made the playoffs and because the Devils lack that same tailgating atmosphere. When’s the last time we showed up to Prudential Center early to just hang around, drink a few brews in our black and red jerseys for a few hours with our friends bonded in Jersey hockey brotherhood before making our way to arena doors?
It’s been a while, almost like an eternity ago, because the Prudential Center lacks the tailgate atmosphere that the Meadowlands had. In fact, when Devils fans and Rangers fans would argue about whose arena was better, being able to tailgate was a main drawing point (well, that and actually winning multiple cup championships at home, but who’s counting?) You can’t tailgate at an arena build on top of a train station, can you?
Truth of the matter is that Prudential Center in itself is a much better arena than the Meadowlands (it will always be Continental Airlines Arena in my heart) ever was, but the tailgating fan experience was one area where the old stomping grounds will have the upper hand.
The reasons why The Rock lacks the tailgating atmosphere we all love and miss is because of its location in Newark. Not only is Newark not known for being the friendliest city in America, to say the least, although numerous attempts are being made to being to revitalize the area. But also the parking and mass transit situation. Newark is a major metropolitan area, and anyone who has been there
While mass transit also played a large part in getting fans to the old arena, the barren wasteland that is the New Jersey Meadowlands also allowed for vast parking lots to be built as far as the eye can see. These magnificent fields of asphalt allowed for row after row of cars to set up barbecues and coolers of beer for the ultimate pregame to the best sport on Earth. Nothing felt better than tailgating during the playoffs in warm weather while wearing that beautiful matching combo of shorts and a Brodeur jersey.
Even to this day tailgating is still a huge part of the Meadowlands. The greatest tailgate I ever went to was at a Bruce Springsteen concert a few summers back when he played MetLife Stadium. Although I loved every second of the free-flowing beer and burgers while “Born to Run” played in the background, I couldn’t help but want to walk through the long-shuttered doors of what is now the Izod Center one more time to see Daneyko, Stevens, and Brodeur hit the ice one last time.
In the constant pissing battle that is the Devils and Rangers rivalry, one of my friends brought up THE FACT THAT “At least if the Rangers ever win, they get their victory parade through the canyon of heroes and not some parking lot in Jersey” as if that’s an insult. Please, those parking lot parades were great. Where else could you reach out and touch the actual cup as Scott Stevens drove by in a top-down convertible? Where else can you toss a beer to Claude Lemieux as he drove by with the Conn Smythe Trophy shotgun? Simply put, those “parking lot parades” allowed the fans to celebrate with the players themselves. But go ahead Rangers fans, think you’re better because you have your player drive through NYC traffic every 54 years.
Time to give credit where credit is due, the Devils have tried to at least make up for the lack of tailgate-ability with the numerous fan fests they plan in Championship Plaza. Problem is, very few fans ever go to them, even last season during the hype of the playoffs. Even though the effort is appreciated, there are more things keeping fans away from the fan fests than drawing them in. If you’re coming straight from work to watch a game, chances are you’re cutting it close enough to the starting time already and just want to make sure you’re in your seat before puck drop, let alone have time to go to the party outside.
The other part is that half the fun of tailgating is planning it yourselves: your car, your grill, your beer, and your friends and family. It’s your own personal celebration of your team, and any good tailgater always invites a few extras they run into. When it becomes a team-run activity instead of a fan-run activity, it loses a bit of its lure.
Unfortunately, the tailgating problem can’t be fixed for us Devils fans. With individual and privately owned lots cracking down on tailgating, it’s getting even harder than it once was. But next time I go to Prudential Center, and I see a small group huddled in the corner of some lot off Lafayette Street with a small George Foreman Grill and a 12 pack of Coors, I’ll appreciate the effort.
Just make sure you save a beer for me.