Brendan Byrne Arena/Continental Airlines Arena/IZOD Center

From their inaugural season in New Jersey, after relocating from Denver, Colorado before the 1982-83 NHL season, the newly rechristened New Jersey Devils called the Brendan Byrne Arena home for 24 seasons.

But the Devils weren’t the only New Jersey professional sports team to call the arena home. In fact, the arena was originally built to be a home for the relocating New York Nets, who had previously played their home games at the Nassau Coliseum. And though the arena was built to be a basketball arena, the intentions of building the arena was also to lure an NHL team to New Jersey. By the time the arena was built, the Nets had already moved out to New Jersey and were playing their home games in New Brunswick at the Rutgers University Athletic Center for a couple years. So when the arena was completed in 1981, it had an immediate tenant.

The Devils moved to New Jersey to start the 1982 season to join the Nets as tenants, where each team would play 41 games a season in the new arena each year. I can remember going to the arena as a kid with my dad, who used to get tickets from his work. Apparently, Huffman Koos used to have a pair of seats up in section 234 (Center ice!), a few rows behind where the Devils’ television broadcast team would call the games from. Back in those days, the games were broadcast by SportsChannel, with their play-by-play announcer being the now-retired, Hall of Famer, “Doc” Mike Emrick along with his color commentator, Mike Eruzione & later, Glenn “Chico” Resch. In fact, if you tried to leave your seat to go down to get concessions or such during intermissions, when the announcers were on camera, the ushers would be standing with their backs to the camera, blocking fans from trying to get on tv.

The arena itself was pretty basic, with only one concourse between the two levels of seating. The concourse was wide enough to allow the flow of fans to make their ways to the various concession stands selling all the typical fare of food…hotdogs, chicken tenders, fries, sausages, etc., except for my Dad & I, we always would seek out the knockwursts, or “New Jersey Knox” as they called them…basically just larger hotdogs, but man were they good! There were also exterior windows to let in natural light so as not to feel like a cave like some concourses of other arenas or stadiums I’ve been to. Another unique feature of this building was that at all the entrances to the seating bowl had televisions hanging from the ceiling, showing all the action so if you had left your seat to use the rest rooms, get concessions or such and weren’t permitted to immediately return to your seat by the ushers since play was ongoing, you wouldn’t miss anything since you could easily just watch it above while you waited for a stoppage in play. Since this was my first arena, I hadn’t realized this wasn’t a standard feature throughout the country until I read the blog from the Ultimate Sports Road Trip guys who had made the trip around the country to attend a home game of every pro sports team.

Back in our early days of going to games at the Brendan Byrne Arena (as it was called back then, named after the former Governor of New Jersey who held the office when the arena was built), the Devils’ team colors were originally red, green & white, which has only recently been embraced with throwback uniforms for the team. I always liked the lines on those old jerseys: the way the lines curved around the shoulders & how the home & away jerseys had two different patterns of stripes on the sleeves and at waist level. When the team switched to the red, black and white uniforms in 1992, while they certainly did look cool, some of the uniqueness of the home and away jerseys was lost. But I’ll always remember going to our first game after the change in colors & being shocked when my dad actually bought me my first jersey! I still have that one to this day. Clearly I stopped fitting in it LONG ago, but there’s still just something special about that jersey to me.

I’ve been to a number of games at that arena…from regular season to playoff games, over the course of the 24 seasons that the Devils called it home. I’ve had some great memories associated with that building! From seeing the Circus, the Ice Capades, dozens of Devils games, numerous wrestling events (including my first wrestling event ever along with WWF King of the Ring 2001). I’ll also always remember my sole Nets game that I attended there with my friend Rich, when I realized that the NBA games were kind of the inverse of an NHL game: they play music during play instead of only during stoppages in play. We also attended a Pearl Jam concert, where we sat in the upper tier — I was shocked and a bit unsettled when I felt the building shaking beneath me from the combination of the loudness of the music along with the fans…that place has certainly been at the center of a lot of fond memories of mine.

Even getting into the arena itself could be an adventure! If you weren’t there early enough, you would have to park in the lots across route 120 at the old Giants Stadium (where MetLife Stadium currently sits), which required you to take the covered pedestrian walkway over said highway. Most fans called this walkway the cattle bridge and would “moo” like cows while crossing it…which was much more prevalent after games, especially if the team won.

I’ll also fondly remember the Devils’ 2003 Stanley Cup run, where I attended a game of every round of the playoffs shortly after dislocating the patella in my knee, so to begin the playoffs, I was on crutches. By the time the Devils had eliminated the Anaheim Mighty Ducks at home in Game 7, I was off the crutches. For our game against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Conference Semifinals, we sat in the second row and were permitted to leave via the Winner’s Circle VIP lounge (at least I believe that’s what it was called). Since that game was an early afternoon game, we stuck around outside for awhile and managed to get a number of autographs as the players all exited and headed to their cars. I specifically remember Scott Stevens getting in an old Ford pickup & being surprised since he was the Captain and many other players dtove much sportier ridesm

As had become the tradition in New Jersey, the team celebrated their Stanley Cup Championships with a party in the parking lot. The first one in 1995, I had attended with my cousin, and while we weren’t anywhere near the first ones to arrive, I did however, purchase a Championship hat at that parking lot party that I wore the shit out of until it was literally falling apart. For the 2003 party though, my friends & I were at the Meadowlands nice and early and when they opened up the parking lot, we all ran to get right in front and center of the stage. We’re even on the Devils’ Championship video from that year, during the credits! As if that wasn’t a cool day already, on our way back to our car afterwards, we got to meet Stan Fischler as he was getting in his car. Had a little chat with him & thanked him for his work. Unfortunately in 2003, every cell phone didn’t have a camera in it or else we’d have asked for a picture with him!

The following season’s home opener for the Devils against the Toronto Maple Leafs was equally memorable since it fell on October 16, 2003…the same day as Game 7 of the ALCS between the Yankees & Red Sox! We went to see the Championship Banner be raised and stayed through the first period, but then headed home to catch the rest of the baseball game, which was eventually won in extra innings when Aaron Boone hit a pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the 11th against Boston’s knuckleballer, Tim Wakefield. As we found out during the Yankees game, the Devils & Maple Leafs game would end in a tie, but I’ll always remember yelling in excitement “WE’RE IN THE WORLD SERIES!!”, likely waking up my parents since I was still living with them at that point.

When the Devils left for their brand new arena, the Prudential Center in Newark in 2007, the Nets stuck around at the Continental Airlines Arena as it changed names to being the IZOD Center. They called the IZOD Center home for another three years, joining the Devils in Newark for two more years before moving to their brand new arena, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and becoming the Brooklyn Nets. Stay tuned here for writeups on each of those venues, but for the meantime…just like the original Yankee Stadium, the Continental Airlines Arena holds a special place in my heart as the original place to watch pro hockey in New Jersey.

In all, the Devils played a total of 1,063 games at the Meadowlands (not including preseason exhibition games), 959 of them played during the regular season and 104 during the playoffs. They won their Division 8 times, were Conference Champions 4 times and won the Stanley Cup 3 times. The Nets won their Division 5 times, and their Conference twice while coming up empty in the NBA Finals both times. So while it was sad to see the building shut down by the NJSEA in April of 2015, it’s interesting to note that the venue, while closed to sporting events and concerts, is once again in use and has been leased by NBC as they’re using it to film episodes of television series. So while it sits there in East Rutherford, New Jersey, virtually nameless, known only as the Meadowlands Arena these days, there’s still life within those walls, even now…42 years after first breaking ground back in 1979.

Thanks for reading.

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