“NOT New York. NOT Philadelphia. Proud to be New Jersey’s 101.5!!!!”
It’s a familiar call sign to anyone who grew up answering “what exit?” New Jersey 101.5 was the Garden State’s flagship station, and its call sign blaring between traffic updates was practically white noise growing up.
I always hated it.
I mean, what does it say about the character of a state when this slogan—meant to inspire civic pride in who we are—defines us by who we are not? But it’s impossible to understand New Jersey without acknowledging the twin shadows it lives in. The top half of New Jersey is swallowed up by New York media, and the bottom by Philadelphia—and we are embraced by neither.
There's a chip on your shoulder that comes from growing up in New Jersey. We're a place between places—constantly reminded that important things are happening somewhere else.
It’s hard to imagine a young Martin Brodeur knew of this little brother's complex when he was first drafted by the Devils. Or maybe a kid from French speaking Montreal already had an affinity with the second class citizenship of the Garden State. I don’t know.
All I know was he joined a team whose history was one memorable run in the late 80s, an infamous shouting match between their head coach and a fat referee, and a sick burn by Wayne Gretzky. No matter how you shook it, it was the third team in the area's fourth sport—and playing for them was no one's dream come true.
But right away, he made the most of it. After all, his rookie year they went all the way to game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals—ending famously with the call of “Mattaue, Mattaue!”
And, of course, that was the call that ushered the hated New York Rangers into the Stanley Cup Final—serving to be a memorable moment along their "historic" run. In typical New York fashion, that Stanley Cup was celebrated like it ended the war—literally.
Messier, newly named “Messiah,” hoisted the cup in front of a crowd of a million people as they paraded down the “Canyon of Heroes”—just as Eisenhower did after winning World War II, and as Neil Armstrong did after landing on the Moon.
That’s where, I believe, Brodeur learned what it means to be New York.
A year later, the Devils hoisted their Stanley Cup parade in a parking lot.
That’s when, I believe, Brodeur learned what it means to be New Jersey.
The infamous parking lot parade had a weird vibe. The dominant run through the playoffs and a remarkable sweep of the vastly favorited Detroit Red Wings should have been a validating moment—but instead it was undercut by headlines of the NHL “not standing in the way” of the teams rumored sale to Nashville. Furthermore, there was already chatter of this cup not counting because of the lock-out shortened season.
And the celebration itself was low-rent in that typical New Jersey way. I mean, Joe Piscopo was the grand marshal, because of course he was. In a strange way, the Devil's success seemed to confirmed our second class status—as the world met our first championship with a dismissive shrug.
But something was brewing in the Garden State. The 95' team wasn't a blip on the radar, but the start of something special. Bit by bit, Marty Brodeur backstopped a team that kept racking up wins. And while the media typically made sure New Jersey's success went uncelebrated, they couldn't ignore three Stanley Cups and the regular season dominance.
But the attention was the exact kind of attention you’d expect New Jersey to get.
The style of play was boring, and bad for hockey. Broduer was just a product of his system who didn’t face enough shots. Even rules were changed because he was too good at parts of his game. He became the only great player in profession sports to be criticized for being the backbone of a good team.
Despite winning, he couldn't win. And there is nothing more New Jersey than that.
He’s a Jersey guy. But unique among us, he’s one who chose to be.
After all, he could have gone anywhere else. He could have seen what the Rangers were paying to poach our second and third line centers and crossed the Hudson himself. Or he could have "gone back home" like the latest wave of “franchise” players that followed in Newark, and returned to Montreal with a hero's welcome.
But he didn’t. Instead he chose to stay in New Jersey, and made it his home. And while he was there, he kept winning. And winning. And winning. Until he had more wins than anyone else. Until he was a 40-year old man, defying aging and dragging his team that no longer had the legendary defense in front of him past Philadelphia and past New York and into the Stanley cup finals one last time.
And all of the official NHL records he’s broken—well they say New Jersey right next to his name. He gave us something special that is uniquely belongs to New Jersey. His legacy.
But part of that legacy is New Jersey now has an expectation to win. They have to plan for the future, and as heartbreaking as it is, that no longer includes Marty Broduer. The Devils have moved on.
Brodeur still wants to play—and he should. But it’s undeniably strange to approach the season unsure of where he’ll end up. Here's a guy who could have gone anywhere, and now he's twisting in the wind—holding out for the right opportunity to keep winning.
It's all so uncertain, except for one thing—if Marty Broduer is going to keep playing, he’ll be doing in another team’s sweater. And when he steps onto New Jersey ice, we will cheer for him, regardless of the team he plays for.
...Just so long as it’s not New York. And not Philadelphia.
Dave Cicirelli is an author and artist who specializes in hoaxes as social commentary. You may have bought a Fake Banksy from him in Central Park, or you may have have seen on Facebook that he disappeared into Amish country under nefarious circumstances.
Fakebook: A True Story Based On Actual Lies recounts his six-month long social media hoax, and all the online and offline drama it created.
Publisher's weekly called it a "knock out." No big deal.