From the West Side of the Hudson River Rivalry


DevilsRangers

A few weeks ago, the NHL Network’s Facebook page posted a poll asking fans to choose the best rivalry in the NHL. Out of the six options, Devils-Rangers finished fourth with about ten percent of the total vote. Polls like this are largely a popularity contest and their results are far from empirical, but it is an interesting insight as to how NHL fans feel about the rivalries in today’s league. With all due respect to the rivalry the Flyers and Penguins have cultivated over the past half-decade, and to the history of the Montreal-Boston rivalry, among others, I have the feeling most of the fans that voted in that poll have never approached a Devils fan and asked them how they feel about the Rangers and their fans. I think anyone who has experienced this rivalry first hand, on or off the ice, understands that the animosity between the Devils and Rangers and their fans cannot be boiled down to Matteau, Henrique, and geographic proximity. It is an incredibly passionate and personal rivalry that simply has no parallel in North American professional sports.

 
It is often quite difficult to explain what the rivalry is like, at least from the perspective of a Devils fan from New Jersey, to people who have not experienced it before. When I say to someone who is not intimately familiar with hockey or the NHL that “the Devils are playing the Rangers tonight, it’s a pretty big deal”, I have gotten the responses comparing it to all of the standard North American rivalries; “oh yea, it’s like Eagles-Cowboys/Red Sox-Yankees/49ers-Seahawks/Mets-Phillies/Jets-Patriots”. No, it isn’t. I have seen the back-and-forth between Flyers fans and the huge number of Pittsburgh transplants in Philly, the “Fuck the Dodgers” t-shirts on Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley, and I have been right in the middle of the New York-Boston-Philadelphia rivalries and have seen them all from every angle. As vicious as a lot of those can be, there is a cultural element present in the Devils-Rangers rivalry that sets it apart from the common divisional foes template from which many modern sports rivalries are cut.

 
New Jersey is a state that has forever struggled to gain acceptance as a culturally unique place. Legend has it that Benjamin Franklin described New Jersey as “a keg tapped at both ends”; an early suggestion that New Jersey exists only as extended suburbs of New York and Philadelphia. For our entire proud history, both lifelong residents and outsiders have neatly divided New Jersey into two culturally distinct regions: North Jersey, whose residents are supposed to culturally align themselves with New York and support their sports teams, and South Jersey, where people are of course supposed to be born in Phillies-red pinstripes. It is still a common narrative that there is not the capacity for New Jersey to not only host major professional sports, but for a cultural identity to exist outside of the confines of the cultural hegemons of Philadelphia and New York. While New Jersey will always be a diverse and divided state, anyone who experiences our state outside of the Newark airport and the New Jersey Turnpike understands that we are far from a bunch of New Yorkers and Philadelphians living together under a common governor. We are a unique group of people with unique ways of speaking, unique sensibilities and values, and for the past 40 years, we have had our own major professional sports teams to represent us as a unique community.

 

 

Blandisi2

This will probably end up becoming one of the iconic images of the rivalry from this generation

 
For many Devils fans, including myself, one of the factors that lifts the Devils-Rangers rivalry to another level is the presence of a large contingent of Rangers fans born and raised in New Jersey. While they are far from the majority in any region of the state, they are a visible group throughout New Jersey. For me, and for many Devils fans in New Jersey, a Rangers fan from within state lines is much less benign than your common outlier fan who chooses to be rebellious and support the local rival team. A Rangers fan from New Jersey is someone who has a limited amount of respect for the place they come from, and damages the efforts of New Jerseyans who have fought to represent our state as a place with a unique culture and people. The Devils are one of New Jersey’s most important and influential cultural institutions, and some Devils fans take personal exception to fellow New Jerseyans choosing to participate with a community many have tried so hard to distinguish ourselves from.

 
There is also a socioeconomic factor that some perceive to separate the two fan bases. The Rangers are viewed by many as the white collar area team, playing in the heart of one of the wealthiest places in the world. Tickets are expensive, the seats are filled with Manhattan professionals in suits, and there is definitely an atmosphere of prestige around the Rangers. I would certainly guess that there is a statistically significant relationship between wealth and team support within the New Jersey hockey community. The perception of wealthier hockey fans from New Jersey aligning themselves culturally with a wealthier area and supporting the Rangers creates another unique layer of tension between Devils and Rangers fans that other sports rivalries do not experience.

 
If you are asking me, I would tell you that these Rangers fans simply support a team from out of town. I will never call the Rangers another “local” team, and I will always consider every Rangers fan in New Jersey a common interloper. When I see a car with Jersey plates and a Rangers sticker or people in Jersey flying Rangers flags outside of their houses, I do take their support as somewhat of a personal affront. I wonder how they can care so little about where they are from that they identify with a different community; again, a community we as New Jerseyans have tried so hard to distinguish ourselves from. These fans perpetuate the narrative that New Jersey is not a culturally unique place, and it is not a community people identify with. We perceive their very existence as insulting and damaging, and that is what elevates this rivalry.

 
Is this an insane and completely unreasonable response to the existence of people who support a different group of grown men playing a children’s game than I do? Yes, and that is what makes the Devils-Rangers rivalry one with no equal in North American sports. Without the element of the plague of Rangers fans from New Jersey, Devils-Rangers does become just another run-of-the-mill rivalry; two teams with geographic proximity and a history of competing in big games filled with plenty of intensity between the players. It becomes Yankees-Red Sox or Blackhawks-Red Wings or Cardinals-Cubs. Devils fans would still find Rangers fans to be obnoxious hockey-unintelligent people more interested in jumping on trends than what is going on on the ice, and Rangers fans would still think whatever it is they think about us. It would still be a great rivalry, and hopefully one day, that is all it will be. Let’s go Devils.

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About Pan Karalis

Pan is a recent graduate of Temple University and a lifelong Devils fan from Toms River, New Jersey. Professionally, he works with people with disabilities and coaches soccer in the Philadelphia area.
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16 Responses to From the West Side of the Hudson River Rivalry

  1. bryllcream says:

    Sorry, boss, but you kind of missed the mark with this one.

    You are correct that the Devils and New Jersey both have struggled to find acceptance.

    However, New Jersey is so divided when it comes to hockey because the Devils didn’t show up here until ’82. So New Jersey natives HAD to be either Flyers or Rangers fans. It has nothing to do with not caring about where you live, if anything, it’s the opposite. They care a lot and for a lot longer than the Devils have been a franchise.

    What you should really have pointed out regarding New Jersey Ranger fans is a sense of entitlement that can be seen during a Devils/Rangers game at the Rock. Thousands of blue shirts walk into our home and try to make it theirs. Trying to discredit our chants, our goal songs, our team, our history. They act as though our team shouldn’t exist because we can’t sell out a crowd unless THE New York Rangers come to Newark. They act as though their 3 Cups from 1928-1940 (and their favorite one from the 90s) are more important and more prestigious than our 3 Cups within the last 20 years. There is a constant begrudging from Rangers fans in their 20s and 30s that the Devils suck regardless of the fact that the Devils have had more success in their lifetime than the Rangers have.

    And I could go on.

    But you’re article is generally correct. The rivalry is the best rivalry in all of sports.

    No two other teams have the majority of their fan bases packed into one area. The rivalry lives daily outside of the rink and onto the Turnpike and the suburbs. The Habs and the Bruins are like Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier duking it out, except they’ve continued aging, they’re not the same as teams as they were back then. And while those games may have heated atmospheres, at the end, everyone goes home which is roughly 300 miles away from the other team and their fanbase.

    What the Devils and Rangers have is a rivalry that has stood the test of time: a good ol’ sibling rivalry. The Devils will always have something to prove. Nothing will ever be enough in the eyes of the Rangers and their fans. And the Rangers will always have someone they’ll think they’re better than regardless of history, roster, or standings. That’s what makes the rivalry. It brings out these primal feelings of hatred that have been around since Cain and Abel. And these feelings don’t go away at the end of game because you have to go home to your neighbor Rangers fan or see your Devils fan boss at work or go to bed with your significant other who definitely didn’t make the right choice in hockey teams.

    You can’t escape it. That’s what makes it great.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pan Karalis says:

      People born the day the Devils came to town are 33 years old. That’s a generation plus ago. There were plenty of Islanders fans in Jersey before the Devils, and that group certainly didn’t stick around. I think we’ve crossed a benchmark where the Devils relative newness doesn’t have a huge affect on the fan bases. It has one, and I cut a paragraph in this piece regarding that subject, but a generation of New Jerseyans have grown up with a team that represents our community, and too many of them, for whatever reason (family ties dating back to before the Devils existed is one of them), there are still too many Rangers fans running around within our state lines. I think the responsibility lies mostly with the Devils organization and their refusal to market since day one. It costed the Nets a huge chunk of would-be fans while they were here as well. Our identity is strong and our heritage is proud. We need an organization willing and able to exploit that to cultivate the fan base we should have here.

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      • bryllcream says:

        Yeah, but those people probably didn’t pick a team at birth. In fact, those people’s parents were probably Rangers, Flyers, or Islanders fans and were raised in similar fashion.

        Again, I agree with the premise of the article, but I don’t think you have a lot of the support behind it with what you said. It’s unfair to say New Jersey families 34-98 years old don’t care about where they’re from because they don’t support the Devils.

        As much as I hate the Rangers and their fans, and I hate even more how many of them reside in New Jersey, I can’t ignore the fact that for the most part, they do not exist to spite the Devils and New Jersey. They were simply here first, but I believe it’s because of that that the rivalry is as great as it is.

        (I agree that the marketing is terrible, but it wasn’t a part of the article, and I was simply commenting that you don’t clearly understand why people from New Jersey are Rangers fans.)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Derek Felix says:

        For years, they couldn’t market the product. And you and I both know why as does Hasan. Lou. Now, the Devils are doing a better job promoting their team. The whole #Relentless thing has caught on. And look how they play. Well maybe not tonight. But usually relentless like the great hire in coach Hynes.

        They are having open practices and giving your fans more fun stuff like interviews as well as cool footage. This never existed under Lou. You can thank your owners and new management. As they get better, it will catch on.

        Like

    • Derek Felix says:

      As a Ranger fan who has seen the intense hatred of this Hudson rivalry develop over two decades, I think you hit the nail on the head. As much as I hate to say it, there are a good chunk of arrogant Blueshirt fans I can’t stomach. It’s funny but there is a complete divide on social media between our own fans. The arrogance shows. Whether it be a know it all blogger emphasizing use of charts exclusively and bringing in the same old tired scapegoats (Girardi/Staal, Glass) or the loyal fans who actually root and enjoy the games and aren’t as annoying as the Corsis or even myself at times tho I appreciate what each player brings, it’s like a civil war.

      I think where Pan misses on is that many of the Jersey bred Ranger fans were raised that way. And unless you have some story behind changing allegiances as I know one Devil fan does, you’re not gonna change. It’s like going from being a Ranger fan to an Islander fan. Or a Devil fan to Flyers. Or Flyers to Pens and vice versa.

      The brother/sister relationship does exist. And some of our fans don’t want to acknowledge the Devils’ success which also is in the past. Something some Jersey fans don’t care to acknowledge either. So, they can hammer home the 3 Cups in a decade to death. It doesn’t change the present. The Rangers have been more prominent post-lockout. However, we also have to acknowledge a 40-year old Marty got the better of a Vezina Henrik. So, it evens out.

      I can admire how hard the Devils play. Mostly due to Schneider, who basically is what Hank was for us at the beginning. Standing on his head. Coincidentally, with the Rangers not as good consistently, Lundqvist is being forced to do the same most nights. His team didn’t show in Newark. And tonight, he was the difference in the win at the Blues.

      I really don’t care for all the heated debates or the silly fights that occur between the fans of this rivalry. It’s supposed to be fun. A game. Not life. That said, it will always be a huge rivalry. Even if I feel it’s lost some luster minus Brodeur. And there’s not much in terms of truculence on either side. The hatred isn’t as intense. That’s why the Miller/Kalinin fight was such a oddity.

      If there is a difference, it’s how the wins are celebrated. I don’t see as much celebration coming from our side. But when the Debbies beat us, they sure let you know about it. Anyway, I am glad there are no more games with them. Onto the rest of the schedule.

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  2. Pan Karalis says:

    I was born and raised in New Jersey, and I understand fully well that plenty of Rangers fans were born Rangers fans. Whether it’s intentionally spiteful or not, it is damaging and an insult to our culture as far as I am concerned. You have the right to disagree. I understand not everyone shares such extreme views on the topic.

    Like

    • bryllcream says:

      Again, I disagree. While it is insulting, I don’t think it damages our culture. It strengthens it. Without New Jersey Ranger fans, this rivalry would be a shell of what it is. This rivalry helps define our team. Love it or hate it. Agree or disagree. The Rangers are the Yin to our Yang. Their fans are terrible. Their team was better when Hitler was in power.

      Like

      • bryllcream says:

        (cont.) But while I would love less blue shirts at the Rock, I can’t blame them for being fans and being there.

        (Sorry, accidentally posted without finishing my thought.)

        Like

      • Pan Karalis says:

        I’d rather it exist as a run-of-the-mill rivalry, which would still be as intense as any other, than to have that population exist. Agree to disagree.

        Like

      • Derek Felix says:

        Bryllcream, stick to the original point. Please no references to such a disgusting person. Thank you. Also, not every one of our fans are terrible. Don’t be so quick to label an entire fan base. But I get the hate and explanation because they do exist.

        Like

  3. The whole, “you live in NJ, you can’t root for the Rangers” thing automatically makes me unable to take this article seriously. The Rangers we’re here long before the Devils were even a blip on the radar. My father was a Rangers fan since the 1950’s. He passed that on to me. I’ve been one for 30 years. I’ve lived and died with this team. Any “fan” who abandons a team he’s rooted so passionately for, for so many years just cause he has a team in his state is a fraud. All the respect to the Devils fanbase. You may not have a lot of fans..but the ones you do have are hardcore, but enough with the, “you live in NJ. You need to root for the Devils.” B.S.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Derek Felix says:

      And that’s exactly how I feel. If you change allegiances after being raised a fan of one team, then you are a traitor. Believe it or not, not every New Yorker is a Ranger fan.

      Like

      • Pan Karalis says:

        I can never buy this. If that was the case, 6 NHL teams would have any semblance of fan base, maybe 10 MLB teams and so on. Sports aren’t about a blind allegiance to some brand, they’re about community. Without community in sports, it’s just a bunch of grown men playing a game.

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  4. Born and bred Jersey Girl, born and bred New York Rangers fan. No interloping here! I agree with Tony, a true fan won’t leave because another team moved in. My father was a die hard fan and so am I. He couldn’t have left me a better legacy. If I had the money, I would be following them on their road trips going to their games and sporty my Lundquist and Zuccarello jerseys. This Jersey girl doesn’t pump her own gas and will not betray the legacy my dad left me. Let’s Go Rangers!

    Like

  5. Andrew says:

    To say someone HAS to be a devils fan because they were born and raised in nj kinda defeats what being a true fan is all about. I chose to be a rangers fan when i was a little kid and im gonna stick with it for the rest of my life. It was my own choice ( dad was an islanders fan, older bro is a devils fan) So to anyone hating on me for being an rangers fan in nj, don’t forget that above all i am a hockey fan. Does it piss you off that i financially support the devils by going to their games, even when the rangers aren’t in town?? Seriously, id like the author of this article to answer that question for me

    Like

    • Pan Karalis says:

      Rangers fans from New Jersey help perpetuate the idea that New Jersey does not have a unique culture, and that’s a huge problem. I could not care any less if you go to a few Devils games a year and “support them financially”. Our owners are billionaires and Prudential Center is one of the most profitable arenas in the world. Take your charity to Islanders games.

      Like

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