NJ Sports Heaven

Aquarian Weekly 6/4/03 REALITY CHECK


For perhaps the first and last time in the history of forever East Rutherford, New Jersey is the center of the professional sports world. At least it is for two of the big four, basketball and hockey. Currently, the New Jersey Nets wait around for the deans of fourth quarter collapse, the San Antonio Spurs to dismiss what is left of the Dallas Mavericks, while the New Jersey Devils supply a healthy dose of their own reality check to the Mighty Ducks from Anaheim.

That’s right, East Rutherford, a factory town in Bergen County of a little over nine thousand residents is now Title Town USA.

If a sports team wins a title in the woods and nobody hears it, did it really win it?

Admittedly East Rutherford is no New York City or even Green Bay or no one will mistake the Nets or the Devils place of residence, the Continental Airlines Arena, as the Great Western Forum, Yankee Stadium or even the hallowed grounds of South Bend. There is no mass transit that connects it to a big town or any cultural distractions that pepper its landscape.

Maybe that’s why despite having the best teams in their respective sports for two years no one in the local media pays much attention nor do fans of other teams care enough to root against them.

In fact, if attendance numbers at the Meadowlands this season were any indication, a good number of Devils and Nets fans don’t really seem to care either.

The Devils, although not as successful as the Eastern Conference Champion Nets a season ago, are now three wins away from their third Stanley Cup championship run in the past decade. And this is after a season of listening to hockey people tell you the Detroit Red Wings were the greatest thing since Murder’s Row.

The Devils scored three goals in a Game One victory last night against a team that managed to give up one lousy goal in a four game white-washing of the conference finals, and on the back page of every New York paper this morning are photos of NY Yankees. The Yankees have over 110 games to go before seeing a first round post-season game.

And as for the Nets, who have won a ridiculous 10 consecutive post-season contests, the team’s attendance for a sport that is arguably the most popular in the land is horribly low. So much so that the only story that persisted throughout the year around here was whether the Nets star point guard, Jason Kidd would bolt for someplace where people could actually see his nightly All-Star performances.

Why, I am suddenly guilty of taking some of the glory away by beleaguering the same tired points about East Rutherford and New Jersey being secondary outposts of tri-state sports enthusiasts.

But really, who cares if East Rutherford isn’t a toddlin’ town or has a neat nickname or some historic figure to represent it? Unless anyone considers the possibility that Jimmy Hoffa’s remains may have been scattered below Giants Stadium, along with a host of other unnamed early 20th century criminals of note. Does that diminish the accomplishment?

If a sports team wins a title in the woods and nobody hears it, did it really win it?

This is a fine Zen riddle, but hardly a truism.

Granted, this has now become a culture where apparently nothing matters unless someone gets a weepy documentary on VH1 to commemorate it.

But that is the talk of the big city egoist. East Rutherford does not boast such an animal. It does not have a grand history or a personality, or certainly any ditties written for it. And for that matter, neither does Jersey.

What East Rutherford does have is the final games of two of this nation’s most covered sports.

And soon after these historic weeks are through those teams and their respective sports will go to Newark and East Rutherford will be left with factories and those nine thousand souls. And the Giants and the Jets.

You know, the New York Giants and the New York Jets.

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