As I am sitting here watching the Devils put a late night hurting on the LA Kings (it is 5-1 Devils as I begin writing here) at the start of their California road trip, something interesting came through NJ.com. After almost 34 years, the Izod Center is set to be shuttered at the end of the month.
Brent Johnson of NJ.com reports that the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority has reached an agreement with the Prudential Center that would move all scheduled events from the arena in the Meadowlands Sports Complex to the arena in downtown Newark.
Of course this is relevant to Devils fans for the fact that the Izod Center (known as Brendan Byrne Arena from 1981 to 1996 and Continental Airlines Arena from 1996 to 2007) was the Devils home from 1982 to 2007 and was partly responsible for the Devils even existing in the Garden State to begin with.
When Arthur Imperatore, Sr. bought the Colorado Rockies in 1978, his intentions were to move the team east to play in the Meadowlands. Unfortunately, the arena was not completed yet and with no suitable NHL-sized rink available in the state, that move would have to wait another four years. It was then, in the spring of 1982 that former Houston Astros owner, former New York Yankees part-owner and Montclair, New Jersey native, Dr. John McMullen would buy the Rockies and move them into the newly-opened Meadowlands Arena. The arena had actually opened the previous summer with a series of sold out shows by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and hosted the New Jersey Nets (now the Brooklyn Nets) of the National Basketball Association for a year. The arena would go on to host the 1982 NBA All-Star Game, the 1984 NHL All-Star Game, the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals, the 1996 NCAA Men’s Final Four, the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals, the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals, the 2002 NBA Finals, the 2003 NBA Finals and the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals in addition to thousands of other events over the years.
The arena was actually conceived by the NJSEA as a way to get the Rangers over the Hudson River (they were in a dispute with the Garden at the time and may have been looking to pull up stakes) to play in the Meadowlands. This was not something that was completely foreign at the time, as the New York Giants had moved to the Meadowlands in 1976 from Yankee Stadium to play in the newly-built Giants Stadium (the Jets would follow from Shea Stadium in 1984) and the Yankees were being courted to move from the Bronx should George Steinbrenner feel the need to alienate his hardcore fans and move from NYC.
But when the Devils and the Seton Hall Pirates men’s basketball team moved to Newark in 2007 and the Nets followed suit in 2010, the arena saw less and less events. Brent Johnson’s article mentions that competition from the Prudential Center, Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the newly-renovated Madison Square Garden in Manhattan to get events has made the aging arena obsolete and expensive for the state to keep open. The arena will remain standing, but closed for the next two years and then its future will be in doubt.
On a personal note, I have attended many events at the Byrne/Continental/Meadowlands/Izod Arena/Center (my first being Sesame Street Live in 1985 when I was three or four years old); including my first Devils game in 1991 against the Buffalo Sabres. The Devils alone have given me so many magical moments in that building that will last a lifetime. Although I will not miss the cramped concourses and the traffic jams leaving the parking lots, I will miss everything else about the arena. What I will miss the most and anyone who ever saw a concert there can attest to this, is that the arena had great acoustics and that translated over to hockey. When the Devils filled the place, especially during the playoffs and those Stanley Cup runs, the place could rock. I will also remember the moo’ing as we made the slow bitterly cold trek over the pedestrian bridge to the parking lot at Giants Stadium (used as the overflow lot when the arena was sold out).
The Prudential Center is superior in every way, but the Meadowlands Arena was old-school and had a charm all its own. I understand why the NJSEA needs to close the building. It is just too bad that the state could not find a private buyer to keep the place open (although that would likely cause the new owners to lose money too, which would mean that they would need to sell it). It is kind of sad to think that the day ground was broken for the Prudential Center; the clock was ticking on the Izod Center.
My only hope is that the state does not leave the building to rot. In Los Angeles, where the Devils are playing the Kings right now, the former home of the Kings, the Great Western Forum, was placed on the national register of historic places in 2014. Toronto turned Maple Leaf Gardens into a retail building and a college athletic center. The Montreal Forum is now a national historic site in Canada. Although I would be delusional to think that the Meadowlands is on the level of those great arenas, championships were won here (the Devils claimed the Stanley Cup on home ice in both 1995 and 2003) and great moments were shared by fans of all ages for many years.
To those who have control over these things: If the building does need to be torn down, please do not waste this opportunity. Turn it into park land, not a parking lot for MetLife Stadium or that monstrosity known as Xanadu. Build a baseball stadium on the land so New Jersey can have a Triple A team (the Mets need to move their team out of Las Vegas and the Meadowlands is much closer) or (and this is a pipedream) a major league stadium to bring Major League Baseball to the state of New Jersey.
Whatever you do, do not just let the building waste away. Too much good is tied up in those walls to let that go away. Hopefully we can give the rink that brought NHL hockey to New Jersey a proper sendoff.