Might as well start out with the best.
1995, fresh off the first Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history. Martin Brodeur had become my personal hero, at least hockey-wise. In the course of two years he went from being a dude we only knew because of the cheesy mustache on his Score rookie card, only to emerge as the starting goalie that would bring the Devils their first Cup, on his way to becoming one of the best the league ever saw.
I was very surprised to learn that my hometown, squarely in the middle of Rangers country, would be getting a visit from Marty. This was toward the tail end of when sportscard shows were very popular, and he was booked for an autograph signing.
I knew I had to go, but I anticipated it would be mobbed. So I lined up early. Three hours early. One of those things that at that time, I was young enough to do and that I am now old enough that I probably wouldn’t.
But, the good news was, I was fifth in line. That meant no matter what, I was meeting Marty and getting something signed. I brought not a single thing with me. Leaving my girlfriend (now wife) to hold my spot, I ventured out into the shoe to find something to get signed.
I had an autographed stick from John MacLean. It was always a pain to display and I didn’t really enjoy it. Trading cards were fine, but not really that exciting. As I made my rounds, I found what I needed. A 1995 Stanley Cup Champions puck.
To that point, I owned only a single puck, the one I caught 10 rows behind the goal in the Brendan Byrne Arena. That was December 28, 1991. I don’t remember the Buffalo Sabres player who shot it, but I remember it deflecting off of Devils goalie Craig Billington, and then coming in hot towards me (pre-safety nets; row 10 was basically lined up exactly with the top of the glass).
I had never caught anything at a major sporting event before, and this was my chance. I stood up and threw my hand up to try to catch the puck, which seemed to be traveling at about the speed of light. I got my hand in front of it, and WHACK, it hit the bottom of my palm and bounced off. Dejected, I sat down without even considering where it went next.
The answer turned out to be “straight up”, because as I sat back down, it hit the empty seat next to me with a solid thud, and I quickly reached over and snatched it before anyone else could. I got a visit from the usher, who asked if I needed medical assistance, but who also expressed his amazement that I even got my hand in front of it. I was fine, the Devils won 3-0 on two goals by Doug Brown and one by Stephane Richer.
Anyhow, I waited in line for about three hours for the line to even start moving. Within just a few minutes, I was next in line. I brought a camera with me (pre-digital) and tried to snap a picture of Marty while I was waiting. Much to my surprise, he stopped signing for the person in front of me and looked directly into the camera and smiled. As of this post, I cannot locate that picture.
When it was my turn, he made some sort of joke about how I thought he wouldn’t pose for a picture. As I have done with every celebrity I have ever met, I made sure to thank him for keeping me entertained and of course for helping to bring a Cup to New Jersey. He thanked me for coming and I got to shake his hand.
This puck has been with me since 1995, and it will be the Brodeur puck that I include as part of my project (I will admit, I’ve obtained a few others over the years).
In addition to everything else you can say about Marty, I can also say with certainty that the guy knows exactly where to sign a puck. I have 4 Marty pucks and each one is signed in a spot where there is the least amount of logo, which makes for a great looking autographed item.
Postscript: My wife (then my girlfriend) had Marty sign an 8×10 glossy photo, which she had pinned to a cork board in her room , through the plastic sleeve, not the picture. One day I noticed it was gone, and I mentioned that if she didn’t want it anymore, I could find a place for it. Her response was “That? I threw it away!”. I married her anyway. It’s not like she was a Rangers fan or anything.
Additional Postscript: I pulled out the Certificate of Authenticity and realized that I didn’t remember the dates all that well. This signing was in the summer of 1996, not 1995, so it was significantly after the Stanley Cup (and missing the playoffs the next year).