There’s a unique story behind every sports team’s name, with the New Jersey Devils being no exception. The franchise originated in Kansas City as the Scouts. From their inception in 1974, they only lasted for two seasons, over which they won just 27 contests. The team would then relocate to Denver, Colorado, and were renamed the Rockies, where they played until 1982, only averaging a .235 win percentage during their time in the Mile High City.
After purchasing the Colorado Rockies for $8 million in 1981, owner Peter Gilbert lost nearly half that amount of money over the next year, prompting him to yet again sell the team, which would lead to the franchise’s second relocation. This go-around, however, was met with a series of financial and legal hurdles, along with pushback from other NHL owners when news broke that the Rockies would be relocating to New Jersey. The process was prolonged by issues like approving the team’s sale, transfer fees, and indemnification payments, concerns about the NHL’s geographic distribution, along with pushback on division realignment plans.
Gilbert eventually succeeded in selling the franchise to a group of New Jersey natives led by John McMullen, former New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne (who the Meadowlands arena was named after), and senior Goldman Sachs Partner John Whitehead. Between the actual sale ($8.7 million), league transfer fees ($10 million), and compensatory payments to the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, and New York Islanders ($12.5 million), moving the franchise to New Jersey cost an excess of $30 million (which equates to about $81 million in 2020). The New Jersey hockey team was assigned to the Patrick Division, where they joined the New York Rangers and Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, and Pittsburgh Penguins.
After becoming the fourth major sports franchise that relocated to the Meadowlands since its construction in 1976 (preceded by the New York Giants, New Jersey Nets, and Cosmos Soccer team), the New Jersey hockey team still didn’t have a name. McMullen wanted the people of New Jersey to have a say in their new hockey team’s name and launched a “Name that Team” contest, in which over 10,000 votes were cast.
New Jersey Devils won the plurality of ballots, but 11 names garnered enough votes for consideration. Other names that were popular among voters included the Patriots, Americans, Jaguars, Blades, Meadowlanders, Lightning, Meadowlarks, Coastals, Colonials, Generals, and Gulls. It’s worth pointing out many of these names are currently used by youth hockey organizations located in New Jersey and New York, along with other professional sports teams.
One fun fact most people might not know is that according to the New York Times, had McMullen gotten his way, the New Jersey Devils would have been named the New Jersey Meadowlanders.
“I like Meadowlanders (as a team name). But that’s not too popular with the rest of my family.”
Despite backlash due to religious concerns, the New Jersey Devils actually got their name from a legendary creature who purportedly resides in the Garden State. Popularly known as the Jersey Devil, it’s a monstrous winged being described as having hoofed feet, a horse-like head, and a pointed tail. The Jersey Devil is said to lurk in the Pine Barrens—a region of more than one million square acres of dense pine forests that comprises 22 percent of New Jersey’s land area. Although most sightings of the Jersey Devil occurred in the late-19th and early-20th century, reports of the creature still continue to this day.
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The story behind how the New Jersey Devils came to have deep historical and cultural ties to the Garden State. Stories like this definitely make one wonder—What if John McMullen wound up naming his team the New Jersey Meadowlanders? What if a name like the Patriots, Jaguars, or Lightning won McMullen’s “Name That Team” contest? Stories like this give fans a stronger sense of appreciation and pride in their team’s back story and identity by helping them understand what the name they enthusiastically represent at games or in public means and how it originated.
Definitely, something to put in perspective next time you’re donning the New Jersey Devils logo.