Watching the amazingly eloquent tributes done for Mariano Rivera these past few weeks has New Jersey Devils fans, and for that matter most of hockey at least pondering for a second, what will the sport do for Martin Brodeur when he makes his exit. While the Yankees future hall of famer is certainly beyond reproach in so many ways, including the fact that he is the last Major Leaguer ever to wear the famed 42 of Jackie Robinson and clearly defined a position and a legacy both on and off the diamond, the imprint that Brodeur has had upon his sport, and certainly is franchise, is probably a close second.
While the image of the Devils in the eye of the casual fan lags far behind that of the Yankees, the impact Brodeur has had on the team certainly does not. During their long championship-caliber run, New Jersey operated in general anonymity, putting the indelible mark of team way ahead of individual accomplishments, but Brodeur was the one constant that even the most distant of hockey fans could identify with for Lou Lamoriello’s club. He was the stalwart, the last line of defense and a consistent symbol of class and quiet success both on and off the ice. You may have hated the Devils, but it was hard to hate Marty. Even in recent years, as the club made a more concerted and effective effort to grow its brand off the ice, pioneering cutting edge digital fan engagement programs that were best in class not just in the NHL bit in professional sport, the player of choice for the fan remained Brodeur, and he rarely disappointed with his performance on the ice as well, leading New jersey to an unexpected strike-shortened run to the NHL Finals just a few years ago. When there were opportunities to go elsewhere, better hockey markets that were less crowded, maybe even ones where one more championship ring could be had, Brodeur and team chose to stand pat, hopefully finishing out a legendary run in Devils colors, where it started, a rarity among professional athletes these days.
Yes the Brodeur run has had its blemishes both personally and professionally, but like Rivera’s occasional shortfalls, those should make him even more special to a New York area sports fan that is all about getting it done today. He is one of us, and one of use with amazing ability, longevity, consistency and an amazing legacy. Had Martin Brodeur played across the river, maybe traded places with the equally effervescent, slightly younger and slightly more outwardly marketable Henrik Lundquist (one who has no Stanley Cup rings to his credit yet), maybe there would be a coronation starting already, like the one Rivera went through across the league and in The Bronx. Maybe there would be billboards and ads and marketing deals lined up for a once in a lifetime star reaching his end somewhere in the not too distant future. However this is New Jersey, and marketing success is not as bright for those who call The Pru home just yet. Maybe in the future as new ownership picks up on the push the Jeff Vanderbeek ownership started but not just yet.
In the end, as hockey starts the 2013-14 season, fans not just in New Jersey should pause to appreciated the legacy, and the grandeur of the resume Martin Brodeur has amassed, not just as a Devil but as an elite athlete in the most competitive marketplace in the world. Leadership by quiet example and loyalty probably has lost some luster in the bright lights and get it done today world we live in today, but Mariano Rivera’s curtain call of excellence reminded us that those qualities still have great value and marketability, whether they are on the diamond or the ice. No the Brodeur era is not yet in its final hours, but it is in the foreseeable future, and there is no time to start appreciating and planning not just as a team, but as a league and as a sport, than now.
Let’s enjoy the time, and the season, stars like this don’t always shine as bright and for as long, especially in New Jersey.