Welcome back, readers! I mentioned in my previous post that the story of David Clarkson is one of the biggest reasons the NHL and the New Jersey Devils should #BringDownTheBarricade on the visitor’s side of The Prudential Center. I felt it was important to share the foundation of his relationship with his New Jersey fans before getting into his time as a Maple Leaf.
In the interest of brevity, I’ll let the photos featuring our preparations for Clarkson’s return in March of 2014 speak for themselves:
All of us decided to get together and make posters to hold during pre-game warm ups for Clarkson’s first game back at The Prudential Center.
On a separate day, Diane and I got together to make a banner to hang at the visitor’s entrance. We wanted to surprise Clarkson before he even entered the arena.
On the big day, we gathered at the visitor’s entrance before the Toronto buses arrived:
Yes, we had t-shirts made, again. I was too cold to take my jacket off for the picture! A few of our other friends were present and helped us hang the banner/took photos for us.
We had no idea how this was going to turn out. We spent hours decorating posters, coming up with witty expressions, and putting together the massive banner hanging from the crowd control barrier. Would Clarkson be embarrassed? Would he appreciate all our hard work? Would he even have time to stop and talk to us? As it got closer to the team’s arrival, quite a few people had gathered to greet Clarkson. The nervous excitement and press of the crowd kept us all warm in spite of the bitter wind.
We (im)patiently waited when the bus arrived as coaching staff, trainers and his teammates started passing by the banner and the crowd. Many of them had looks of bewilderment and amusement. Some stopped and signed autographs for the Toronto fans that were gathered along beside us.
Finally, David Clarkson turned the corner. The crowd burst into a chorus of cheers and chants. I wish I had a video of him as he rounded that corner and saw us all there. It’s one moment I’ll never forget. His expression was a mix of disbelief, humility and gratitude.
I can’t remember exactly what was said or what happened after his entrance. The activity was a whirl wind of enthusiastic re-union and heartfelt thanks from David. He stopped to take pictures with all of us, and we retrieved our jerseys, pucks and other memorabilia which he gladly signed.
Diane with David Clarkson.
Diane and I both had brought him gifts this time. Mine was very fragile, as I had created a stained glass piece for him. He wanted to open it in front of the crowd, but since it was breakable I warned him that he should probably hold off on digging it out of its protective wrappings. He insisted I show him the photos of my creation. So, I nervously pulled up the photos I had saved on my cell phone.
Stained glass piece I created for David Clarkson.
Clarkson leaning over the wall to see the above photo on my phone.
After Clarkson went inside, we carefully removed and put away our banner. We went inside the arena with our bundle of posters and prepared for pre-game warm ups.
Our posters took up a good half of the visitor’s side of the rink.
Our group at the glass with the posters we created.
Not only did we receive a look of gratitude (and a puck or two) from Clarkson, but a few of his team mates slapped the glass in appreciation as well.
At the end of the game, we went out to the visitor’s side one more time to say goodbye. I don’t have a photo, because it was too dark by that time, but David leaned over the barrier to give Diane a hug before he left to get on the bus.
I do, however, have a photo from this year’s visit from the Toronto Maple leafs:
Clarkson reaches over the barrier to greet Diane with a hug.
It’s not too often fans develop friendships like this with their favorite athletes.
After that visit in March of 2014, David had this to say about his fans: “Just walking in I was a little bit nervous, and there were some fans out there to greet me as I walked in with a sign. That was really nice and heart-touching. When you have those [fans] that are out there [with] signs made, it means something to you. It’s nice. And there’s things about here I miss as well. So, for the way everything’s gone, it was a nice entrance to the rink and to have them cheering me on.” (source: NorthJersey.com)
It’s a shame to me that moments like this are a thing of the past at The Prudential Center. These interactions clearly mean as much to some of the players as they do to the fans that follow them. It is heart breaking to me that the NHL and the New Jersey Devils have allowed a handful of incidents to ruin the wonderful human side of this business. Guys like David Clarkson will no longer see the smiling faces or receive the warm well wishes of their biggest fans when they return to our arena. Unless we #BringDownTheBarricade, another touching human element is lost forever to the cold, impersonal business that has become professional sports.
Thanks for following! Stay tuned for more special stories as the series continues. If you have a story you would like to share, please feel free to contact me via twitter (@shadowpwny) or leave a message in the comments.