By Peter Schwartz
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As the Islanders celebrate their final season at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the organization is trying to cram 43 years of history into one commemorative campaign. Since 1972, the Islanders have enjoyed the highest of the highs on Hempstead Turnpike with many memorable moments, including a run of four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-83.
The team has also suffered through its fair share of tough times, like in 1995 when the management team affectionately known as “The Gang of Four” decided that the Islanders needed a new look. They ditched their classic crest that honored Long Island and introduced the “fisherman” logo.
While Islanders fans thought they had seen the last of the fisherman when the team ditched the logo after two years, it’s coming back — for one night only.
During a home game in February, the Islanders will wear a standard practice jersey during warmups. The jerseys will have the fisherman crest on the front and players’ names and numbers on the back.
The decision will likely ruffle some feathers throughout Islanders Country.
“That crest sort of became emblematic of a very dark period in our history,” said Islanders senior marketing manager Eileen Mathews. “We certainly understand and respect the feelings of the fans who lived through that era.”
Many of those fans would prefer to use the world “error” instead of “era.” So what in the name of Nyisles (placed in the mascot protection program before Sparky was hired) were the Islanders thinking?
“The jersey is still a part of our history,” Mathews said. “We wore it in this building and there’s this new younger generation of fans who aren’t necessarily burdened by that history, and for them the logo has become something that’s cool.”
When the Islanders were putting together their plans for the Coliseum’s final season, the subject of the fisherman logo came up during a meeting. Since the jersey was so controversial, how could the Islanders possibly justify using it during this special season?
While the Islanders hope that people can laugh about it, there really is a good reason to bring the jerseys back for a swan song.
“They will only be worn during the pregame warmups and they will be auctioned off for charity,” said Mathews.
The exact date in February that the Islanders will wear the jerseys in warmups as well as details of the auction will be announced at a later date.
The fisherman jerseys debuted during the 1995-96 season, and the fan reaction was overwhelmingly negative. It’s believed that the players didn’t care much for them either.
But there was one Islander who couldn’t wait to put it on.
“For me, it was the first jersey that I ever wore in the NHL, so I was still pretty proud to put the jersey on when I first got there,” said former forward Steve Webb, who joined the team during the 1996-97 campaign, the second season of the fisherman jersey.
Many fans didn’t agree with Webb. Other die-hards bought the new jerseys. That was mirrored during the recent marketing meeting at the Coliseum. When the subject of the fisherman jerseys came up, there was a difference of opinion.
“It’s polarizing,” Mathews said of the jerseys. “The older people who lived through that era are the people who don’t like it, so yes there were some people who fell into that camp. But there were more who were in the camp of, ‘Let’s just bring it back one more time since it’s a part of our history.’”
For the record, the last time that the Islanders wore the fisherman jersey was on April 12, 1997 in a season-ending 6-2 loss at Washington. However, the night before, Islanders fans at Nassau Coliseum said their goodbyes to the angry fisherman during the home finale, a 6-4 win over the Hartford Whalers.
“The chant in the Coliseum was, ‘No more fish-sticks,’” recalled Webb, who is now a divisional player representative for the NHLPA. “It was pretty loud and the fans were pretty happy that we were getting rid of those jerseys.”
To a certain extent, the jerseys made the Islanders the butt of many jokes. In fact, I remember going to an Islanders-Rangers game at Madison Square Garden and seeing New York fans walking around in raincoats in an effort to mock the fisherman logo. The character looked like the Gorton’s fisherman.
“I can only imagine what the Rangers fans were saying about Islanders fans wearing those jerseys,” Webb said.
I remember what was said. But this is a family blog, so I can’t write it.
The fisherman logo was far from popular, but it didn’t help that the Islanders were bad. It was one thing for the fans to endure the losing, but they also had to deal with the jerseys. It was just another thing to complain about during a rough era in franchise history.
“When things aren’t going so well, people tend to look at anything they can,” Webb said.
While those jerseys had nothing to do with the Islanders losing, many fans used them as an excuse. I’ve maintained all these years that if the Islanders were good back then, the logo wouldn’t have received as much grief.
And let’s be honest. People bought the jerseys. You still see some wearing them at games today. I’ll admit that I own a home and away set of the fisherman jerseys, so I might have to dust off one of them in February on the night that the logo comes back for warmups.
Speaking of that night, what will be the reaction from the fans? Will they boo the Islanders during warmups? Will everyone get a chuckle out it?
As an organization, the Islanders are clearly poking fun at themselves. They are trying to come up with a way to acknowledge what was not a great period of time. When I first heard about this, I thought it was stupid. But the more I mull over it, I think it’s a brilliant decision by the Islanders.
“I think it was just let’s put it out there one more time and give it one final sendoff before it hopefully rests in peace,” Mathews said. “It’s been almost 20 years, so hopefully there’s enough distance that people can look at it now through different eyes and maybe see the humor in it.”
The fisherman logo wasn’t exactly a high point in Islanders history. But it was part of their history, and as the team says goodbye to Nassau Coliseum, they’ve come up with a way to say goodbye and good riddance to something that should have never happened in the first place.
I’m sure there are plenty of fans who would disagree. But I see no harm in the Islanders having a laugh about this during warmups.
And after that, the Islanders and their fans will say goodbye to the fisherman forever!
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