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The Horn Identity: Islanders fans bond through parking-lot tradition at Coliseum

Fans tailgate before the Islanders' home opener against

Fans tailgate before the Islanders' home opener against the Carolina Hurricanes at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014. Credit: Jim McIsaac

At the end of the day, all Islanders fans really want to do is honk.

In a tradition that might be as old as the Islanders, fans celebrate each victory at Nassau Coliseum by honking their car horns to the beat of the "Let's go, Is-land-ers!" chant. The sound of that rhythmic beating is as predictable as the traffic jam leaving the parking lot.

But with the Islanders headed to Brooklyn next season, their fans realize it's going to be nearly impossible to take this postgame honking ritual with them. Sure, some still may drive to Barclays Center, but the majority of fans surely will arrive by train.

So the Islanders' playoff run, already serving as a goodbye of sorts to their Long Island roots, also represents the end of one of the more unique postgame parking-lot celebrations in professional sports. And Islanders fans are not happy about it.

"To me, it's just one more thing we're losing," said Brad Shafran, 39, of East Meadow. "I know it sounds minor. It's honking the horn. But it's something that's been done for so many years, and it represents the euphoria of leaving the game."

Blair MacGregor, 31, of Ringwood, New Jersey, added: "It's going to change. I don't think you're going to see as much of it. There are a couple of blocks around the arena. Who knows? Maybe there will be a few folks who do it. But it's definitely not going to be the same."

So these Islanders fans are resolute about enjoying the final days -- if not weeks -- of this quirky tradition that was born by way of their, well, quirky home arena.


Honking to their own beat

The Coliseum parking lot is not easy to exit, especially when thousands try to leave at the same time. Already riding the adrenaline high of a win, Islanders fans wind up stuck in their idling cars with nothing to do while they inch toward the exit. Well, except honk their horns to the beat of their team's rally cry.

It's the most joyous traffic jam you'll ever see.

"That definitely is the sign of a New York Islanders fan," former Islanders great Bobby Nystrom said. "They definitely have that beep down. I love hearing it, actually. You know that it was a good night."

Fans love hearing it, too.

John Kingston, 58, of Carle Place, has been a fan since Day 1. He remembers watching the Islanders win their first Stanley Cup on a TV about as close to the Coliseum as one can get without being inside it -- at the Salty Dog, a one-time popular sports hangout on Hempstead Turnpike.

After the victory, Kingston said he and a buddy celebrated around the Coliseum before embarking on their 10-minute drive home. And of course they honked all the way home.

Well, at least he tried to.

"I absolutely remember driving home in my 1974 Plymouth Duster and honking so much that at a certain point, I had drained the battery so much that it just wouldn't honk anymore," Kingston said. "I'm sitting there banging on the horn -- this little push thing in the middle of the steering wheel before the days of air bags -- and I couldn't get another sound out of the car."

Steve Pothos, 49, of Medford, said the postgame honking during those Stanley Cup years "did not stop all the way toward the Meadowbrook Parkway." Which makes sense: winning and honking go hand-in- hand for Islanders fans.

Pothos remembers one time when a war of words between a Rangers fan and Islanders fan through the car windows led to a drink being thrown. But instead of a fight breaking out, Pothos said the sound of the surrounding cars honking in unison drowned out the trash talk, silenced the Rangers fan and, in a weird way, deflated the situation. "Must have seemed like an eternity for them," he said.


'It's like a little secret signal'

The honking doesn't just happen in the parking lot after games. Gina Frescott, 30, of Farmingdale, said she'll do the honk on her way to games when she spots another Islanders fan. And now that it's warm enough for fans to tailgate, it's common to hear random honks in the parking lot before games.

"It's like a little secret signal that you're part of the club, so to speak," said David Korn, 50, of Jersey City. He said he's done the Islanders honk as far away as south Jersey and Connecticut when he's happened to pass a car with an Islanders insignia on it somewhere.

But although the tradition is sure to live on in that form, it won't be the same without the postgame parking lot renditions.

Like many Islanders fans, Shafran roots for the team because his dad did. And now he's passing it on to his sons.

Shafran said his oldest son, Maxton, will "unofficially" attend his 98th game at the Coliseum Sunday when the Islanders host Game 3 of their first-round series. Not bad for a 5-year-old. And if there's one thing young Max really likes, it's the postgame honking.

"Win or lose, as soon as I turn onto Hempstead Turnpike after the game, he asks for the Islanders honk," he said, "and I oblige."

No, Shafran doesn't like that the Islanders are moving. Why would he? He lives five minutes from the Coliseum, close enough that he can bring his 2-year-old son Brody to the game and have his wife pick him up after the second period.

He'll still root for them, and he hopes his sons continue to as well. But it's not going to be the same. They're going to miss the Islanders, and they're going to miss all that honking, too.

"If I pass the Coliseum, I honk the horn. I do it," he said. "It could be a Saturday morning and the Islanders could be on the West Coast, it doesn't matter. As long as I pass that building, we do it. It's not just because they won a hockey game. It's what we do."

With Robert Cassidy


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