Seinfeld’s David Puddy from ‘The Face Painter’ reaches a Devil of a milestone

Patrick Warburton, David Puddy, Seinfeld, New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Patrick Warburton, David Puddy, Seinfeld, New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Fictional Devils fan David Puddy and others have only emboldened the legacy of Seinfeld’s “The Face Painter” leading up to the episode’s 25th anniversary.

There is something eerie about the way “The Face Painter” hits major anniversaries at low points in the real hockey world.

Monday marks 25 years since Seinfeld supporting character David Puddy (Patrick Warburton) soundly embodied a rabid New Jersey Devils fan. As such, when the episode reached its 10-year mark, NHL fans were coping with a cancelled postseason. The unprecedented yearlong lockout had ruled out a 2005 Stanley Cup tournament three months earlier.

Now, at the episode’s silver anniversary, everyone wonders if the 2019-20 campaign will resume at any point in any form.

With that said, there are few, if any, better distancing-friendly diversions for pucks and pop-culture crossover enthusiasts. “The Face Painter” elicits healthful laughs with its titular plot and subplots (the chimp “started it!”) while giving partisan puckheads a good-natured look in their springtime mirror.

And it has given the now-only major sports team bearing New Jersey’s dateline a perennial public-relations gift. It makes one wonder what would have happened if Seinfeld did anything remotely similar with the NBA’s Nets.

Then again, it was not as if the Nets and the Knicks ever played a back-and-forth Eastern Conference Final. They did meet in the 1994 playoffs, but New York topped New Jersey in a four-game, best-of-five first-round set.

At the time, no matchup of New York City metropolitan teams was ripe for a satirical spotlight quite like Devils-Rangers. The Jersey-based New York Giants and New York Jets only cross paths every handful of years. Regular-season Yankees-Mets cards were still two years away, the crosstown 2000 World Series five.

Conversely, the Devils-Rangers rivalry had officially arrived through an epic 1994 third-round showdown. Through Puddy, Seinfeld capitalized on the fresh memories, underscoring the absurd antics of rooters craving big-time bragging rights.

The Devils have never let their fictitious moment of glory get away any more than syndication can elude Seinfeld itself. It didn’t hurt that they took care of unfinished business a month after “The Face Painter” premiered.

The next fall, Warburton dropped a ceremonial faceoff after the team raised its first Stanley Cup banner. By 2001, he was telling’s Page 2 that the team’s persistent playing of episode clips on its big screen meant “I was adopted by the fans of the Devils.”

As it happens, both parties in the matchup have benefited from the depiction. “The Face Painter” garnered a meaningful mention in Tim Sullivan’s 2012 book on the rivalry, Battle on the Hudson.

Warburton told Sullivan that the storyline was only his second Seinfeld episode. Yet its impact was such that, “after it, people recognized me as if I was a regular. The Devils and Rangers have been with me, I suppose, for my entire career.”

Incidentally, Puddy fell short of becoming a regular, but did log eight more appearances, all in the show’s 1997-98 swan song. Each of the character’s subsequent, formal revivals have been live in the Devils’ domain.

Of his enriching chat with Warburton on New Jersey’s love affair with its franchise, Sullivan wrote in his book’s acknowledgements, “It was one of the more entertaining meetings I will ever have.”

Two years later, in 100 Things Rangers Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, Russ Cohen and Adam Raider included the episode on a lengthy list of pop-culture references to the Blueshirts.

Incidentally, the Rangers’ roster of non-sportscast TV appearances is lengthy and glittering. Cohen and Raider mentioned eight other shows ranging from Beverly Hills 90210 to Up All Night.

The Rangers were mentioned in multiple episodes of How I Met Your Mother, where dual citizen Robin Scherbatzky’s (Cobie Smulders) Canucks fanaticism is the only TV-world rival to Puddy’s Devils devotion. On the unscripted front, Henrik Lundqvist guest-starred on Martha Stewart.

That is hardly unexpected for the Original Six representatives of the country’s largest city. But legacy-wise, the Devils and their larger share of the rivalry’s Seinfeld ties trump quantity with quality. That is the difference Puddy and his painted face make.

Beyond the books, the episode’s title character has experienced a slew of visual revivals between its 20th and 25th anniversaries. The first of those recent developments all but makes one wonder why it did not happen sooner.

Midway through a four-year stay on the Devils’ farm, goaltender Scott Wedgewood offered a nod natural for his position. Starting in 2015, the left ear of his mask depicted the hissing Puddy from the poor priest’s angle.

As Wedgewood told the AHL Albany team’s YouTube channel at the time, “When I was first drafted by New Jersey, one of the first things any of us said was ‘The Devils.’” Despite his tame delivery in that interview, one can assume everyone was doing their best Warburtonian growl at the time.

For what it’s worth, Wedgewood was two and a half years old when “The Face Painter” premiered. He was five and a half by the time Seinfeld wrapped up its original run.

But that is what happens when a phenomenon, however niche it may be, gets to hang around. Generations too young for the origin relish and stoke the legacy.

Soon after Wedgewood started brandishing his character in the crease, Warburton got actively involved in the nostalgia on a more consistent basis. For starters, he procured his own non-game-used version of the “Face Painter” face protector in 2016.

Two years later, he showed up in character for, what else, a playoff game at the Prudential Center. The Devils followed that up with a ’90s Night last February, handing out Puddy bobbleheads and having Warburton/Puddy drop a ceremonial puck for the second time.

And this past August, they could not even wait for the silver anniversary of their own Seinfeld moment. They honored the whole show’s 30-year mark with a minute-long mashup of Warburton/Puddy’s relationship with the franchise.

Well, why not? In terms of the brand’s name recognition beyond NHL buffs, that series started it.

Next. The IHL’s posthumous 75th anniversary, Part 1. dark

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