Spring professional football has always been an uphill fight even in a country where the appetite for the game appears to be insatiable.
The United States Football League had some success in its run from 1983 through 1985 but it was done in when the New Jersey Generals owner, a guy named Donald Trump, made the league switch to a fall schedule to compete with the NFL. The USFL promptly folded.
Fast forward to 2001 when Trump’s buddy, wrestling impresario Vince McMahon, launched the XFL and claimed it was going to be harder-hitting than the NFL. McMahon worked WWE talent Jesse Ventura into broadcasts and encouraged players to put bizarre nicknames on their uniforms. The play didn’t live up to the hype (the New York Hitmen were especially feeble) and the XFL disappeared after one year. In 2019, the Alliance of American Football folded during its maiden season.
Last month the XFL relaunched, and last Saturday I attended the game at MetLife Stadium between the Los Angeles Wildcats and New York Guardians.
Though many of the athletes I saw didn’t have the size one associates with the NFL, these guys were quality football players. A good case in point was 5-foot-6 running back Darius Victor, who accomplished at MetLife what Jets fans were hoping Le’Veon Bell could have last year.
Guardians quarterback Luis Perez may not possess the arm strength of the Jets’ Sam Darnold or the Giants’ Daniel Jones but he showed smarts by not throwing any interceptions and was able to lead the Guardians to a 17-14 win.
The Jets and Giants would be wise to think about signing Guardians kicker Matthew McCrane, who has shown an ability to reliably make field goals from longer than 50 yards. He seems far more dependable than the Jets’ Sam Ficken or the Giants’ Aldrick Rosas.
The XFL is trying to be family-friendly as ticket prices start at $20 and only the lower bowl of MetLife was open so fans are close to the action. I like the idea of Saturday matinees, something the Mets haven’t done in years.
Getting 12,000 fans to come out and watch a new league that hasn’t gotten a lot of coverage in the area daily newspapers and sports talk radio has to be considered encouraging. The Guardians would attract more fans if NJ Transit would run direct train service to the Meadowlands as it does for Jets and Giants games. It runs shuttle buses from Secaucus Junction. Coach USA also runs buses from the Port Authority to MetLife on Guardians game days.
The XFL’s motto is “For the love of football.” I hope it succeeds.
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Former Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride is the head coach of the Guardians. Most NFL coaches are loathe to admit a mistake in strategy to the press following a game but Gilbride, to his credit, did exactly that.
The Guardians had the ball around midfield in the third quarter and were facing a fourth down and inches. Rather than let the Guardians offense try to secure a first down, Gilbride brought out punter Justin Vogel, who did his job pinning the Wildcats deep in their own territory. It didn’t make a difference, however, because the Wildcats, led by QB Josh Johnson and wide receiver Jordan Smallwood, quickly went down the field for a touchdown to tie the game.
“I didn’t regret my decision at the time I made it but I sure did a few minutes later,” Gilbride said with a hearty laugh. He also admitted that he may have demoralized his offense with a football decision that was so conservative it could have merited him a speaking spot at last weekend’s CPAC conference.
CBS Sports lead analyst on NFL telecasts and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has agreed to stay with the Tiffany Network as he agreed to a deal that will pay him $17 million per year. Romo has received a lot of plaudits for his ability to predict what plays a team will run before they happen.
As is often the case in life, timing is everything and Romo’s couldn’t have been any better. CBS has the rights to next year’s Super Bowl and wants its best combo — Jim Nantz and Tony Romo — to be at the microphone.
Another big break for Romo is that the broadcast rights for NFL telecasts are coming up for renewal. CBS is clearly sending a message out to the NFL and to rival networks that it will not be outbid by lavishing this contract on him.
The funny thing is that when CBS hired Romo in 2017 I was not very impressed with him. He appeared understandably nervous and said a lot of “you knows” on the stage of Carnegie Hall bantering with Jim Nantz during a segment of the CBS Upfront that May in which he was introduced to advertisers. His NFL training must have paid off because he surely spent a lot of time watching film of that less-than-stellar debut and vowed to improve as quickly as possible. And he did.
Everyone knows that these are tough financial times for the New York Daily News but the paper shouldn’t have its sportswriters pretend they are covering New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets road games in those out-of-town arenas when they are in fact watching them on television at home like the rest of us. Whenever a story is written by a newsman outside of the greater New York area it’s supposed to have the name of the locale in the byline before the story begins. That is conspicuously missing from the News’ game recap stories when either New York NBA franchise is on the road. I’d have more respect if the paper merely used Associated Press wire service game stories.