Matt McGloin had his eyes set downfield Sunday against the Tampa Bay Vipers in his debut for the XFL’s New York Guardians, and the league is looking to the future as well. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano)
I first saw Matt McGloin play at Memorial Stadium in downtown Scranton. It’s not a world-renowned venue, of course. But it’s Lambeau Field and Soldier Field and the Rose Bowl all rolled into one for those of us who grew up in The Electric City. The great ones always wind up there.
I can’t remember who West Scranton was playing that day, and I can’t imagine McGloin was old enough to even obtain a driver’s license at that point in his life. It was early in his career with West Scranton, and he was a really good player then, even with a really small amount of experience.
Chicago. Minneapolis. New York City. State College. Tampa. Lincoln, Neb. Columbus, Ohio. Philadelphia. A few high school stadiums scattered in between. These are just some of the places I’ve gone to see him play football since, and I can’t say for sure whether I ever imagined that possible the first time I saw McGloin play all those years ago. But I thought about that Sunday as I sat inside the press box at MetLife Stadium, watching McGloin and the New York Guardians win their XFL debut, 23-3, over the favored Tampa Bay Vipers, watching him greet his wife and son before the game, acknowledging a host of family and friends and fans who made the drive from Scranton with a wave as he jogged into the locker room.
It has been quite a ride with this guy, quite a story to document.
I don’t know where this XFL thing winds up going for McGloin. I know he’d like it to lead to another shot at an NFL job, and maybe that happens if he builds off his solid performance against the Vipers (he threw for 182 yards, accounted for two touchdowns and didn’t commit a turnover). But I’ll say this: He’s still playing football at 30, professionally, and that’s a pretty amazing run.
And there’s no question why it has gone on as long as it has.
“He still has a tremendous competitive fire to go out and compete and play well,” Guardians head coach Kevin Gilbride said.
McGloin told me after the game that, above all else Sunday, he had fun. That’s something, he admitted, he hasn’t experienced playing football in a long while, and knowing him, I get that. His drive for getting the most out of himself, for winning and proving the critics wrong, propelled him most of his life.
I wonder if, in this season with the XFL, we see a bit different of a player, because we’re looking at a bit different a person. He has his own family now; his nearly 1-year-old son Marshall was in attendance for one of his dad’s games for the first time Sunday. While he might say he had to compete for the starting job, McGloin didn’t have to fight for a spot on this roster; he was the odds-on favorite to be the starter heading into camp, and he is clearly the face of a team trying to build a brand. He knows what life without wearing the pads is like, because he hadn’t donned them in a while; he was last in an NFL camp in 2018 and spent the 2019 season doing sideline reporting for the Penn State Radio Network. After a lifetime of scratching and clawing and never letting go of any little bit of a chance he was given, he seems to have come to grips with the fact that this may just be the last chance he gets, as much as he hopes it isn’t. And the trick has always been being OK with that.
“I was just talking to somebody the other day, and I said, ‘I’m just having a lot of fun doing this right now,'” McGloin told me Sunday. “It’s just a reminder to me how much I’ve enjoyed playing this game my entire life. I think somewhere toward the end of my NFL career, I guess I lost sight of that. I was trying to focus too much on trying to do what I thought I had to do or what the coaches wanted me to do, or trying to become the type of player they wanted me to become. This league, this opportunity, has allowed me to take a step back and realize I can go out there, be me, play well and lead a football team.”
That’s not a bad way to go out, if that’s how it all ultimately ends.
It’s not a bad realization to come to, either, if you’re going to move forward.
This story isn’t over yet. We’ll see where it goes next.
NEW LEAGUE, NEW POSSIBILITIES
So, some thoughts on the XFL itself…
- Its legacy will be the kickoff rules.
I don’t know how long this league will last (we’ll discuss that later), but I do really believe that, when your great grandchildren are watching football in 100 years, they’ll be watching kickoffs the way the XFL started doing them this weekend.
If you didn’t watch any games over the weekend and don’t know the rules, here’s a quick primer:
- Kicker kicks off from his own 30.
- Coverage team lines up at the return team’s 35.
- Return team lines up at its own 30 (with return man/men in usual position).
- Each team has to have three players outside the hashmarks.
- No player is allowed to move until the ball is caught by the return man or until three seconds have passed after the ball has touched the ground.
- Kicker must put the ball in play between the goal line and the 20.
- If he kicks it into the end zone, ball is placed at the 35. If he kicks it short of the 20 or out of bounds, it is placed at the 45.
- If the ball bounces in play between the goal line and the 20, then bounces through the end zone, or is downed in the end zone by the return man, the ball is placed at the 15.
It’s all pretty simple and meant to do one thing: Encourage returns. Sunday, it did that, and lining up the players closer to the return man (and the blockers) conceivably increases safety. But the bigger deal here is, it’s a safer way to encourage returns, which fans like.
Kickoffs, at both the NFL and major college level, are a waste of time as they’re currently done, frankly. Most kickers can regularly kick the ball through the end zone anyway, and penalties and injuries happen at a much higher rate when there is a return. Both the NFL and college game should adopt this kickoff format.
- Broadcasting of the review procedure is brilliant
There was a call in the first half Sunday of a fumble that went to the review booth, and it was correctly overturned. Pretty simple decision, really. The Tampa Bay tight end caught the ball and it was jarred free, but it was clearly knocked from his hands before the player could make a move with the ball. The replay official described the play to the referee on the field, the whole world saw what he saw and why he saw it, they overturned the call, and the game moved on.
Later, there was a review on a spot after a fumble return for a score. Basically, they determined there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the call on the field — which was debatable, but certainly understandable. But it was good to hear that thought process as well.
This is another innovation the NFL and NCAA should consider. It at least supports transparency in making the calls, and you’re much less likely to get one of those crazy decisions being made if you’re a replay official and you know the world is watching the process. There’d be no more asking, “What was that guy looking at?” because you’d know exactly what that guy was looking at.
For what it’s worth, I can see the kickoff rule going into effect. The replay broadcast…I think the NFL and NCAA would balk at that one. You do lose a sense of control over the game that way, as wrong as that sounds. I just can’t see leagues giving that up.
- The game wasn’t as “fast” as I thought it would be.
Granted, there are always going to be some kinks and things should be much smoother as the XFL moves forward. But I really expected a 2:30-2:45 game and it was pretty close to 3:00. First and third quarters seemed like they flew by, but the clock stopping after every play to spot the ball inside the 2-minute warning slowed things down considerably.
I just think this could be streamlined even a little bit more, and it will be fun to watch how game times are affected moving forward. All this said, it’s not so much about time of game as it is pace of play.
- The coaches were too conservative on the extra point plays.
Gilbride kind of copped to this in his postgame presser.
Basically, the XFL gives you three options when it comes to the PAT. Run a play from the 2-, 5- or 10-yard line to get 1, 2 or 3 extra point(s), respectively.
I expected teams would try the 3-point play from the 10 most often and was really looking forward to seeing how that played out. New York scored three touchdowns Sunday and went for the 1-point try from the 2 every time, though.
There were 19 PAT attempts in the XFL over the weekend. Nobody tried to go for the 3-point play.
Offenses were 4 for 11 on the 1-point try from the 2 (the Guardians were actually 2 for 3), and 3 for 8 on the 2-point play from the 5.
Again, it’s going to be about measuring success rates over the long term and seeing what works best when you’re determining what works for the future. But, Gilbride said something interesting after the game***: Basically, his “analytics guys” tell him NFL teams score about the same percentage of the time on plays from the 10 as they do on plays from the 5.
Which makes sense. Running a play from the 10 gives you more room to play with as an offense. That’s why I was rather unsurprised when I saw the numbers from the 2 and the 5.
What it comes down to is, on 11 tries from the 2, XFL teams garnered four extra points. On eight tries from the 5, it garnered 6. If Gilbride’s NFL data is right, and the success rate for them is the same from the 10…you should be going for the 3 points from the 10 every time, considering you have to convert just twice in 10 tries to get what you’re probably going to get going for 1 point consistently.
And let’s be real about this: There was only one team — Los Angeles — that seemed to be going for the 2 points from the 5 as part of its strategy, and they hit a conversion early in the game, which forced its opponent, Houston, to try to keep pace. That’s a big reason the 2-point attempts were as high as they were.
Is this a rule that the NFL and college games will adopt? Probably not — I don’t think the NFL extra points, since they moved them back, are gimmies at this point — but I think it might be a good idea to move two-point conversion attempts to the 5. It opens up the playbook a little bit more and generates some more excitement for the fans. And hey, it might promote more 2-point attempts, too.
***Gilbride’s reasoning for opting for the 1-point conversions rather than 2 or 3: Essentially, he understood the math and knew the percentages and probabilities and agreed with them and realized that hitting three out of 10 attempts from the 10 is essentially equivalent to a 90 percent success rate from the 2. But in his heart, he still believes it’s easier to convert from the 2. For what it’s worth…
- Will it all last?
The Guardians drew 17,000-plus to MetLife on Sunday, and I thought it was a pretty good atmosphere for the game. I feel confident saying the league and the team are very OK with that number. Usually, when the stadium has far more empty seats than people inside it, my experience is that you have to pry the attendance number out of the media relations staff. This time, the Guardians sent a team rep around to offer the attendance number to reporters, personally. They seemed very satisfied and excited to do so.
Of course, the big question for the XFL is going to be what that number looks like around the league next week and the one after that and moving into March. And once the novelty of the rules innovations wears off, it will come down to people enjoying the quality of football enough to come back and see it again.
I saw one game, so take this for what you will. But I’d watch again. I’m actually excited to watch some more. But the quality of play was OK, not great, to me. There were too many outright dropped passes. I don’t think the routes were particularly sharp. There were far, far too many missed tackles. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say the quality of play in the game I saw was around a 5.
Can it get better? Sure. I expect it too. There had to be jitters for starters, and the offenses just weren’t in sync yet (these teams have only been together about a month). I think that will naturally get better as the season goes on, and it will need to.
But all in all, I thought it was a fun experience. The atmosphere was great — there was a house DJ at MetLife and a team drum line, and for whatever reason, it didn’t take much to get the fans really into it from the outset. The rules changes mostly worked. The ticket prices were right — it’s a good chance for fans who can’t normally get a seat on the 40 at MetLife Stadium when the Giants or Jets play to take in a game in the best seats in the house.
This is probably the best attempt at putting together a professional spring football league that I’ve seen.
Donnie Collins has been a member of The Times-Tribune sports staff for nearly 20 years and has been the Penn State football beat writer for Times-Shamrock Newspapers since 2004. The Penn State Football Blog covers Nittany Lions, Big Ten and big-time college football news from Beaver Stadium to the practice field, the bowl game to National Letter of Intent Signing Day. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5368; @DonnieCollinsTT