Guardians’ debut shows why this XFL has a chance

The disoriented seagulls needed more time than the football fans to adjust to a winter Sunday interruption.

The first weekend after the Super Bowl brought the smell of sausage and peppers, the sound of beanbags crashing onto a cornhole board and the sight of the familiar swooping scavengers back to MetLife Stadium parking lots for the first time since Dec. 29.

An M-V-P chant serenaded the quarterback, hands banged the back of chairs creating noise to help the defense, and boos rained down on the officials during a replay review.

Relaunched 19 years after its original violence-branded incarnation flopped, the football-centric XFL resumed with a 23-3 win by the New York Guardians over the Tampa Bay Vipers.

“I’ll bet people are surprised how good the play is,” said Guardians coach Kevin Gilbride, a former NFL head coach and Giants offensive coordinator. “Anybody who loves football saw with their own eyes that, ‘This is something I can get behind.’ “

An announced crowd of 17,634 — comparable to naked-eye estimates at a Rutgers football game in 2019 — restricted to the 82,500-seat stadium’s lower bowl filled the end zones and most of the home sideline. They came because they actually wanted to — not because of family tradition or fear of wasted money.

“I scream my head off for the Giants and I’m expecting to do the same here,” said 25-year-old Anthony Largar, a season-ticket holder for the Giants and the Guardians. “The thing that’s so frustrating lately with the Giants is how many opposing fans are here. It’s kind of cool we’re all rooting for the same team. The more football, the better.”

XFL
Fans watch the Guardians’ XFL opener at MetLife StadiumBill Kostroun

The XFL is banking on it. A few dropped passes can be forgiven in exchange for a traffic-free commute.

Chuck Marakovitz and his son Robert — with Giants season tickets in the family for 60 years — said they came for the “raw fan aspect.” The Knowlton family of three wore Guardians jerseys — still a rarity — and was more interested in “good football and a new team that could take off” than in snacking on White Castle out of their trunk.

There will be awkward moments. A rabid fan during warm-ups hung over the railing to give a shot of adrenaline to the home team: ‘All day No. 1!” he shouted, clearly unaware of wide receiver McKay Mekale’s name.

“Right now, they’re calling me No. 1, but soon they’ll be calling me Big Play McKay,” Mekale told The Post. “We are real people. We love fan support. It felt like a real football environment.”

When former Penn State and Raiders quarterback Matt McGloin scored the first touchdown in Guardians history, one fan confused him for Mark McGrath, the lead singer of Sugar Ray.

After the second long kickoff return — a result of one of a handful of rule changes from the NFL — another fan shrugged: “I guess this is normal.”

“It was as much fun as I’ve had playing football in a long time,” McGloin said.

The XFL is offering access to fans who can’t afford to get close to the NFL. The discount is the $30 ticket — same price as parking — and maybe a chance to get hands on a player like Andrew Soroh, who Lambeau Leaped after his interception.

A large domestic beer cost $12. A Guardians sweatshirt cost $56. And lines at both stands ran 20-deep during the first half.

The football product is better than it was 19 years ago, a result of nearly two years of preparation. A 45-yard pass from McGloin to McKay was the kind of throw that didn’t exist in XFL 1.0. There were big hits, but one player was ejected for throwing a punch and the football didn’t feel like a sideshow.

At-home interest could spike from the ability to gamble on the game from a mobile phone — at least in New Jersey — plus television technology like live listen-ins to play calls.

The initial curiosity is over. Can the new XFL retain enough fans to succeed where its predecessors failed?

“I could barely hear the calls through the mic because of the crowd noise,” Soroh said. “We really didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out great.”

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