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ESNY Exclusive: New York Guardians take over MetLife Stadium

As their debut approaches, the New York Guardians donned their helmets at MetLife Stadium, which was dressed for the occasion.

Geoff Magliocchetti

MetLife Stadium got a bit of a makeover on Wednesday afternoon.

The stadium, known primarily for its green and blue tenants, played to its natural state of gray, as it adorned the colors of the XFL’s New York Guardians for the first time. East Rutherford, NJ will play host to the team’s debut against the Tampa Bay Vipers on Sunday afternoon (2 p.m. ET, Fox).

With opening day looming, the Guardians broke in their new home on Wednesday afternoon, hosting practice on MetLife’s turf. The team previously visited the stadium for a walkthrough on Monday, but Wednesday’s session featured new decorations.

Guardians signage and emblems were prominently on display to welcome the new tenants. Part of the field was, in fact, unavailable to the players due to drying paint on the field. The East Rutherford end zones will bear the Guardians moniker in a black font, while an oversized XFL logo will adorn midfield.

“I feel good, we look good, I’m very excited for this week,” cornerback and Orange, NJ native Jamar Summers told ESNY after practice. “Fans can expect a lot of fun, big plays, guys out there coming together, getting to where they need to get to.”

“We’re trying to get a familiarity with the field, let the guys feel comfortable, let them view as if it is their home field, use it to our advantage” head coach Kevin Gilbride added. “The first time you come in here, it can be a bit overwhelming, so it was good. I wish we had full access to the field, but we did the best we could.”

The trek to East Rutherford was a familiar one for Gilbride. New York’s coach was the offensive coordinator during the NFL Giants’ first four seasons at MetLife, which opened in 2010.

Gilbride wasn’t nostalgic, focusing only on a new challenge in a new league. His new gig with the Guardians ended a six-year absence from football that began with his retirement from the Giants in 2013.

“I certainly have a lot of great memories and loved my time here,” Gilbride said. “But, to me, it’s all about looking forward, how’s this team going to do. That’s all I care about.”

Wednesday’s action featured no tackling, but Gilbride had the chance to see his new offense work at a full-speed pace. Matt McGloin will start at quarterback, while former Alliance of American Football standout, Tim Cook, tops the rushing depth chart. With top draft pick DeAngelo Yancey dealing with an unspecified injury, McGloin’s favorite targets were Mekale McKay and Colby Pearson.

Monday’s walkthrough was more of a tour for the team, who excitedly took photos and adjusted to their new settings. Cell phones were exchanged for helmets on Wednesday, as the team conducted individual and collaborative drills.

The visit to MetLife comes after nearly two months of preparation. Minicamp at Superdome Sports in Waldwick, NJ (where practice will be held on a more regular basis) preceded training sessions in Houston with the rest of their XFL brethren. The latter portion ended with a scrimmage against the Vipers, one the Guardians took by a 27-15 final.

“We’ve done the work that needed to be done. Now it’s time to get the rewards that come with the hard work they put forth,” Gilbride told ESNY. “I hope we play well. That’s what we’re looking forward to, that’s what we expect. I know that the players have invested a lot of time and effort. We’re certainly making progress. Hopefully, we’ve made enough.”

Players promised fans a good time and a great show.

“I hope the fans come out and support us. It’s definitely going to be a nice Sunday,” McKay said. “(They can expect) a lot of big plays. I think we’re going to come out here and be a physical team and represent the states of New Jersey and New York.”

Tampa Bay is led by former Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman. Notable Vipers include SEC passing touchdowns leader Aaron Murray and former Seattle Seahawks tight end Tanner McEvoy. The latter graduated from Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell, NJ and scored one of his two career NFL touchdowns in a 2016 win over the Jets in East Rutherford.

MetLife Stadium will host five Guardians games this season, with the next one coming on Feb. 29 against the Los Angeles Wildcats. Spring football is no stranger to the Meadowlands, as the demolished Giants Stadium previously hosted several non-NFL football teams. Among those previous tenants were the New York/New Jersey Hitmen—the team was part of the XFL’s original incarnation in 2001. They went 4-6 in their lone campaign, but finished second in the league in average attendance (28,309 per game).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490