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Guardians fans enjoy family affair at opener

The Sanchez family and friends at MetLife Stadium on Sunday for the Guardians' Week 1 win over the Vipers.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- An hour before the debut XFL matchup between the New York Guardians and the Tampa Bay Vipers, New Jersey residents Jimmy Kindnerski, Chris Schrieks and Marcus Sabatino stand at MetLife Stadium discussing Schrieks’ budding fandom of Guardians quarterback Matt McGloin.

Suddenly, chaos breaks out.

Two tailgates over, a crowd forms. Kindnerski, Schrieks and Sabatino hurry over.

Football in February has brought out the fanatics, and a passionate Buffalo Bills fan is climbing the side of a van.

A single table stands untouched, unsure of the fate that awaits it.

The fan calls for two beers, and someone puts on The Undertaker’s music on a loudspeaker. He smashes the beers together and chugs, thrusting the cans into the air when empty.

And then ... the leap.

"I’m committed to this,” Payne said. “That’s why I like what they’re doing here. They seem ready to do this, and the commitment is there from them. They’ll get it from me, too. I’m on board.”

Guardians fan Robert Payne on the XFL

The fan leaps off the van and crashes into the table to a piercing roar from a raucous crowd.

“This is what it’s all about,” Kindnerski says, walking back to his tailgate. “Football is a break from your life. You work 9-to-5 or whatever, and the weekend hits, and you just want this, a day to hang out with friends, to do your thing, to watch football, to enjoy it. We can get more of this? This is what it’s all about.”

As the crowd around the cacophony disperses, Adam Sanchez shakes his head and laughs.

Bills fans, after all.

Sanchez calls over to his young daughter and gives her a look as if to say, “Never do that.” They are here along with Sanchez’s other daughter and wife; his cousin and his cousin's girlfriend; and his best friend and his son.

For the first time in Sanchez’s football fandom, it’s become a family affair.

His daughters are attending their first game; his wife, her second. An NFL game with a full family is outside the budget.

The Guardians offered Sanchez and his clan an opportunity they would not have in the NFL.

“This is bringing families back together,” Sanchez’s friend Robert Payne said. “Now I can go to an event with my family.”

Scenes from Guardians' home opener

Sanchez bought season tickets for the Guardians months ago. Every person in their eight-person group is adorned in team gear. He feels like, he said, as though “you can’t even get anything online. It’s all sold out.”

They’re in it for the long haul, they said.

“I’m committed to this,” Payne said. “That’s why I like what they’re doing here. They seem ready to do this, and the commitment is there from them. They’ll get it from me, too. I’m on board.”

Sanchez said he has been interested in the XFL since he heard of the re-launch.

“I read about the whole plan for the future of the league, it’s interesting," he said. "(The) concept is based on making it affordable.”

Just one lot over from Sanchez and his crew, another family affair is brewing.

Colby Janisch and his father-in-law, Ralph Boettger, had this game circled for months.

Boettger is a long-time high school football coach up in Ithaca, N.Y., and Janisch shares his passion for the sport.

For them, more football is a good thing, and after watching Saturday’s XFL slate, their appetite was whetted.

“I saw everything you’re supposed to see in a football game at that level,” Boettger said. “Zone blocking, the works. I thought for sure there would be all kinds of gadget plays, gimmicks. Nope. With the internet, with social media, I think we’re done being ‘entertained.’ I think we’re done with the glitz and the glamour. I think we just want quality football. Serious football. Good football, good coaching, officiating where the guys are doing the right things.”

Janisch adds his two cents: “Less losing. I’ve got Giants season tickets, and it’s been brutal for years. I don’t want the next New York team to suck.”

On this sunny afternoon in New Jersey, there proves little to worry about. The Guardians will go on to beat the Vipers, 23-3, kicking off the new campaign with a 1-0 start.

Boettger will appreciate the good football, which he tries to coach, and which he doesn’t see enough of. He believes the talent is there -- he’s seen it himself first-hand, generation after generation of football players only gaining more talent and expertise.

“This is necessary,” Boettger said. “There’s better coaching at the high school level now, better coaching at the college level. There’s 7-on-7, Under Armour camps. Everywhere you go in the U.S., there is something going on to prepare a kid to get better. The fitness centers in high school are crazy. It’s all leading up to a need for more jobs and more leagues.”

For Boettger, who coaches at Newfield High near Ithaca for a team that recently switched from 11-man to 8-man because of declining numbers, more football can only be a good thing.

“There are more and more kids coming out of college who are pro-ready,” he said. “I brought my kids here for the first XFL games two decades ago, went to arena games whenever we could. What we saw yesterday was better football -- with some rules I think are better for the game and not just crowd-pleasing stuff -- than I’ve seen in a while.”