Until his game-saving relief appearance against the Arizona Cardinals, quarterback Greg McElory had never been on the field during a regular season NFL game. Against Arizona, the Jets' third-stringer got the call with 20 minutes remaining and New York stalled and trailing, 3-0. McElroy -- who graduated magna cum laude and was a Rhodes Scholar finalist -- went 5-7 with a touchdown, leading New York to a 7-6 victory.
Despite calls to install the 24-year-old atop the team's QB depth chart, it will be at least another week before his first career start. Jets head coach Rex Ryan announced Wednesday morning that Mark Sanchez will start Sunday at 2-10 Jacksonville.
"Coach [Rex] Ryan's been put in charge to make those decisions and to put the best player on the team that he thinks gives the team the best chance of being successful, and that person is Mark [Sanchez]," McElroy told Newsday. "I obviously completely understand that and accept my role, whatever my role may be, and I will try to enjoy it and try to continue to improve."
While the latest Jets quarterback controversy was working itself out, McElroy caught up with The Huffington Post to talk about his professional debut.
What was your initial feeling when Rex Ryan told you to go in?
A definite sense of excitement. You wait your whole life for that opportunity, and when coach looked over and said to warm up, my heart started racing. I got locked in.
How surprised were you that the coaching staff went with you over Tim Tebow?
It's a little bit different of a situation, considering that fact that Tim hasn't been 100 percent with his ribs. I think it was just a spur of the moment type of decision and nothing they had planned. They felt I would give them the best chance to win in that particular game.
Given how quickly everything transpired, are there any calls that go out of the playbook when you enter the game, as opposed to Mark?
No, not necessarily. Throughout the course of the week, Coach [Tony] Sparano (offensive coordinator) and Coach [Matt] Cavanaugh, our quarterbacks coach, do a great job of getting us prepared. Even though we're not taking the reps during the week, we're taking mental reps as we watch Mark do it. There's been several situations across the NFL, especially in the last couple years, when third quarterbacks have stepped up. I had to rely on fantastic coaching and the other 10 guys on the field -- that made my job a lot easier.
How much adrenaline did you have and how difficult was it to manage?
You play this game long enough, I would hope that you would learn how to manage your adrenaline and understand that your arm is probably going to be a little stronger on game day and that the ball might sail. But you get a sense of how your body and mind reacts. The competition is significantly better, but it's still football.
You've played so many big games, most notably winning the 2010 national title with Alabama. How does this compare?
It was big. It didn't have the same implications of a national championship. Every game is important, though, and the Arizona game was no different. As competitors, all you want to do is win. It takes the same details in winning a regular season game as it does a bowl game or national championship.
How much were you talking with Coach Ryan once you entered the game?
Coach Ryan does a great job of communicating with Coach Sparano and letting him know what he wants to do and what he's thinking. We were talking to him a decent amount.
What was the first thing you said to the guys in the huddle?
Honestly, you don't have a lot of time or you're at risk for a delay of game. Really, just call the play, talk to the guys and make sure everyone is on the same page before you break it. I think a lot of people think that there is a lot more involved, but it's kind of a misconception. There's such little time that you have to get in there and call the play, get it organized, get to the line and snap it.
How surreal was the whole experience for you, all of a sudden being pressed into duty and winning an NFL game in December?
It was a surreal experience. It's something you visualize throughout the week, but you never actually think it's going to happen when you're in a backup position. Mark and Tim were so supportive, which I was very grateful for.
In that situation, do you draw from Mark and Tim, in terms of advice?
Usually the backups are charting. In that particular case, Mark and Tim were doing my role. That was obviously a huge part of my role up to this point. They did a great job of helping me out and going over it at the end of every series.
How has your day-to-day life with media changed since Sunday?
It's been a lot different. Definitely a different start to the week. The media blitz has been crazy and unexpected, but you just deal with it. You still have to study, and when you're at the complex, make sure you're using the time wisely. Football always comes first.
Let's talk BCS National Championship. What are your thoughts?
I haven't had a chance to watch Notre Dame very much, but I know they have a tremendous defense. I'm excited; it's hard to ever pick against [Nick] Saban. I feel strongly that coach will have 'Bama ready. I have to feel pretty strongly that they will win, not just by a small margin, but convincingly.
Is Saban a "rah-rah" guy before a matchup like that? What exactly will he say pre-game and how will he approach his team?
He's very serious, very focused. I imagine part of his message will be: "Don't underestimate your opponent," things like that. With it being a national championship game, "Go out there, play loose and treat it like any other game," and I think the team will respond well to it.