How appropriate that the Chicago Rush season ended on a fluke Hail Mary pass and a 60-54 road loss to the Cleveland Gladiators on July 21. That's just the way that most of the season has gone for the Rush: so close, yet so far away.
The Rush finish the 2012 season with a 10-8 record--certainly nothing to hang their heads over. A 10-8 record would have landed them a playoff spot in the American Conference and even challenged for the South Division title.
Twenty weeks ago, who would have guessed that a 10-8 record wouldn't be good enough to get into the playoffs? Shoot, the Spokane Shock finished at 10-8 and in the cellar of the West Division while the New Orleans VooDoo get into the postseason with a losing record at 8-10 and the Georgia Force enter with an even record at 9-9.
It's a crazy world sometimes.
So Close, Yet So Far Away
The twisting knife in the gut for the Rush, though, is how close they were to an even better record. They fell three yards short of a win against the Central Division champion San Antonio Talons in Texas. The Talons got the best of the Rush again in Chicago on two impressive sacks to snuff out the final two Rush drives in a tight see-saw battle.
Chicago took the San Jose SaberCats to overtime in California before falling, ironically, to the legs of a former teammate, the late Johnie Kirton.
And now one final kick in the teeth--the Gladiators' Hail Mary.
Four excruciatingly close games that could have gone the other way, and then we'd be celebrating a 14-4 season, a Central Division title, and a march to New Orleans.
Yet for all the frustration on the field, all the anxiety surrounding the never-ending labor issues and whether or not the Rush will exist next spring, all the grief over the shocking loss of Kirton from our world, all the pain of the wide swath of injuries that ripped through the Rush roster all year, all the exasperation over those darned white uniforms somehow preventing wins ... despite all of that, it was a great season.
Plenty of Positives
We have a double-barreled shotgun in WRs Reggie Gray and Jared Perry. Nobody can stop those guys. They each went over 1,800 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns, and each of them deserve league recognition in the form of Ironman of the Year (Gray) and Rookie of the Year (Perry).
We have the league's most efficient quarterback in Russ Michna, who engineered one of the most lethal passing offenses and scoring offenses in the AFL.
We have the league's two best linebackers in JLB Kelvin Morris and MLB Nekos Brown. We found two outstanding defensive backs in Semaj Moody and Jorrick Calvin. Can you imagine what they could do with Vic Hall healthy? Opposing quarterbacks might just choose to forego throwing the ball altogether.
I also want to see more of Brian Lainhart. He was intriguing me before he was cut down by injury. Derek Walker was a monster on the defensive line before he was lost for the season to injury. T.J. Watkins is a beast on the offensive line but he, too, struggled with injury this year. (You see the recurring theme here?)
And of course we have, in my humble opinion, the greatest head coach in the galaxy in the form of Bob McMillen. He's smart, he's dedicated, he knows the game, he's creative with his play-calling, he's intense, he expects discipline and character and maximum effort at all times from everyone, and he feels the excruciating pain of each and every loss.
This isn't just some pastime or hobby for him--something he just tinkers around with in his spare time. No, Coach McMillen bleeds arena football. You can feel the electricity coming off of him on game days. There better be no one else's melon underneath that headset next year.
Looking Ahead to 2013
We have a lot to be proud of as Rush fans. Sure, ArenaBowl XXV isn't in the cards for us, but we can't win 'em all. Think of it as motivational fuel for 2013.
We have a great core of players to build upon for next year. We have a fantastic head coach and coaching staff to do the building. We have a superb bunch of fans who give the Rush a distinct advantage at Allstate Arena. We have the most talented and beautiful team of dancers in the land to keep the fans entertained. And with luck, we'll have some fan-atic with a blue mohawk on the PA system keeping those fans revved up at every home game next year.
We have a whole lot to look forward to in 2013, and I can't wait.
Is it March yet?
The author is a Featured Contributor in Sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network and holds media credentials with the Chicago Rush and the Arena Football League. You can follow him on Twitter at @RedZoneWriting and on Facebook.
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