Rush Look to Overcome Next Obstacle
All season long, the Chicago Rush have had to deal with obstacles that have gotten in their way.
From not knowing if there would even be a team on the field this season due to ownership issues, to not playing any additional home games due to what the league calls “arena issues” (ownership failing to secure and pay the Allstate Arena for home games), to being limited to roster transactions after being taken over by the league during the season, the Rush at this point should feel as if they have been through everything.
Well, almost everything.
Now with a Central Division title in hand, the Rush should be hosting a playoff home game according to league rules.
But not so fast!
Due to the “arena issues” mentioned above, the Rush will be moving on to the Arena Football League playoffs, but will be doing so as they have basically done all season; taking the show on the road where they set a franchise record winning seven of their games this season.
The team will travel all day Wednesday for a Thursday night playoff game against the Spokane Shock in Spokane.
“It is a shame that we are not able to play here in our hometown and in front of our fans with something that we worked very hard for,” said Rush head coach Bob McMillen. “But I understand where the league is coming from and where the owners are coming from from a financial standpoint. You gotta do what you gotta do.”
The team has known since the ownership issued ensued that they would be reserved to a playoff game on the road, no matter how much they succeeded.
“We knew the scenario a long time ago,” said Rush wide receiver Reggie Gray. “We knew we weren’t going to be able to host a playoff game. We have just been road warriors all year long. We have the mentality that this was going to happen to us and that we were going to have to go back to the west coast for the playoffs.”
The team just played a game out west against the San Jose Sabercats that they lost 65 – 40 (a game that was originally scheduled to be a home game for the team) this past Saturday and now after only two days of practice must head out west again. This time with a lot more at stake.
“These guys did a nice job of taking care of their bodies,” McMillen said. “So their bodies are not that beat up right now. Maybe it’s because we got our butts beat in San Jose. Guys maybe did not play as hard as they should have.”
All in all, that may have been a smart move as the continued traveling takes a toll on the body and the team is traveling to take on a team that defeated them in Week 2 of the season 76 – 61 at the Allstate Arena. This time, they will play away from home in a win or the season is over situation.
“We are going to a hostile environment,” stated McMillen. “I believe that we are going against the coach of the year in Andy Olsen. He turned that team around and he has done a fantastic job with what he’s got in guys that no one had heard of.”
Statistically, the Shock have put up their best season as a team. They finished the regular season ranked second in the AFL in offense at 66.6 points scored per game. They also boast the sixth best defense giving up an average of just 49.5 points per game, but also come in last in the league giving up just under 300 yards per game to their opponents. Mostly, it is offense that has carried them all season long.
“On the defensive side we (are going to) have to try to control (Shock quarterback) Erik Meyer,” McMillen stated. “He is that football team. He has been taught well and knows that offense well. Watching him on film he has been playing lights out and in my opinion, I think that he is the MVP of this league.”
In the week two meeting against the Rush at Allstate Arena, Meyer completed 26-of-34 passes for 314 yards and seven touchdowns. The Shock offense was not stopped at all on that day by the Rush defense. Meyer’s favorite target all season has been wide receiver Adron Tennell, who led the league in scoring at an average of 18.7 points per game.
“Not to give anything away, but we are just going to try to stay close (to their receivers)”, McMillen said. The Rush defensive backfield will have their hands full with one of the better receiving corps in the AFL.
On offense, the Rush can certainly hang in there with the Shock, especially if the Shock defense gives up the yards and additional plays to the offense. Chicago finished sixth in the league in scoring at a clip of 54.1 points per game. As the cliché goes, for it to be successful in this game the offense will have to score to keep up with the Shock and to avoid any costly turnovers.
What may be a huge key in this game is the special teams. This game displays the two best kick returners in the league this season. Led by Terrance Sanders, the Shock ranks first in the league with an average of 22.5 yards per kick return. “Big Play” Reggie Gray and the Rush rank second just behind Spokane with an equally impressive 20.8 yards per return average. The team that limits the other in the return game may gain a needed advantage in this game.
Gaining momentum would be huge for the Rush as they anticipate the Shock to gain some momentum from their home crowd to start the game.
“The fans out there love their team.” McMillen said with a concern. “They are excited for their team. We’re gonna go see the Goal Line Bandits out there that are just crazy bastards, so we know that we have to go out there and adapt and overcome.”
With everything that they have overcome to this point, this hurdle in front of the Rush is the highest of the season, but one that they certainly believe that they can overcome.
“This whole short week is pretty fitting with what we have been through all year, starting in September,” said Rush assistant coach and director of player personnel Scott Bailey. “It’s a big obstacle, but we have gotten through obstacles all season long. We’re in the playoffs. We know it’s a short week. We know that the travel to Spokane is horrible. But we are going to get through it and be ready to play.”
Gray says his team has enjoyed being an underdog all season long and loves the fact that nobody thinks this team can win this game.
“No one across the league is trying to help us out in any shape, form, or fashion,” he said. “So it all comes down to the guys in the locker room. We have to hold it down for each other and play for each other.”
Defensive back Jorrick Calvin suffered a fractured leg in the week 18 game against the Arizona Rattlers. Semaj Moody, who led the team in tackles last season, will replace Calvin in the starting lineup.
Defensive back Josh Pleasant, who sustained a foot injury during the game against Cleveland two weeks ago is back and will be in the line-up.
Jeff has been writing for ArenaFan.com since 2004. Originally from New York, Jeff has been living in the Chicago area for the past ten years and is an avid football fanatic. He holds a BA in communications from Hofstra University in New York and a sports management certificate from Loyola University in Chicago.