Rush-ing to match success from the past

By Etheria Modacure

While the Chicago Bears are one of the premiere football teams in the NFL, sharing that distinction in the same city—but a different league—is a franchise that plays its games indoors.

Ten years, nine postseason appearances, four division titles and one ArenaBowl championship are accomplishments achieved by an Arena Football League team that has seen changes with coaching and offense within the past year: the

Chicago Rush.

After the 2010 season, Mike Hohensee, the only coach in the team’s history, abruptly resigned and took over the helm in Philadelphia, leaving the franchise’s all-time leading rusher Bob McMillen to take control.

Through three games in the 2011 AFL season, the Rush have matched their best start in franchise history. The last time they went undefeated this deep into a season was in 2004 when they went 4-0.

After a 54-41 victory against the San Jose Sabercats, on March 25, McMillen said he loves how his players accelerate the gas pedal to make plays, which he didn’t see in the past. He’s pleased if there aren’t always positive results.

“You always want to make mistakes going 100 miles per hour,” McMillen said. “You don’t want to be lackadaisical like I think some teams Chicago had in the past. I’m not going to allow these guys to do it. If they’re going to make a mistake, they’re going to go [all out] making that mistake. I’ll take that.”

The rookie coach is surrounded by one of the stingiest scoring defenses in the league, giving up 36.7 points per game.

Unlike playing outdoors, arena football is played on a 50-yard field and opponents carry a scoring average of more than 60 points per game. Currently, the Cleveland Gladiators have the best scoring offense at an average of 63 points scored per contest.

When asked about the Rush/Sabercats game not being a shootout, McMillen said keeping opponents at a low score will be a goal throughout the season.

“You’re going to see a lot more low scores, especially with our football team,” McMillen said. “That’s what we predicate our football team on, getting stops and controlling the ball on offense. We’re not going to try to hit the home run on every play.”

Controlling the ball and limiting turnovers helps a team avoid overcoming large deficits, and the Rush have trailed an estimated two quarters out of 12 played. In limiting turnovers, they’re one of six teams  to throw three interceptions.

The offense is led by third-year quarterback Russ Michna, second-year wideout “Big Play” Reggie Gray and kicker Chris Gould, brother of Chicago Bears kicker Robbie Gould.

With 15 passing touchdowns throughout three games, the cohesiveness on offense has been vital to the Rush’s overall success. Five teams had more than 14 touchdowns during the first three weeks of the season.

“We just have to continue to work together,” Gray said. “As receivers, we see things [on the field], and we have to communicate with [offensive coordinator Sherdrick] Bonner and Russ. It’s things they see and things we have to do a little bit different they let us know about. If we continue out there, then we’re going to get on the same page, and the sky’s the limit for this offense.”

The other strength of this team is with takeaways. The Rush leads the AFL with eight picks and have forced their opponents to complete 58 percent of their passes. Defensive back Joe Simpson has three interceptions and earned defensive player of the game honors twice this season.

Simpson had two interceptions against the Sabercats. The former University of Missouri Tiger said the coaching staff rides hard on the defense to perform each game. He said the continuity on defense took a while to develop, but he knows it’s coming to fruition.

“It’s just doing your job and what the coaches ask you to do,” Simpson said. “Just make the play whenever it comes to you and try to simplify it.”

The concern addressed for the Rush is in relation to their kicking game. Gould missed three field goals in as many games. According to McMillen, he’s his worst critic. The coach said he’s not giving up on his young 26-year-old kicker and is confident he can right his ship.

“Chris Gould is not going anywhere,” McMillen said. “Gould is going to be a member of the Chicago Rush for the whole season. I don’t care if he goes 0-for-26, he’s going to make the kicks when we need him to make the kicks.”

As the Rush embarks on a bye-week, McMillen was adamant about his bond with a team he labeled as misfits and nobodies. He said he will have to make some tough decisions coming up in regards to cutting players, which he referred to as “the ugly part about this business.”

“I told these guys in the locker room, ‘We’re bunch of no-names and guys nobody wanted,’” McMillen said. “I’ll take this group over anybody because they come out, and they play football the right way.”