The Chicago Rush of the Arena Football League made a brilliant decision Saturday afternoon and removed all the pressure of an undefeated season by letting the Cleveland Gladiators win, 55-48.
The Rush (3-1), having won their first three games of the season, were starting to create some anxiety among their fans (well, at least this fan). For instance, when the AFL coaches voted the Arizona Rattlers instead of the Rush as the #1 team this week, I developed a little bit of an eye twitch. It spoiled my whole afternoon. The disrespect!
I found myself looking ahead to May 14 when the Rush could show the Rattlers who’s boss, mano a mano. I had dreams of an 18-0 season, so every time an opponent scored on the Rush, my blood pressure went through the roof. Not only did I want a perfect season, I wanted 18 shutouts. I wanted a touchdown on every possession. I wanted the Rush to leave the AFL in absolute shambles as they rampaged through the season. I had my sights set so high that I wasn’t enjoying the ride.
No doubt, Coach Bob McMillen sensed that (I bet you didn’t know that he’s psychic in addition to being a superhero) and taught me a valuable lesson (because, you know, the entire universe revolves around me).
“There’s some little fat guy in central Indiana who’s getting way too wound up about our season so far,” said Coach McMillen, “So let’s just end this whole ‘undefeated’ talk right now before his little heart explodes.”
That’s what I imagine he said, anyway.
So QB Russ Michna pretended like he was under a lot of pressure during the first half and overthrew his receivers a few times, just to add authenticity to his thespian performance. WR Micah Rucker purposely dropped some passes that Michna accidentally threw on-target, and he even threw one up into the rebound net that was picked off in the end zone.
Michna, trying really hard to grant Coach Mac’s wishes, threw a touchdown pass to LB Kelvin Morris. Yes, they had a linebacker in as a receiver. Coach Mac was seen throwing his headset down in disgust when Morris actually caught the ball. Linebackers aren’t supposed to have good hands!
FB Johnie Kirton, who normally plows through people, started hurdling defenders all afternoon, doing his best Marcus Allen impression. K Chris Gould–the 2010 AFL Kicker of the Year, remember–purposely missed an extra point and a field goal, and everyone on special teams executed kicking plays with their eyes closed, just to make sure they followed Coach McMillen’s instructions. Nevertheless, Gould still put four of them through the uprights.
Even when the Rush was trying to let the Gladiators (3-0) win, they’re so darned talented that they still racked up the stats and the honors. Michna finished his day with 235 passing yards, 11 rushing yards, five passing touchdowns, and one score on the ground. Only because he was throwing right-handed and blindfolded for part of the game did he throw three interceptions.
WR Reggie Gray–or “Reggie Gary” as he was referred to by the announcers on the Gladiators channel on NiFTyTV for 80% of the game–didn’t even try to follow Coach Mac’s instructions. He just went out and had his typical game: 11 receptions, 144 yards, and three touchdowns. He’s probably going to have to run some laps this week for that.
Kirton led the ground attack with 31 yards and one touchdown on nine carries. I think the Gladiators were so shocked that he was airborne so much throughout the game that they didn’t know how to respond, so I doubt Johnie’s in too much trouble with Coach Mac.
On defense, the Rush knew it was Cleveland’s home opener and that the fans would enjoy seeing their team do well. After all, they have to root for the Browns in the fall. So the Chicago D, being the thoughtful guys that they are, let WR Troy Bergeron have ten receptions for 187 yards and six touchdowns (the six scores tied a Cleveland franchise record) and took pity on rookie QB Kurt Rocco, letting him throw for 320 yards and eight touchdowns (the eight scores was third-best in Cleveland franchise history). You don’t want to crush a guys self-esteem right off the bat, you know. That would just be rude.
LB Kelvin Morris and DB Vic Hall couldn’t contain themselves, though. Morris had a tackle, two assists, and an interception that he returned for four yards. Those defensive stats, combined with his touchdown on offense earned him the title of JLS Ironman of the Game.
Hall racked up ten tackles (including one for a loss), an assist, a pass break-up, and an interception that he returned for 30 yards. That earned him Riddell Defensive Player of the Game honors.
Those two guys are probably going to be running laps with “Reggie Gary” as soon as they get back to Chicago.
DB Jason Simpson was right in the thick of things as usual, too, registering five tackles and returning five kickoffs for a total of 79 yards. I swear, every time he returns a kick, he’s right on the cusp of breaking one loose for a score. It won’t be long before we see it. He showed that blazing speed when he returned an errant extra point attempt all the way for a safety. No one could keep up with him. There was even a sonic boom a second or two after he scored.
LB Asi Faoa sacked Rocco for loss of seven yards, added an assist, and returned a kickoff for seven yards. He even tongue-tied the Cleveland announcers on NiFTyTV, who were pronouncing his name all sorts of ways, but mostly “Faw-ah-o-la.” It was pretty faw-ah-unny.
(In case you’re wondering, I was listening to the Cleveland channel because the volume was so low on the Chicago channel that if a cricket farted, I couldn’t hear what the announcers were saying. And we live near some gassy crickets.)
Punctuating Coach Mac’s sheer brilliance was the fact that the Dallas Vigilantes lost, so not only did the Rush remove all the pressure of an undefeated season, but in doing so, they still retained first place in the Central Division of the National Conference. Total genius.
I’ll admit, I was upset for awhile immediately after the game, but then it slowly dawned on me that the team had just done me a huge favor. Now I can just sit back and savor the next fourteen games of the regular season.
The Rush get some time to relax, heal, and visit family and friends for a few days, since they have a bye next week. They’ll return to the turf on Saturday, April 16 at 7:05pm Central Time in the Des Moines metropolitan area, where they’ll take on the Iowa Barnstormers, who are 2-1, a half-game back of the Rush in the division, and taking on the Kansas City Command (0-3) next Saturday.
It’s quite possible that this could be a battle for first place in the division, so make sure you have your Rush jerseys and face paint ready for the 16th!
Proof that I Didn’t Make the Entire Story Up:
Official Game Stats