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Old March 4th, 2009, 10:27 PM
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What happened to the Chicago Rush? And what's the Chicago Slaughter?
This is usually the time of year that Amy & I start attending Chicago Rush games... yes, we have to get our Arena Football League (AFL) fix.

We've been attending games since 2001, and have pretty much seen every home game that the Rush has played in their 8 year existence. In fact, last season we even took the plunge and bought season tickets.

Things are different in 2009.

To start, there are no Chicago Rush games this year. In fact, there are no AFL games at all! Back in December, the AFL cancelled the 2009 season, citing financial difficulties and a desire to rework their economic model.

No fire-fueled introductions this season!

There were numerous factors that went into this, including incompetent owners, craptastic league leadership, spending that didn't equal revenues, drastic rule changes, and the overall perspective that Arena Football was "the next big thing", but in reality, it remained a niche sport in both attendance and ratings. Despite high profile ownership from folks associated with the NFL, television contracts on NBC and ESPN, and positive buzz, the truth of the matter is that the finances didn't support the dream.

Is this the end of the AFL?

The league and owners -- in my opinion -- refused to acknowledge that the AFL was always going to be what it was known for in its 22-year existence... a niche offshoot of football that had localized appeal. There's nothing wrong with that, as long as your financial model and decision making supports that outcome. The AFL's current practices didn't, and thus they found themselves in a hole... or at least, that's what we were led to believe.

The public relations side of the Arena Football League has been stating that they will return in 2010 with a new season, though the realists question if that will happen. If it does, however, there will no doubt be a lot of changes, most likely being some teams not making the return.

Say good-bye to the navy blue this year
(Source: ChicagoTribune.com)

As far as our local Chicago Rush, they were actually in pretty good shape overall, led by, what I personally believe, were a bunch of guys who may have not been the flashiest or high-profile, but at least had some common sense. The Rush have been near the top of the league as far as attendance, averaging 15,800+ last year at the Allstate Arena. Their owners noted that they would have broke even in a few years, which is a far cry from a majority of teams in the AFL. Chicago actually was not in favor of canceling the 2009 season, but in some heated backroom conversation, switched their vote in December and joined the majority to pull the plug. No one really knows what prompted them to jump sides.

Gee, thanks Arena League!

So, in the meantime, the league is supposed to be spending 2009 reworking their financial plan, which no doubt involves working with the player's union to lower salaries and perhaps the shift to a single-entity structure (like Major League Soccer), among other things. We've had no solid word regarding how that is all going. One thing the AFL continues to excel at is an amazingly bad relationship with its fans and the press. If it wasn't for fan-organized news gathering organizations like ArenaFan or support for local teams, I think folks would have given up a long time ago. (Granted, it helped that Chicago's team was actually good, winning ArenaBowl XX in 2006.)

Where does that put Amy and I? Well, the Rush refunded our season ticket money last year, and did so rather quickly. Coaches, front office staff, and players pretty much were all laid off, minus a few here and there. (Taking a look at the Rush's website, it would appear the web folks got the ax!) When/if the league does return, it's going to be interesting to see how teams rebuild with new faces both on and off the field.

These banner ads were quickly pulled from the Rush website

However, while most AFL fans are out of luck, we here in Chicago have a rather unique opportunity. You see, while the Arena Football League may be considered the top-tier indoor league, gaining the highest profile and salaries, it by far isn't the only game in town. There are other indoor leagues as well, typically playing with slightly different rulesets. Heck, the AFL's minor league system, AF2, is alive and well in 2009, with 25 teams set to play in small markets.

There are AF2 teams north of us in Wisconsin (Milwaukee Iron), over on the Mississippi (Quad City Steamwheelers), and downstate in Peoria (Peoria Pirates). There's also an Indoor Football League (IFL) team in Bloomington (Bloomington Extreme).

We looked at these options of different types of indoor ball, but the first alternate we're going to check out is only 20 miles further west of where we were seeing Rush games... up I-90 to the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates. There the 3-year-old Chicago Slaughter of the Continental Indoor Football League (CIFL) are kicking off their season on Friday.

Sears Centre
(Source: SearsCentre.com)

Why the interest? Well, unlike other cities that had AFL teams, Chicago has a CIFL presence as well... which means that for Rush players looking for local work (including our quarterback), it wasn't very hard for them to find roster spots on the Slaughter. For example, here's some familiar faces, thanks to the Chicago Examiner:
  • Russ Michna (QB): Took over Rush's starting QB slot and posted an 8-3 record in 2008
  • DeJuan Alfonzo (LB/WR): Spent seven seasons with the Rush and holds the franchise record for career tackles
  • Reggie Gray (WR): Member of Rush's practice squad in 2008
  • Dennison Robinson (DB): 2008 AFL Defensive Player of the Year, led Rush with 13 INTs
  • Khreem Smith (DE): Played in 10 games for the Rush in 2008
The abundance of Rush talent on the Slaughter rosters has prompted fans on various message boards to nickname the team as the "Slush".

3 of the Rush players now on the Slaughter:
Russ Michna, Dennison Robinson, & DeJuan Alfonzo
(Source: ChicagoRush.com)

The Sears Centre is a substantially smaller arena, opened in 2006 primarily as a concert venue, but also host to minor league indoor soccer, lacrosse, hockey, and believe it or not, lingerie football. Its configured indoor seating capacity is 9,500 (Allstate Arena, where the Rush play, maxes out around 16,000). According to the Slaughter's own ticket sales marketing materials, the team averaged 5,642 people per game in 2008, which is about 10,000 less than the Rush, so we have to set our expectations pretty low there. It seems the the Sears Centre is probably on par with Grand Rapids' Van Andel Arena -- where we've seen many Chicago Rush/Grand Rapids Rampage games -- with seating on only 3 sides of the field.

From what I've been able to tell, the primary difference in the rules of the CIFL vs. the AFL has to do with the number of players on the field. The AFL had 8 per team, while the CIFL restricts that to just 7, which I would imagine opens things up a bit given that there is space to move. There are also no nets in the endzones like the AFL (this is part of the Arena Football League's patented game system, thus why no other indoor league uses them other than AF2).

The season kicks off on Friday with the Slaughter taking on the Milwaukee Bonecrushers. While we still have hope that the Chicago Rush will return to play next year, being a fan of alternative football, we're curious to check out this unique opportunity. As for whether we'll support it long-term, that's to be determined. Stay tuned!

Arena/Indoor Football Story Navigation
Previous - Next

Intro - MKE - WIS - RR - WHL - MAR

SJ - PHI - COL - ARI - GR - LA - KC - DAL

@CMB - LA - PHI - COL - NSH - KC - LA

NY - NSH - SJ - DAL - GR - LV - UTA
ArenaBowl XX - Celebration

DAL - ORL - @GR - COL - LV - GR - @NSH

GR - COL - @IND - ORL - DET - TB
LA - @DET - @GR - DAL - IND - ORL

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Old March 5th, 2009, 05:47 AM
Posts: n/a
Just a few corrections (because that's what I do) and comments:

The photo accompanying the above post picturing the trio of Rush players actually has AFL Rookie of the Year Donovan Morgan in the middle, not Dennison Robinson. Not to fret though, it is reported Donovan Morgan has been practicing with the team and should be at the opener too. Apparently some NFL obligations have kept him from being fully involved until recently.

The patent on the arena game system expired after 17 years. It is not renewable. I believe it ran from 1990 to 2007. Therefore the other leagues are free to use the nets if they want to. So far no league has bothered to spend the resources to mandate their teams build and maintain a set of nets.

Most have a simple hanging field goal apparatus made of PVC pipe sections that are painted yellow. FWIW, the indoor football leagues (mind you they frown on being called arena) consider the rebounding football nets to be quite slapstick, akin to the Keystone Kops playing football.

The only difference you will notice in the CIFL talent is the decline in overall league speed and a bit of roughness due to the combatants working a regular 9 to 5 week, thereby creating less practice time than their AFL counterparts. The football pedigree is there as this talent did pay their dues via the college ranks and quite a few cups of coffee with NFL training camps, practice squads and such.

The CIFL in years past relied on a running game more than the AFL did. However, looking over various CIFL team rosters, many teams are concentrating the talent at WR and DL. So it appears the league is going to the air a lot in 2009.

The Chicago Slaughter have a half dozen former Rush players. The other teams in the league are from smaller markets and have little, if any, access to former AFL talent. While the Chicago OL is suspect (many of them were hit with major injuries during the short training camp) the talent on the team appears unmatched by other CIFL clubs from Milwaukee, Rockford, Madison and Fort Wayne. I hope that is not the case as blowouts were my main gripe with the CIFL when I started attending games in 2007. Since then, the semi pro mentality of player aquisition has lessened but it's still a reality in a league that need sto be frugal to survive.

This league and its teams are run on shoestring budgets. Housing for the players is out of the question so a heavy reliance on local talent is required. There have been teams in this league that try and overspend and they are quickly in financial dire straits.

Some have folded up shop during the season with the outcome being a local mish-mosh of players being called in at last minute to save the day. I dont have to tell you that a team with an hour pre-game practice time does not have a chance in hell at winning that game. Last year a game was cancelled due to a no-show and prompted a scandalous series of events that found two founding member teams abruptly quitting the league before the playoffs started. So, the CIFL certainly has its soap opera moments.

If it's blogging material you want, I can definately confirm this league will give you plenty. Enjoy.
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Old March 5th, 2009, 08:49 AM
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Tannerman Tannerman is offline
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Originally Posted by Bruiser View Post
Just a few corrections (because that's what I do) and comments.
Hey Bruiser, thanks for posting and providing some info I missed. I've updated the photo you noted accordingly. Greatly appreciated!

As you know, I'm curious about the CIFL, but probably not as sold as you are on the experience. Though for years you've been predicting the implosion of the AFL financial model and that seems to have come to reality, so based on that, it's worth a shot to check this out.

Don't be a stranger!
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Old March 10th, 2009, 08:58 PM
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FriarTuck FriarTuck is offline
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A few familiar faces at the Slaughter game on Friday.

The crowd respected Steve & Amy's personal space.

Coach Ho before the Slaughter's thrashing of the Bonecrushers.

Retired Rush FB/LB Bob McMillan is an assistant coach for the Slaughter.
In this photo he's checking in with Rush43 and his son as Bruiser looks on.

This is the what the Slaughter's player introduction looked like.
Note the wide berth given to the players by the dancers.

This is what they used to look like at Rush games. Sigh.

One of Mrs. Tuck's favorite parts of the Rush games was the little bobble-head guy who would dance on the scoreboard after Rush touchdowns while Kernkraft 4000 played. To make her feel at home, I brought along my iDevice and played this for her after Slaughter touchdowns:

It was great to see D-Rob, Zo, and the rest of the Rush players in action, but the CIFL is clearly quite a few steps below the AFL in quality of play. We may go back for another Slaughter game at some point, but we're counting on the Rush to come back in 2010.
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