The Arena Football League playoffs kick off this weekend -- and one team will be noticeable in its absence.
For the first time in franchise history, the Chicago Rush will experience the AFL postseason from home after being eliminated courtesy of a 61-54 loss to San Antonio on July 8.
"It's not fun," said Rush head coach Bob McMillen. "It's something I'm not used to."
The Rush finished the season second in the National Conference Central Division, but its 10-8 record left the Rush two games shy of a wild-card playoff spot.
Matchups with the San Antonio Talons and the San Jose SaberCats proved the difference between the Rush participating or watching the postseason from home.
"We played well enough to win, we just didn't close out," said quarterback Russ Michna.
A missed extra point was the difference in a loss to the Talons, and the Rush suffered an overtime loss to the SaberCats despite leading 77-70 with 20 seconds reamaining in the fourth quarter.
"It's disapointing," Michna said. "I've never been part of a team that wasn't a part of the playoffs and I think a lot of that was our own doing this year."
Next year, the Rush hopes to bounce back from its first playoff-less season, but without an owner, the future is uncertain for the AFL's Chicago franchise. The previous owner, Chicago Gridiron LLC, walked away after the 2011 season and the league took over in the fall that year. Under league ownership, the team is currently operating with a significantly reduced budget.
Rush ownership likely will be discussed at the AFL owners meeting in August, but if a buyer can't be found in time for the 2012 season, the league must decide what to do with the franchise from the AFL's largest market.
"If we can get an owner in here that loves the game of Arena Football and loves the sport and wants to put the time and the effort in, then (the league's pay scale) could go back to where is was in 2007 and 2008," McMillen said.
Although the Rush's future remains a question mark, the AFL gained some traction on a secure future.
Ivan Soto, executive director of the AFL Players Union said Friday night that the owners and the players union have come to terms on a new five-year collective bargaining agreement. Soto said he's confident the players will vote to approve it, perhaps as soon as next week.
"It's going to be a done deal," he said.
Soto said the new deal includes a pay bump for AFL players from $400 per game to about $830 and will allow teams to sign players to multi-year contracts in addition to numerous other benefits, from signing bonuses to travel pay.
With the labor situation nearly settled, the attention can return to football operations.
If the Rush remain a presence in Chicago, several of the players expressed interest in returning -- but the 2013 team won't resemble this season's roster.
"This team will never be together again," McMillen said. "We'll make changes. These guys may want to go in a different direction, want to go to a different team or to do something else in their lives."
There's one person who has no such plans.
"I love coaching Arena football," McMillen said. "I love being a part of this city and the things we do. I'll do for as long as I can, until they tell me I can't."