A handful of former Rush are currently playing championship-caliber football with the undefeated Chicago Slaughter of the Continental Indoor Football League.
The team is hoping for its first CIFL title, but first they'll need to beat the Wisconsin Wolfpack this Saturday in the Western Division championship.
The Slaughter have already beaten Wisconsin three times this season. But rather than allowing his team to get cocky, head coach and former '85 Bear Steve "Mongo" McMichael is using his NFL experience to teach his young players that winning when your team's on top isn't always as easy as it should be.
We caught up with McMichael this morning and spoke with him about his team's chances and the family friendliest game in town.
Steve McMichael: That sign that the fan would hold up (at Slaughter games), "The Bears will never know 13-0." It keeps going over and over in my mind. I don't know why, because it's got nothing to do with us because (the Slaughter) are in the playoffs at 12-0 and (the Bears) were just in the regular season at 12-0.
I tell the players about the pitfalls of taking things for granted and taking it lightly. We've already beaten this team three times this year. The last time 49-14 in the last game of the season a couple weeks ago. So there might be some complacency. But I've been there. The reason we lost that Miami game -- you know what it was? When we started thinking it couldn't happen -- that's when something's gonna happen, baby.
SP: In the past you've used words like gregarious, outgoing and colorful to describe yourself. But how do these qualities help you as a coach?
You've got to be able to relate what your philosophy is, your terminology and understand who those kids are. It's a different day in professional football now. It's not the same attitude in professional football anymore. Not that it's worse -- it's just different.
SP: Is there anything you see the CIFL teams doing that NFL teams could learn from?
SM: Cater to the fans. Don't just treat 'em like cattle in a turn-style. We're fan-driven, and we've got to be. This league's been in existence for four years. How long has it taken the NFL? I feel like doing all this media stuff, trying to get interest up in my team and this league I feel like George Halas and Red Grange barnstorming in the early days of the NFL.
SP: It seems like an ideal time to do so with the Arena Football League on hiatus.
SM: I tell everybody -- this is proof that God loves me. Right when I needed interest in what I'm doing, the other league folds up and their players are available for me to use.
SP: Speaking of those guys, can you speak a bit about the contributions some of the former Chicago Rush players have made on your team this season?
SM: Anybody that was a Rush fan before they folded up -- because, you know, they were selling out their games -- you don't have to miss your favorite Rush player because they're playing for me now at the Sears Center. I've got Russ Michna, the starting quarterback of the Rush. He's thrown 78 touchdowns in 12 games. Right there, fans should realize if they've missed that, they don't have to miss the playoff games and what he's gonna do with the two receivers I'm fixin' to talk about -- Donovan Morgan and Bobby Sippio. These guys have been in NFL training camps. Bobby was in Kansas City with the Chiefs all of last year. These guys are phenomenal. In this league, they're like supermen.
SP: Are these guys a big reason for your team's success this year?
SM: Our entire offense -- yes. We're averaging more than 60 points a game. We've got some great defensive players, but in this league, where all you can do is one-on-one coverage and one-on-one block, it's tough.
SP: What about the play of defensive lineman Khreem Smith -- does he remind you of yourself when you played?
SM: Khreem Smith reminds me of Richard Dent. And we've got another guy named Rob Schroeder who reminds me of Dan Hampton.
SP: And you can see some of your '85 teammates around the Sears Center during games, right?
Our last home game, the College Football Hall of Fame honored me with a trophy and Jim McMahon, Gary Fencik and Jim Osborne showed up to say something about me to the crowd. And we went out afterward and had a few. You know us '85 Bears -- we love reminiscing.
That's one of the things I tell my kids -- you should go out there grindin' your teeth to get this done, but a big motivation is after you get this done and win a championship, there's lifelong bonds with the guys you did it with and fun to be had and reunions where you get to get together with your buddies.
SP: Some of your players weren't born yet when the '85 Bears won the Super Bowl.
SM: I know it.
SP: Do they realize what that team continues to mean to the city of Chicago?
SM: I tell you what -- they realize their coach's sense of humor when I reach up and pull out one of my hairs off my head and hand it to 'em and tell 'em, 'Here's some DNA, I'm not your dad.'
How old are you?
SM: Well, you're about the same age as them.
SP: Some of my first sports memories are my dad getting me out of bed to watch that '85 team on Monday nights.
SM: Well, hopefully he didn't wake you up for that Miami game.
SP: Unfortunately, he did.
SM: God almighty. But what I keep telling my kids about that game is the minute you start taking something for granted is the minute it starts leaving you.
SP: After your football playing days and wrestling days were over-
SM: Yeah, I've lived a couple of lives. I've told these guys, 'Don't mess this up. If we go out and bollocks the championship game, you're probably going to kill me because that's my last life.'
SP: Being a Texas guy, did you ever think you'd feel so at home up north in a place like Chicago?
SM: You know, coming from Texas back when I was young, no. Coming up here, everybody has an accent. That's the first thing to me people would ask, 'You've got an accent, where are you from?' But now that everybody knows me around this town and has opened their arms up -- we love eachother and it's home.
SP: What about the work that your assistant coaches have done this season, espeically offensive coordinator Pat Pistorio and defensive coordinator Keith Hac?
SM: They're the ones that do the work. I'm a great delegator of authority. But the film work and putting the game plan together -- that's those guys. You know, we talk about the overview, but it's up to them to put the play together and get it called and put a game plan out there. And they've done a great job.
Pat Pistorio is a young, rising coaching star. I see head coaching in his future. And Keith Hac, he was the head coach of the Kane County Eagles that won three national championships since 2000.
SP: Talk a bit about the motivation these players have -- this isn't just a job to them, they're also playing to keep their careers alive, aren't they?
SM: I tell them -- and this is coming from an all-pro, Super Bowl champion, Monster of the Midway -- how much I'm proud of them and how much I respect them for what they have to do in their lives. They've got families, they've got jobs. They've got to work for a living. And then they come and do this. Because they all work during the day, we don't practice until 8 o'clock at night. I have ultimate respect for a guy that has that kind of drive. It's out of the ordinary in society, I'll tell you that.
Michna's got his master's degree in business. Kinda makes you realize, he comes up to the line of scrimmage, gets that pre-snap read and knows right where to throw the ball.
SP: I know it's a different game than outdoor, 11-man football, but 78 touchdowns in 12 games is impressive no matter what.
SM: It's spread offense and throwin' the ball. People would have thought that was an oxymoron for a guy nicknamed Mongo at one time, but we don't even have a running back on our roster. We're gonna throw the ball on ya.
SP: What would you like people who maybe aren't familiar with the Slaughter or indoor football to know about your team and this sport and the team's upcoming playoff run?
SM: I mentioned earlier that we're fan friendly. The ball goes in the stands, a kid gets to keep it. Then you can bring it out on the field after the game because we open up the exits and let all the fans on the field after the game. Myself and the team then comes out and signs autographs for them for a while.
My favorite recollection of these last few years is I'm out on the field early before the team comes out for warmups because I like to go down the boards and high-five the kids -- that's another thing Soldier Field don't have. But there was a daddy and his little 6-year-old son in the middle of the section. They're sitting there together all alone. They've got their hot dogs and their drinks and their waiting for the game -- now that's quality time, baby.
If you're looking for a place that's inexpensive to have some family time -- the kids don't care if they're at Soldier Field or the Sears Center -- it's football. And big plays are happening in front of them.