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Chicago Force heads into the playoffs, ending the team's 15-year run
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times

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After 15 seasons, the Chicago Force football team is coming to an end, as team owner Linda Bache does not intend to sell the team.

She announced before the 2017 season that it would be the team's last under her leadership. The team rolled out a 7-1 regular-season record and now has a second-round Women's Football Alliance ( WFA ) game on Saturday night at Evanston Township High School. The Force play host to the Pittsburgh Passion, with kickoff set for 6 p.m.

The Force could play twice more if they defeat Pittsburgh.

"I suppose it's possible that a new team may start with some former players or coaches and I'd be happy to support that. But the Force name and legacy will remain intact and separate from any new team that Chicago may have in the future," Bache confirmed.

Bache joined the Force as a player in its inaugural 2003 season and was a defensive star for the first six years ( 2003-2008 ). She became an owner at the end of her third season, in the fall of 2005.

"It's been an interesting season thus far," said Bache, whose 2017 Force defeated the defending champion DC Divas in the final minutes on the road in April. Chicago also this season lost a high-scoring, heartbreaking game to Boston in the final minutes.

"The regular season just flew by," Bache said. "The pre-season drags because you're limited while practicing indoors and you're desperate to get outside and play on a full field. Then you get outside and you're anxious for the games to start — you want to play against someone other than your teammates. Once the games start, the season goes at warp speed. I can't believe it's already the post-season.

"My emotions this season have been the same as every other — at full volume and strictly football. I'm a screamer on the sidelines, so I express all of my emotions in the moment and immediate aftermath of the game. I have not felt or expressed much emotion in regard to this being the final year of the organization. I keep wondering if it's going to hit me all at once after the final game."

The Force final regular-season game was a 44-20 win over St. Louis.

"My thoughts going into the playoffs vacillate wildly between expecting success and fearing failure," she admitted. "I really can't tell what's going to happen with this team, [even though] we earned a first-round bye due to our No. 2 ranking [nationally. Pittsburgh is] a really talented team and we'll have to execute and play a complete game to beat them. If we do, we'd likely then head to Boston for the conference championship on July 8. Boston is a huge rival, and our games [against Boston] are very physical and often feature dramatic endings.

"Effort is the key. We have tons of potential, but what we really need is sustained effort. I'll take effort over talent any day and I believe if we get full effort from the team in this playoff run, we will reach the championship.

"I'm feeling the excitement that comes with the high stakes of playoff games. Records go out the window and the better team doesn't necessarily win. Nothing matters but the game at hand, so the most prepared and focused team generally advances."

Chicago's greatest glory came in 2013, when the team won the national championship, its lone title among three championship game tries.

"I had no doubt the entire season [in 2013] that it was our year," Bache said. "In fact, the Windy City Times quoted me during the preseason that year when I guaranteed we'd win the championship. I remember the players dousing head coach John Konecki from the sideline water cooler in the closing moments, then seeing quarterback Sami Grisafe charging off the field with her hands in the air as time expired. The postgame locker room celebration was insane. Champagne everywhere, the team singing and celebrating. It was epic."

A Winning Tradition

Chicago is, without question, one of the best, most talented, most respected teams in women's football history. Quarterback Sami Grisafe is a true superstar who's led a host of talented players along for the ride, such as Jeannette Gray, Darcy Leslie, Dawn Pederson, Kim Marks, Jamie Menzyk and so many others.

The Force cross into so many communities, certainly the LGBT line.

"Our organization has strived to make the game available to everyone," Bache said. "[Due to] the [high] costs associated with equipment, travel and fields, there is a player fee, as is typical in semi-pro football and standard for all the women's teams. Our fee is low compared to the top teams and what we provide, but it can still be an obstacle to someone who wants to play, but is struggling financially. In those situations we've been able to provide loaner equipment at no charge and assist the player with sponsorship funds."

Bache said she has "no idea" what she'll be doing next spring during the traditional women's football season. But she's excited about the possibilities.

"Football has been my life blood for the past 15 years. When you remove football from the equation, I've realized that besides travel, I don't have much in the way of actual hobbies. So I'm pumped about having the space in my life to allow something new to enter," she said. "I think the first year I will travel a lot to visit family and friends and just try to completely decompress.

"What I will miss most is the camaraderie with the staff and players. The absolute best part of all of this has been the people I've met and the friendships made. I'll definitely miss the intensity of the competition. And I'll miss watching players as they grow, both on and off the field."

She won't miss the administration of the team, the running of a business. It's all-consuming, she said, "and continually puts you in a position of holding others accountable."

"There is a social component to the team and I'm friends with a number of the players and staff. Most people don't like being held accountable and I don't enjoy being the person who always has to do that, especially with friends," she added.

The Force has certainly bonded friends. Bache, for instance, said the friends built on the field will be "lifetime" friends off.

The Force have certainly had a financial impact on Bache.

"Someone recently asked me what I thought I'd put into the Force financially as an owner, as in, what it cost me in dollars to sustain this for the past 12 years," she said. "I've certainly put in significant funds, and more importantly, and a lot of time and energy. But the truth is, as much as I've put into the Force [financially], I've gotten back so much more in return. This has been a life-changing experience for me and most of the women who've played, so that has been its own reward."

Bache and Yvette Holt became a couple during her initial season with the Force. Holt is now the team's DJ and produces team videos. And she now carries the 'wife' label for Bache.

"She's supported me and the team for its entire existence, so this will be a big change for her as well. I could not have done it for all these years without her assistance," Bache said.

Head coach John Konecki has had an 85% winning percentage in his 10 seasons, with eight division titles, three conference titles and a national championship.

"John and I are very similar in our approach to the game, our pursuit of excellence and our unrelenting desire for success. I'm acutely aware that he is a primary reason that the organization has had such tremendous and sustained success. He's been a partner in all this and I'm really going to miss doing this with him," Bache said.

Bache wants just three more wins.

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