The one-year anniversary of the last game in Chicago Force history on July 8 brought mixed emotionsand certainly a tear or two.
After 15 seasons, the highly successful women's football team ended its run with a playoff loss. Tears of sadness from 2017 have grown into tears of pride for what the Force accomplished, highlighted by its 2013 national championship.
"I really miss it; I miss spending time with my Force family," said Linda Bache, the team owner who also was a standout defensive player for six seasons. "I've been acutely aware of how different things are in my life since football ended. This has been a weird spring and summer. Normally I'd be working on Force stuff daily and attending three or four practices a week. I'm not accustomed to having flexibility of schedule or time on my hands, so it's been a little strange. My wife Yvette and I have been traveling quite a bit, which we love and will continue to do."
Bache, who lives in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood, is a senior account manager for Ferrellgas. She is originally from Farmington Hill, Michigan, and has called Chicago home for 24 years.
"My Force memories are divided into two parts: my six years on the field as a player, and the nine years on the sidelines [after] I stopped playing," Bache said. "My last three years as a player, I also was an owner and general manager, so that was incredibly difficult and all-consuming. [Since] I was so busy, it kind of flew by, [and] we had so much fun. There were so many wonderful people [who] were a part of the team over those 15 years. I'm sure I could have done a lot of different things with my life during that time, but I doubt anything would have been as enjoyable or would have fed my soul as much as the time I spent with the Force."
Nothing was more memorable than the summer of 2013, when the Force dominated opponents and ultimately captured the team's lone national championship. That season was, without question, "the pinnacle of our success," Bache said.
"We were head and shoulders better than every other team during the time when the women's game was at its most competitive. Everyone was completely committed and totally dialed in, and we were unstoppable. I think our 2013 squad was the best women's football team ever. When you look at our roster that year, the stats, the point differential, the complete domination. … I think it's indisputable that we were the best women's team ever assembled."
The Force was dominant in 2013and many other seasons. It was never uncommon for the Force to win games by 40, 50, 60 or even 70 points.
"We were a dominant team throughout our 15-year existence and that was accomplished through a complete commitment and sheer force of will from the top of the organization on down," Bache said. "It's tough to do because you essentially go through some kind of roster rebuild every three to five years, [but], we kept reinventing ourselves based on each season's roster and our [longtime] head coach John Konecki was always looking for another way to elevate the program, stay a step ahead of the competition, and push the sport forward."
The final Force event was last Septemberthe final team banquet, which Bache tagged as both memorable and emotional, and definitely filled with laughter.
The 2017 banquet also featured the induction of quarterback Sami Grisafe and coach John Konecki into the Chicago Force Hall of Fame, which naturally was met with thunderous applause. After the banquet, they took a group photo, and Becky Thuestad then announced she was pregnant. "It felt like a wonderful way for us all to bid farewell to the past and embrace the future," Bache said.
After the banquet, Bache and Holt went on a two-week vacation and met up with former Force players and owners Amanda Malsch and Tricia Charbonneau. "The four of us have talked many times about what a life-changing experience it was to be a part of the Force," Bache said. "I hear that sentiment expressed repeatedly by former players, coaches and staff. When a team becomes a family, it creates lasting bonds, and the memories and relationships live on. I'm really proud to share in that."
Bache said she still sees many of the former Force players. For instance, Bache and Holt visited Grisafe in California as she worked on a new album and a documentary film. They also attended Cassey Brick's graduation from the Chicago Police Academy this past spring, and Bache recently had dinner with Darcy Leslie who has a summer internship with the New York Jets.
"I still get lots of calls from coaches, players, sponsors and fans," Bache said. "I was especially happy to receive an invite recently to the wedding of a favorite former player ( Emilie Belanger ) that will be held in Canada this October. She was one of our first international players and I'm thrilled for her and honored to attend her wedding."
Many former Force players have had babies and several more are pregnant so there's another generation of potential female football players in the pipeline, Bache said.
"I'm extremely proud of the legacy we created as a powerhouse team and an organization that was always evolving," Bache said. "We became a hub for international players as our reputation for excellence spread throughout the women's worldwide football community. We had players travel here from Finland, Canada, Norway, the Czech Republic, Poland, France, Germany, New Zealand and Australia to play for the Force."
So, will we see another women's football team in Chicago?
"I have not heard of a new women's tackle football team starting here, but I hope one does. I'd like the women of Chicago to have the opportunity to play tackle football," Bache said.
And, yes, the Force will be back, eventuallywith a reunion of some sorts.
"I could see myself putting something together in the next year or so," Bache said.
"Our 2017 season ended one game too soon when we lost in the conference championship, but it's not a huge regret for me. We were worthy of being a championship team, but we didn't play well enough for four quarters to win the qualifying game. I've been able to appreciate that last season fully and the Force in its entirety. Having that final season was a gift, reallyI appreciated each moment and was very cognizant that the clock was ticking. By stating from the outset [of the 2017 season] that it was the team's final year, it allowed all of us to approach the season with an understanding of its finite commitment. It gave everyone a chance to author their own final chapter of Force football, so I'm glad we did it that way."
Extra Point with … Linda Bache
Favorite pro sport: Football
Favorite pro team: Chicago Cubs
Favorite pro athlete: Serena Williams
One pro athlete you'd like to meet: Billie Jean King
One pro sports event/game you'd like to Attend: "A Cubs' World Series [championship]."
Still in sports: Bache is a member of the Women's Football Alliance ( WFA ) Advisory Council, along with former Force player Liz Okey.