Accolades continue for champion Chicago Force as squad receives proclamations

The early days of January 2014 proved to be a continuation of the remarkable traction that the Chicago Force have gained during an historic 2013. Earning proclamations from the City of Chicago, County of Cook and the state of Illinois, it was a celebration of their remarkable achievements.

After an undefeated season during Women’s Football Alliance regular season play, the Force capped it off with a national championship victory over the Dallas Diamonds. This historic first title in franchise history was complemented by nine Force players (along with three coaches) that helped the US grab the 2013 IFAF Women’s World Championships.

Chicago Force Owner’s Linda Bache, Tricia Charbonneau and Amanda Malsh receive city and state Proclamations from Alderman Bob Fioretti and Sr. Advisor Mica Matsoff from the Illinois Governor’s Office.

Chicago Force Owner’s Linda Bache, Tricia Charbonneau and Amanda Malsh receive city and state Proclamations from Alderman Bob Fioretti and Sr. Advisor Mica Matsoff from the Illinois Governor’s Office.

Force players were greeted by Alderman Bob Fioretti and Mica Matsoff, a senior advisor from the Governor’s Office. The ceremony also served as an appropriate time to honor the squad with their WFA championship rings.

Dubbed “Chicago’s best kept secret” by Fioretti, the Force were one of three teams based in the Windy City to capture championships. Another female football team captured the Legends Cup, marking the first time that a city has had female football teams capture the WFA and LFL titles in the same year. In between these historic events, Jonathan Toews captained the Chicago Black Hawks to its second Stanley Cup title in four seasons.

Chicago Force 2013 WFA National Championship ring

Chicago Force 2013 WFA National Championship ring

Perhaps the most special aspect of the proclamation ceremony was the fact that remarkable on-field accomplishments were also recognized. Of note, conference awards were bestowed upon Sami Grisafe (offensive player of the year) and Darcy Leslie (defensive player of the year).

Quarterback Sami Grisafe had another banner year, throwing for 4,301 yards and 57 touchdowns (more TD passes than Petyon Manning threw in his record-breaking year). Darcy Leslie continued to serve as a defensive stalwart for the Force posting 96 tackles, of which 28 were for loss. Such contributions resulted in the Force outscoring their opponents by an astounding 771-128 tally.

From a leadership standpoint, recognition was also bestowed upon head coach John Konecki and owner Linda Bache. Konecki earned a unique triple crown as coach in 2013. He would lead the Crete-Monee high school boys’ football team to an Illinois State title. This was followed by serving as the head coach for Team USA in a gold medal effort along with winning the elusive WFA title. His accomplishments should place him on the radar of several NCAA programs.

Bache, a former player with the Force, was named Owner of the Year by the WFA. As the Force have qualified for the postseason in 10 of their 11 seasons in existence, Bache has served as a key component in such success. She also had the privilege of being honored with the team at Wrigley Field in late summer 2013, prior to a Chicago Cubs contest.

Before the 2014 season can begin, there is another unique event to honor the team. A non-profit production titled The Tackle Girls followed the US women’s football team en route to world dominance at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds. In addition, the documentary follows the players back to the US as teammates at the international level become rivals back in the WFA.

Featuring music from Sami Grisafe, the film shall prominently feature several Force players, as their accomplishments are captured on film, preserved for eternity. With the debut set to take place at Times Square during Super Bowl Week, it is a fitting tribute to what is truly Chicago’s best-kept secret. As female football grows into the sporting conversation, there is no question that Windy City football fans shall one day reflect on this remarkable team of wondrous woman and acknowledge that they have not seen a team this dominant since the 1985 Chicago Bears captured the hearts and minds of fans worldwide.

Sami Grisafe ends on a high note as WFA champion Force honored at Wrigley Field

One of the greatest female quarterbacks in the world, Sami Grisafe made the decision to call it a career. Before she leaves the gridiron for good, Grisafe had one more memorable moment in the world of athletics. Along with her Chicago Force teammates, the club was recognized at famous Wrigley Field, home of baseball’s Chicago Cubs.

Prior to the Cubs match versus the Miami Marlins on September 3, Grisafe had the opportunity to step onto the coveted field and sing the Star Spangled Banner. Iroincally, Wrigley is the first stadium where Grisafe saw a professional sporting event.

Grisafe sings the Star Spangled Banner in front of the Cubs faithful (Still obtained from: YouTube)

Grisafe sings the Star Spangled Banner in front of the Cubs faithful (Still obtained from: YouTube)

As the lead singer for The Sami Grisafe Band, she also had the opportunity to sing the anthem before the gold medal game of the 2013 IFAF World Women’s Football Championship. The Huffington Post called that rendition one of the most inspiring versions they ever heard.

Afterwards, Grisafe was followed by Tricia Charbonneau. The club’s field goal kicker was given the honor of throwing the the game’s ceremonial first pitch. Unfortunately for the Cubs, the Force’s winning ways did not rub off on them, as they were bested by a 6-2 tally versus the Marlins.

Force recognized for their championship on the iconic Wrigley Field scoreboard (Photo credit: Ross Forman)

Force recognized for their championship on the iconic Wrigley Field scoreboard (Photo credit: Ross Forman)

For Grisafe and her Force teammates, this was a terrific opportunity to gain some well-deserved recognition. Ashley Berggren, another Force member is the only female athlete to have her jersey raised at the University of Illinois (where she was Big Ten Basketball Player of the Year in 1997). At the bottom of the Cubs scoreboard in center field, a display congratulating the Chicago Force represented a watershed moment for the club.

Receiving the big league treatment, the Force have a new fan in Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts, who helped arrange for the pre-game event. Not only did she wear her own personalized Force jersey to the game, but she has even participated in some pre game coin tosses for the club in WFA play.

Force kicker and co-owner Tricia Charbonneau featured in the Chicago Sun-Times (Image by Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

Force kicker and co-owner Tricia Charbonneau featured in the Chicago Sun-Times (Image by Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

Of note, this was not the first time this year that a baseball club recognized a great accomplishment in women’s sport. Earlier in the summer, the Boston Red Sox invited the Boston Blades, a women’s hockey team to Fenway Park. Featuring several players that competed at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games, the Blades were recognized for their Clarkson Cup champion championship.

For the Force, the 2013 WFA championship game was a defining moment in franchise history. Having lost the 2012 WFA championship, the club wanted to prove it was worthy of winning. With the Dallas Diamonds as the last obstacle, the electricity at Balboa Stadium in San Diego was intensifying.

Ashley Berggren and Nani Love (Image obtained from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chicagoforce)

Ashley Berggren and Nani Love (Image obtained from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chicagoforce)

Having played high school football in California, Grisafe’s final game would bring her back to her home state. After a sparkling season that saw her log 4301 passing yards and 57 touchdowns, Grisafe was definitely the heartbeat of the Force offense. With tremendous drama and anticipation, emotions ran high as both clubs were looking for their first-ever championship.

After Grisafe scored the first touchdown of the game, it would set the tone for the rest of the game. Like John Elway, her final game ended on a championship note while receiving MVP honors. In a convincing 81-34 final, Grisafe shredded the Diamonds defense with an astounding 526 yards and eight touchdowns. The win not only gave Grisafe and the Force their first coveted championship, but it capped off an undefeated season that saw the Force outscore opponents by an astounding 771-128 margin.

Yvette Holt, Sami Grisafe, Tricia Charbonneau, fan holding the WFA National Championship Trophy, Cubs co-owner Linda Ricketts and Linda Bache (far right) with the WFA National Title(Photo by Ross Forman)

Yvette Holt, Sami Grisafe, Tricia Charbonneau, fan holding the WFA National Championship Trophy, Cubs co-owner Linda Ricketts and Linda Bache (far right) with the WFA National Title (Photo by Ross Forman)

After leading the US to its second straight gold medal at the IFAF Women’s Worlds, earning an elusive WFA title, while her band was considered for a Grammy nomination, 2013 shall be a year to remember for the spectacular Sami Grisafe. In addition to her musical ambitions, her career was defined by shattering barriers and ground breaking moments in football (like playing in the first WFA championship in an NFL stadium).

While the WFA has lost a tremendous role model and all-around superstar in Grisafe, her legend will be a building block in establishing a solid foundation for women’s football in America. One of the true originals in women’s sports, Grisafe was more than just an athlete.

Comfortable in her own skin and not afraid to be who she is, Grisafe displayed great courage in publicly disclosing her sexual orientation. In so doing, she proved that the most important thing about women in sport is recognizing them for their athletic ability and character. A winner off the field, she has also established herself as a winner in life, helping to empower and encourage women to follow their dreams.

Chicago Force ride high octane offense to first-ever WFA National Title

There was an air of electricity throughout San Diego’s Balboa Stadium as Sami Grisafe was entering the final game of her storied career. With the Chicago Force one win away from their first-ever WFA National Championship, the only obstacle left standing in their way was the Dallas Diamonds. Having defeated their first three postseason opponents by a combined score of 195-34, the Force were the favorites.

Photo credit by Derrick Tuscan

Photo credit by Derrick Tuscan

In a battle of undefeated squads, the Force entered the championship game with the WFA’s top-ranked offense, while the Dallas Diamonds boasted the league’s finest defense. Chicago scored 495 regular season points while racking an astounding 529.4 offensive yards per game. In the regular season, the Diamonds defense overwhelmed opponents, allowing only 20 points (compared to 60 for Chicago).

Alex Harvey was the sack leader during the regular season for the Diamonds with 5.5 while Nicole Coffin led the squad in tackles, interceptions and forced fumbles. The featured weapons on offense for the Diamonds were Odessa Jenkins and Brittany Satterwhite.

Jenkins, who helped the US team to a gold medal at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds, led the club with 401 yards. Satterwhite led the Diamonds in combined yards from scrimmage with 813 (287 rushing, 526 receiving). Her 13 touchdowns paced all Diamonds, while Jenkins was close behind with 10.

Chicago’s offensive attack was well-balanced. While Sami Grisafe posted remarkable numbers with 2582 passing yards and 32 touchdowns, the running game was formidable. Employing a running back by committee, Mary Choules, Brandy Hatcher and Darcy Leslie combined for 1,457 rushing yards. The defense was anchored by the likes of Darcy Leslie (who pulled double duty with 49 tackles), Angel Smith (20 tackles for loss and five sacks) and Kim Marks, with eight sacks and three fumble recoveries, respectively.

Having competed in the 2012 WFA championships (the first contested in an NFL stadium), the Chicago Force came up short against the San Diego Surge by a 40-36 tally. Looking for redemption, the game had an emotional tone for Grisafe as her career came full circle.

Growing up in California, Grisafe would be the first female to play quarterback for a high school game in the state. With the additional momentum of having led the United States to the gold medal at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds in Finland, Grisafe was looking to add one more accolade to an impressive career.

Taking matters into her own hands, Grisafe would score the first touchdown of the game. With Charbonneau connecting on the extra point, Chicago enjoyed a 7-0 advantage. It would not take long for Chicago to add to their lead.

Jessica Javelet, looking for her second consecutive WFA title would add to Chicago’s lead with a touchdown as 4:58 remained in the quarter. Two minutes and 52 seconds later, Chicago added to their lead with another touchdown for a commanding 21-0 lead.

Looking to get back into the game, Dallas would reply with their own touchdown as 29 seconds remained in the high scoring quarter. A fifty-yard touchdown run placed Dallas on the scoreboard as the period expired with a 21-6 score.

Facing a 15-point deficit, Dallas tried to build on the momentum of their first touchdown but it was not meant to be. WFA All-American Jeanette Gray scored a touchdown as the Force extended their lead again. Merely two minutes and 18 seconds after Gray scored, Chicago was back on the scoreboard as Dallas faced a 36-6 setback.

While the top-ranked Dallas defense was overwhelmed by the rifle arm of Grisafe, the offense tried to keep the squad competitive. Scoring a touchdown with 11:44 remaining in the half, the Diamonds cut the Force’s lead to a 36-12 margin.

Before the half would expire, Chicago would respond with four touchdowns. Despite the best efforts of Dallas, including another touchdown with 3:36 left, the Force went into halftime with an insurmountable 62-20 lead.

Although Chicago managed only one touchdown in the third quarter, Dallas was overwhelmed and dejected. In the fourth, the squads would exchange touchdowns before Chicago put the game on ice with the final touchdown of the game. With 2:56 left, Chicago would make it an 81-34 advantage, which would also stand as the final score.

Quarterback Sami Grisafe and wide receiver Jessica Javelet from the Chicago Force were recognized as Chicago’s MVP’s in the contest. Grsiafe threw for an eye-opening eight touchdown passes while Javelet was impressive with 11 receptions for 213 yards and three touchdown receptions. Brittany Satterwhite from the Dallas Diamonds earned her team’s MVP award.

Having scored 276 points in four postseason contests, the Force were an offensive juggernaut, pounding their opponents into submission. Jessica Gray was also an essential component of the Force offense in the championship effort; 12 receptions, 213 yards and three touchdown receptions represented another banner day for the remarkable Gray.

Mary Choules, who platoons at the running back position with Darcy Leslie, Brandy Hatcher and Javelet contributed with 19 carries, 104 rushing yards and two rushing scores, complemented by one receiving TD.

In Grisafe’s swan song, she displayed the greatness that made her the WFA’s elite pivot for over half a decade. While she will prove to be a tough act to follow, her presence helped the league grow by a quantum leap. As she tackles a singing career, there is no question that she left a memorable impression on women’s football.

As head coach John Konecki (who also coached the US to gold in 2013) sees a future that brings with it the challenge of finding a new field general, he can find solace in the fact that with such a talent-heavy Force squad, the transition should be an easier one. For now, being able to celebrate a long-fought, hard-earned championship and share it with the loyal fans of Chicago provides Konecki and the franchise with its own rewards.

Date with destiny at 2013 WFA National Title Game for Chicago Force

While the Chicago Force prepare for their third attempt at capturing the elusive Women’s Football Association National Championship, there is no question that the stakes are higher than ever. With Sami Grisafe retiring after the title game (to be contested on August 3 in San Diego) to focus on her promising musical career, it shall mark the end of an era in women’s football.

Sami Grisafe sings the national anthem prior to the final match USA vs Canada at the 2013 IFAF Women's Worlds (Photo credit Aliisa Piirla/AFP/Getty Images)

Sami Grisafe sings the national anthem prior to the final match USA vs Canada at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds (Photo credit Aliisa Piirla/AFP/Getty Images)

Statistically, Grisafe is the most dominant quarterback of her era. Having helped the United States to consecutive gold medals at the IFAF Womens’ World Championships (in 2010 and 2013), her contribution to the women’s game establishes her as one of the true pioneers of the sport.
Similar to Red Grange or Slinging Sammy Baugh in the early days of the NFL, Grisafe is the marquee player of the nascent WFA. A multiple All-America selection, her contributions at quarterback has represented the heartbeat of the Force offense while providing much-needed exposure for the league.

Competing against the Dallas Diamonds, it will mark a historic championship game as neither club has ever won a title in their franchise histories with the WFA. Despite the outcome, there will be a lot of American pride at the event. A total of 15 members of the US National Team that captured gold at the 2013 IFAF Womens’ World Championships shall be on the field in San Diego on August 3.

Grisafe with the Chicago Force, Image by Ross Forman

Grisafe with the Chicago Force, Image by Ross Forman

Among the Dallas Diamonds competitors who donned the US jersey, the six members include: Brittany Bushman, Odessa Jenkins, Jen Welter, Alberta Fitcheard-Brydson, Kenoris Blackmon and Rachel May. Chicago’s nine fearless females that helped the US capture its second straight gold included Sami Grisafe (who sang the Star Spangled Banner before the Gold Medal Game), Jeanette Gray, Brandy Hatcher, Jamie Menzyk, Elizabeth Okey, Tami Engelman, Dawn Pederson and Ashely Berggren.

The road to the title game consisted of three playoff games where the Force outscored their oppionents by a combined 195-34. Chicago crushed the Cleveland Fusion by a 65-7 score, which was followed by an overwhelming 84-0 decision at the hands of the Atlanta Phoenix. Facing the Boston Militia for the third consecutive season in the playoffs, Chicago emerged with a 46-27 victory.

Having competed in the 2012 WFA National Championship (the first title match held at an NFL stadium), the Force are now accustomed to the pressures of competing on the league’s biggest stage. Having suffered defeat at the hands of San Diego Surge in 2012, the Force came away with a learning experience.

In addition, the Force would land a member of the Surge as a free acquisition in 2013. Jessica Javelet, a key member of the 2012 championship roster made her presence felt in the conference title game versus Boston. Her 183 yard performance, complemented by three touchdowns made the difference as the running game was employed by Chicago in a rain-soaked contest.

Javelet may end up being the free agent acquisition that makes Sami Grisafe’s championship dreams come true. The one component missing from her storied career is a national championship.

After helping the United States claim two gold medals at the IFAF Women’s Worlds, the WFA title would solidify her standing as the greatest women’s quarterback of the last ten years. With quality weapons on offense including Jeanette Gray and Ashley Berggren, the Force’s date with destiny is one that may be a landmark moment in franchise history.

Berggren is one of the most accomplished two-sport stars on her squad. Having set several records as a basketball player at Barrington High School, she would have a legendary career for the University of Illinois.

Not only did she help the squad to a Big Ten title, she was Big Ten Player of the Year in 1997. For her efforts, her jersey was raised to the rafters in 2009. Having coached the Schaumburg girls basketball team to consecutive winning seasons, she is a member of the Illinois Coaches Basketball Hall of Fame. Her coaching wisdom makes her a natural leader on the Force, while helping to ease the burden of pressure off Grisafe.

Having thrown for over 1,000 yards in the postseason, Grisafe has been nothing short of dazzling. Having grown up in California (where Grisafe made history by becoming the first girl to play Division I High School Boys Football in the state), the last game of her career brings her full circle. Her flawless passing game is the key to a highly potent offense that may provide her with the elusive title on which she can end her prized career in story book fashion.

Returning to her home state, the stars are perfectly aligned for a fantastic finish. There is no question that if the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio ever inducts women, Grisafe deserves to be at the top of that list.