AFL Debut and Path to a Championship (2001-2006)Edit
The Chicago Rush debuted in the AFL in 2001 under head coach Mike Hohensee, who had served as head coach for a variety of former teams such as the Washington Commandos, Albany Firebirds, and Anaheim Piranhas. Duuring the 2001 AFL Preseason, the Rush took the field for the first time against the Arizona Rattlers, only to lose 46-58. They went on to win their next preseason game against the Detroit Fury. Entering the 2001 regular season, the Rush played their inaugural game against the Oklahoma Wranglers, where they lost in a close 44-45 contest. They won their first game in frachise history the following week against the Carolina Cobras. Over the next three weeks, the Rush went 1-2, including a close loss against the Grand Rapids Rampage in week five. The team went into a three-game win streak before diving into a four-game losing streak. They finished the season by winning their last two games against the Milwaukee Mustangs and Orlando Predators, finishing the 2001 regular season with a record of 7-7. This would be enough to get the team into the playoffs. In the first round of the 2001 AFL playoffs, the Rush went up against the Orlando Predators at home, where they won candidly 41-26. They would be eliminated from the playoffs the following week against the Grand Rapids Rampage.
After a successful first year, the Chicago Rush looked to improve in their second year of existence. They started off well, winning both of their preseason games prior to the regular season. They opened the 2002 AFL season with a win over the Indiana Firebirds. The Rush would go on to have an up and down sequence of games, going 3-3 by the halfway point of the season. The Rush won five of their next six games, including a convincing 56-50 road win against the Grand Rapids Rampage. They lost their final game against the Indiana Firebirds, putting their overal record for the 2002 season at 9-5. The Rush would once again make the playoffs and win their first division title. In the first round of the 2002 AFL playoffs, the Rush hosted the Dallas Desperados, and won 60-47. They would lose the following week against the Arizona Rattlers.
Prior to the 2003 season, the AFL decided to remove its preseason from the AFL calendar, as well as increase the number of regular seasons games from fourteen to sixteen. The regular season would begin immediately. The Chicago Rush would open up the season at 0-3, including a low-scoring 23-28 loss to the Indiana Firebirds. They won three of their next four games, before losing three of their next five. They closed out the season winning three of their last four games, including a 57-36 road win against the Carolina Cobras. They would finish the 2003 AFL regular season with an overall record of 8-8. For the third straight year, they would make the playoffs. The Rush would lose in the first round of the AFL playoffs for the first time in team history against the New York Dragons.
During the offseason, the Chicago Rush lost starting quarterback Billy Dicken and former All-Arena wide receiver/defensive back Dameon Porter to free agency. They recruited Raymond Philyaw, former starting quarterback for the Albany/Indiana Firebirds, to replace Dicken. It seemed to be a good fit, as the Rush won their first four games of the 2004 regular season, including a 56-54 road win against the New York Dragons in week two. They went 1-2 over the next three weeks, including a valiant 71-72 loss against the Detroit Fury. The Rush won their next two games, only to lose the next two after that. They closed out the season going 4-1, putting their overall record for the 2004 AFL regular season at 11-5. The Rush won their division for the second time in team history and had a franchise-best eleven-win record. The Rush defeated the Orlando Predators in the first round of the AFL playoffs. Their history of struggles in the second round of the playoffs continued as they lost 35-49 against the San Jose Sabercats.