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The Chicago Slaughter indoor football team has canceled its scheduled 2014 season at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, potentially leaving the door open for a new franchise to operate there in 2015.
And with the simultaneous resting of the Chicago Rush at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, this winter is likely to be the first season since 2001 without any arena football in the Chicago-area market, Sears Centre General Manager Ben Gibbs said.
But that's not a situation he expects to become permanent.
Gibbs said he's already in talks with the Arena Football League - to which the Rush belonged - about the possibility of the Sears Centre hosting a team backed by a new ownership group next year.
"As a village, we feel strongly arena football can thrive in this market," Gibbs said.
And while it's even logistically possible for a team to be organized in time to take the Slaughter's place this winter, Gibbs doesn't believe that would be in the best interest of either the new franchise or the Sears Centre.
He said going dormant for a year is the best way of putting the market on notice that a new team is desired, and allowing the ownership sufficient time to properly prepare itself and the potential fan base.
"I think you need a full offseason to build this," Gibbs said. "I think slow and steady is going to win this race."
What gives Gibbs the most confidence about the potential for arena football is the Slaughter's 2010 season, when it moved from the Continental Indoor Football League to the Indoor Football League.
With the late Walter Payton's son Jarrett Payton signed as a player and former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon as an owner, fan interest exceeded all expectations, Gibbs said. Games were drawing 5,500 people.
"They had lightning in a bottle in 2010," Gibbs said. "It was packed here."
An arena football team could have been successful with even half the level of interest the Slaughter enjoyed in 2010, Gibbs said. But it was believed at the time that it was just the starting point from which the team would build.
But Payton retired from football, McMahon became less of a presence at games and fan interest diminished.
Ultimately, both the Slaughter and Rush fell afoul of crippling financial difficulties - leading to the cancellation of the teams' 2014 seasons and the absence of arena football in the Chicago area.
The Slaughter were originally expected to move back to the CIFL and begin their 2014 season in February.