Mike Improta
Banner Image by Andy Hamilton

We often assume that great things are done by those who were blessed with natural talent, genius, and skill. But how many great things could have been done by people who never fully realized their potential? I think many of us, myself included, are capable of much more than we typically produce — our best work is often still hiding inside of us. How can you pull that potential out of yourself and share it with the world?

When you look at the top performers in any field, you see something that goes much deeper than intelligence or skill. They possess an incredible willingness to do the work that needs to be done. We all have goals (I think?) and we all have dreams and ideas to become something special. I have been very fortunate, having two parents who are successful, and have been lucky enough to have a family of my own with two beautiful children. I’ve also had many opportunities in my life to play high-school and college sports, and been successful in my professional career; however, I had often lied in bed feeling there was still something missing…

It was September2019, and I found myself lying in bed, bug-eyed not able to sleep. I was becoming a channel-surfing champion when I scrolled down to find, “Simulation Football.” This was something new that I had never noticed in the menu guide and decided to watch. I heard voices of broadcasters and saw a video of digital players on the screen, laughed, and changed the channel. A few nights went by and I found myself going back to the same channel, watching more and more. Finally, after watching a full game called by Andy Hamilton and Eddie “2 Scoops” Gauge, I was then inspired and decided this was my chance at finding my legacy!

December 14th – I get a phone call from a number reading Alabama. The man on the other end says in his southern drawl, “Hello Mike, this is Shann Varner, owner of the team in Chicago. How would you like to come and run like a Wildcat?” I have no idea who this guy is?! My answer was, “Well, thank you, that certainly gives me something to think about. I don’t really care who I play for.” Varner emphatically replied, “Welcome to Chicago!” Later, that night, I was in-person up in Boston. In the first round of the first ever live Rookie Draft for Season 14, the Chicago Wildcats drafted me at 13th overall.

Finally, after waiting a few weeks, the new year was here! I had no idea what to expect. I was so happy to finally be on a team when two months prior, I was lying in bed with empty thoughts. I knew this was where I was going to become a Superstar! People were going to be shouting my name! Everyone would know who I was on TV! This was supposed to be my path to Canton, Ohio! The New England Patriots and Bill Belichick were supposed to be watching! …. However, things didn’t go the way I had dreamed. The season started with the Wildcats off to an 0-2 start, and my player’s statistics were; 11 carries for 13 yards. I was averaging 1.18 yards per carry.

Improta helping fellow Wildcat Ash Odom with a key block

Was this the way the entire season was going to play out? Was this the first chapter to my career? The cover of my book has always been ripped, but something wasn’t quite right. The next day, at 6am EST/5am CST, I decided to call Shann and said, “What in the hell is going on?” I wanted him to blow-up the entire roster. He knew I was passionate about the success of the team and I wanted to make an impact! I told Coach Varner, “My player isn’t ready. Take me out of the entire offense and get the other guys the ball.”

He decided to appoint me as the team’s Director of Communications and one of the team’s coaches. I knew it was time to get to work. Immediately, my focus shifted and started watching and reading more about the league’s history. I wanted to be an SFL Scholar. Days on end I would join the chat, watch the introductions, and keep a close eye on which Rookies were doing their check-ins. Before I knew it, the team won its next four games! The Wildcats were rolling, and we were hot! Then, in Week 7 we played at home against the Gladiators and lost a heartbreaker, 36-30 in overtime. In Week 8 we lost again 6-3 at home to the Swarm. We were up and we were down, and the competitive juices in my blood were flowing like the Mississippi River.

Being from Chicago, as well as New England in real life, snow isn’t a big deal for Improta

The playoff run of the season was beginning to take shape, and the teams in the top 10 were going to be the fortunate ones. Each week, the SFL beat team ranked my Wildcats in the #10 through #15 spot. Our lowest rank was after week two when the team fell to #16. Our highest rank was 8th. It was at this time Coach Varner and General Manager, Jessie Vick decided we needed to re-fuel and get this team going like a well-oiled machine. Some tough decisions had to be made and the team released a few of our veterans. We replaced them with key players like Ryan “Hey Yo” Yoseph, Mickey “Mind Games” McGuire, Buddy “Big Play” Blaze, and Liam “Sledge” Hammer, aka ‘MC’ Hammer, as Cam Irvine refers to him as. The culture of the Wildcat locker room was changing. We were having fun and our game planning was coming together. Rookies Gerald ‘Booty Jiggle’ Giudicessi, Ron “Don’t Hassel The” Hoff, and Season 14’s best kicker in the league, Anthony ‘Automatic’ Cece were bringing Chicago’s team to the promised land! Veterans, Shann “The Viper” Varner, Jessie “Ookie” Vick, and soon to be Hall of Famer’s Ash “All Day” Odom and E.T. “The Chicago” King were bringing us to glory! In our next game we beat Houston and were one game above .500 at 5-4. Chicago was moving up in the Power Rankings and it was our time to shine.

Unfortunately, in a game that we were supposed win in Week 10 on the road, we suffered a difficult loss to the Denver Nightwings. Perhaps the thin air got the best of us, (or maybe it was too much truck-driving that got to Coach Varner?) It wasn’t a season-ending loss, but this was the game that ultimately cost our team a better seed going into the playoffs. We knew had to keep moving forward and the last two games of the regular season were at home against Seattle and London. Week 11 was awesome as we ‘roared-up’ for 45 points beating the Tyrants. In the last game of the year, we dominated and scored 44 against London. We had just put up 89 points in two games. The Wildcats were back!

The regular season was over, and as the #8 seed, the league was beginning to take notice. This put the Chicago Wildcats in the Wildcard Game against the #9 St. Louis Gladiators who finished the season at 6-6 and were becoming the Cinderella story for this season of the SFL. It was a home playoff game inside the friendly confines of THE Thunderdome. The crowd was rabid and the electric sounds of AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’ roared through the rafters! We took out the Gladiators in a back and forth, high scoring game, 41-31, where the Wildcats proved that Chicago will always be their city! Again, we were surging, having won three in a row. I was ecstatic and the rest of the team was at an all-time high! Our confidence was the strongest it had been all year. We were filled with passion, eager for the next round…

It was then we found out that we had to travel to Atlanta and try to find a way to defeat the #1 team in the league. If I was able to re-write history, we would have beaten the Swarm and I would have invested in tons of Anti-Wasp Spray stock. Unfortunately, for the Wildcats, all products were out of stock and we were stung for a final score of 29-7, ending the Wildcat season.

The next morning, after suffering from exhaustion and disappointment, my phone was ringing at 6am. I remember thinking to myself, “Either I just hit the lottery (I’m not that lucky), or maybe it could be something really important.” I struggled to get my bearings, wiped the cobwebs out of my eyes, and looked down at the screen of my cellphone. It read Coach Varner. Maybe he was in jail and needed me to bail him out? What in the Good Lord’s name could this crazy coach from Alabama possibly want at 6am EST/5am CST? With a raspy voice, I answered, “Hello?” Coach Varner replied in his southern voice, “What the hell is going on?! It’s the first day of Season 15! We have unfinished business to take care of!”

I swear, If I had lived in Andalusia, Alabama, I would have driven to his house, dropped a burning paper bag of pig-poop on his doorstep, rang the doorbell, and jumped back in my pick-up truck and sped away.

I love Shann Varner, THE Legendary Chicago Wildcats, and the SFL.

This is my legacy!