It's hard not to use that word over and over when talking about the Mustangs and the 2012 season. Milwaukee posted a 5-13 record, but a whopping seven of those losses were by just seven points or less.
An extra play or two, a slightly different bounce of a football, another few seconds on the clock--all of these could have been the difference between a five-win season and the playoffs. Being on the wrong end of a close call happened twice in a row in the early season, when the Mustangs dropped consecutive games to the Chicago Rush and Utah Blaze in the final seconds of regulation.
Milwaukee bounced back by beating the Philadelphia Soul 64-63 in a thriller on the road. The win showed just how close the Mustangs were to the best teams in the league, and that the margin for error in the AFL is razor-thin. The Soul were ranked No. 2 in the final AFL coaches poll.
The Mustangs were also hampered by the injury bug. The team had seven contributors on the injured list at the end of the season, and many more spent time in the trainer's room during the regular season.
"Unfortunately, we've lost a lot of close games this year," said Marcus Everett, Milwaukee's two-way standout. "But we'll continue to work and hopefully we'll turn this around next year."
Everett was one of many bright spots on the field for Milwaukee. He was among leaders in the Arena Football League with nine interceptions, and he brought three of those back for touchdowns. Everett also hauled in seven touchdown passes and had one rushing score.
The biggest surprise for the Mustangs in 2012 was the play of first-year receiver Jared Jenkins. The product of Milwaukee Rufus King High School was sensational. Jenkins led the team 119 catches, 1,610 receiving yards, and 34 touchdowns.
He led a solid receiving corps that also included Andrae Thurman (63 catches, 21 touchdowns) and Johnathan Wilson (51 catches, 9 touchdowns).
Quarterback Gino Guidugli finished in the top 10 in most passing categories. He completed 373 of 587 passes for 86 touchdowns. He also rushed for 18 scores to lead the team's ground attack.
Defensively, the Mustangs weren't short on talent either. The bookends of the Milwaukee defense were Luis Vasquez and Dwayne Lefall. Both were among the league leaders with 8.5 sacks. Vasquez recovered four fumbles and accounted for 11 tackles for loss. Defensive backs Jamar Love and Ryan McFoy were Milwaukee's tackle leaders.
"It's been frustrating," added Everett. "Obviously we want to be a playoff contending team. I've still been playing hard and trying to make plays and create turnovers for the defense, and put us in the best position to win."
Milwaukee has a stable full of talent, and the Mustangs have an entire offseason to get healthy and prepare for the 2013 AFL season. The future looks bright, and the season of "almost" should prove to be a valuable learning experience.