Their names are synonymous with a 12-year playoff run that included the franchise’s first two ArenaBowl championships in 1994 and 1997
Their names: Sherdrick Bonner, Hunkie Cooper and Randy Gatewood.
Their numbers: 13, 14 and 17, retired a few years back, were taken down from the rafters of US Airways Center and placed inside the team’s brand new Ring of Honor prior to the Rattlers season opener Saturday night.
“Whether or not our jerseys are up there or if they’re not up there,” Gatewood said, “I think people still remember the type of players we were. The things we did.”
“It’s not the number that makes the player,” Cooper said. “It’s the player that makes that number.”
Added Bonner, “If somebody wears it, hopefully they do it justice.”
When he left the Rattlers in 2007, Bonner held every passing record in team history. He was voted last year by the Arena Football League Silver Anniversary Committee as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.
Cooper, who spent his entire 13-year career with the Rattlers and was the league’s MVP his rookie season, was voted by that same committee as the fifth-greatest player in AFL history.
He said his career, though, was about more than just numbers on a stat sheet.
“I think the fans that were in my generation, they knew what came with 14; not only the big-time plays on the field but the caring about people, the caring about community, the caring about self,” he said. “Whoever wears that number I hope they take a good hard look at it and represent it in the right way.”
Together, the three friends helped build the Rattlers into one of the premier organizations in arena football.
“It’s hard to explain,” Bonner said of a run that included three straight ArenaBowl appearances from 2002-2004. “It was amazing. You knew every year you were going to come in and compete to put yourself in a position to win a championship.”
Said Gatewood, a two-time Ironman of the Year, “That run, that stretch, it was absolutely beautiful. It was beautiful.”