Top 25 players in AFL history: #5 Hunkie Cooper
Thursday July 26, 2012
CHICAGO – Continuing its countdown of the 25 Greatest Players in AFL History, the Silver Anniversary Committee has announced its selection for the 5th Greatest Player in AFL History: Hunkie Cooper.
There may not be a player in AFL history more synonymous with a single franchise than Hunkie Cooper is with the Arizona Rattlers. Always an Ironman, Cooper played six different positions as an undergrad at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. In his first game as a Division I athlete, Cooper scored four touchdowns as an all-purpose player. He garnered an All-American nod for his punt returning abilities as a senior.
Despite Cooper’s impressive collegiate resume, he received little NFL attention. After a short stint in the Canadian Football League, Cooper believed his football days were behind him, so he took a job at a Las Vegas Casino. It was there that Pete Kiletta, then-Director of Player Personnel for the Arizona Rattlers, visited to offer him a tryout in the Arena Football League.
Signed as a fourth-string wide receiver, Cooper shot up the depth chart, making the Rattlers – and the rest of the League – aware he was a special player. He earned League MVP and First-Team All-Arena honors as a rookie in 1993 after collecting a career-high 91 receptions for 1,214 yards and 19 touchdowns, as well as setting the single-game franchise record for receptions with 19 in a game against Tampa Bay. The following season, as quarterback Sherdrick Bonner’s favorite target, Cooper helped the Rattlers to their first ArenaBowl appearance – a 36-31 upset victory over the Orlando Predators.
The 5-foot-9 earned First-Team All-Arena honors again in 1995 as an offensive specialist; however, in 1996, he returned to his Ironman roots, becoming a receiver and linebacker, in addition to returning kicks for the Rattlers. In his first season playing all three phases of the game, Cooper earned his third First-Team All-Arena nod in four years. He earned Ironman of the Game honors in ArenaBowl XI, returning a kick for a touchdown and intercepting a Kurt Warner pass for another score, as the Ratters defeated the Iowa Barnstormers 55-33.
Cooper continued to flourish with the Rattlers into the new millennium, earning back-to-back Ironman of the Year awards in 1999 and 2000. In 2001, Cooper was named First-Team All-15th Anniversary as a receiver and linebacker and from 2002 to 2004, helped the Rattlers to three consecutive ArenaBowl appearances.
A quadriceps injury in 2005 forced Cooper into retirement after 12 seasons in Arizona. He left the game with nearly 9,000 receiving yards to go with 196 tackles and 15 interceptions, seven of which were returned for scores. He remains the League’s all-time leader in combined kick return yards (11,499) and postseason all-purpose yards (3,768).
The Rattlers retired his #14 jersey on May 6, 2005. In 2006, the AFL Historical Committee voted Cooper the 5th Greatest Player in AFL History. He was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame in 2011.
The League’s Silver Anniversary Committee will continue to countdown its list of the 25 Greatest Players in AFL History with the announcements of Players No. 3 and 4 during Conference Championship Week and the Top 2 at AVITAE ArenaBowl XXV in New Orleans on August 10.
25 Greatest Players in AFL History
5. Hunkie Cooper
6. George LaFrance
7. Sherdrick Bonner
9. Sam Hernandez
10. Damian Harrell
11. Sylvester Bembery
12. Stevie Thomas
13. Kenny McEntyre
14. John Corker
15. Dwayne Dixon
16. Kurt Warner
17. Bob McMillen
18. Mark Grieb
19. Darryl Hammond
20. Alvin Rettig
21. Durwood Roquemore
22. Chris Jackson
23. Ben Bennett
24. Clevan Thomas
25. Gary Mullen