The Arizona Republic
Jan. 25, 2005 12:00 AM
Hunkie Cooper stunned the media, the Rattlers and his wife, during a Monday news conference when he reversed field and said he's not retiring.
The Rattlers had to throw away the retirement release and redo their final roster after Cooper changed his mind just before taking the stage at a crowded news conference at America West Arena.
Instead, he'll start the season on injured reserve while working through a leg injury.
The announcement was delayed 40 minutes as the 12-year veteran talked to General Manager Gene Nudo, coach Todd Shell and six teammates, including quarterback Sherdrick Bonner, who has been Cooper's teammate since they broke into the league together in 1993.
"When it all comes down to me, nobody forces me to do anything," said Cooper, one of only two players in Arena League history to accumulate more than 20,000 all-purpose yards.
Shell said a coaching opportunity was presented to the receiver/linebacker Saturday when the Rattlers were trying to trim their roster to meet the salary cap.
"I said, 'Why don't you guys release me,' " Cooper said. "They said, 'No, we're not going to release you.' I wasn't going to go anywhere else."
Nudo said that Cooper's leadership role is invaluable to a team that has won two ArenaBowls and lost the past three. Cooper used the weekend to ponder retirement. Cooper said he also thought retirement would help three young players retain roster spots
under the salary cap.
"He had a little quad pull," Shell said. "He's been doing this for 12 years. To come out and compete at the level we're playing at, especially when you got some young guys playing like they're playing, he's got to come out every day and play. Sometimes, your body isn't working right.
"It's a time in his career . . . and we presented him an opportunity to do something else, to use his talents in a different way, and he considered that. But now he's changed his mind, because he still believes he has the fire to compete."
Cooper, who was the Arena Football League's Most Valuable Player in his rookie season
in 1993, has one year left on a contract that will pay him about $100,000.
The Rattlers begin the season Friday at Grand Rapids. Cooper won't be eligible to play the first two games. He said he could change his mind again in a few weeks if he feels he is not playing up to his standards.
Shell said that coaching opportunity would still be there.
Speaking on behalf of the players, Bonner said: "We didn't want him to retire. It wasn't his job to help work things out. It's his job to make plays."
Cooper said he expects he'll need to mend some fences with his wife, Tiffany, and other family members, who didn't learn of his plans until the news conference.
"They always say I play better when I'm pissed off," he said. "I'm pissed off. My momma is probably going to call me and cuss me out. I told everybody close to me that I was going to retire. But that walk up those two sets of escalators . . . I just can't retire. This is not the time."
Nudo said the team didn't give Cooper an ultimatum.
"I know one thing, he's most dangerous when he's like this," Nudo said.
"So let's keep him dangerous."