The Arizona Rattlers will defend their title next Saturday in Orlando against the Philadelphia Soul in a re-match of the 2012 Arena Bowl after a 65-57 victory over the Spokane Shock.
Arizona came from behind after trailing 21-7 to take a 58-28 lead and held on the rest of the way as Head Coach Kevin Guy continues his rebuilding job of a franchise that has come a long way since falling off the map before the 2009 hiatus.
Between 1993 and 2004 winning years, playoffs, Arena Bowls and championships were commonplace in Phoenix as the clubs' first skipper Danny White led the team to 12 straight postseason appearances, 10 semi-final/conference title games, five Arena Bowls including three straight (2002-2004) and two championships (1994, 1997).
White could not have done it without his players particularly his on the field extension QB Sherdrick Bonner. Bonner played under the former NFL great's tutelage for most of his career as the two were paired together for 12 years until White's departure from the Rattlers in 2004 after three straight defeats in the Arena Bowl.
Although Bonner stayed for three more years the franchise became a shadow of its former self in the post-White years between 2005 and 2008. In those four seasons Arizona failed to post a winning year and made the playoffs only twice (2006, 2008) going 8-8 both times. There wasn't much postseason success in those two years either however in 2006 the Rattlers beat their former mentor White in the first round when he coached the expansion Utah club.
The seeds of today's greatness were sown as Kevin Guy became the new sheriff in town as he led the team from a 4-12 record in 2007 to 8-8 and 2008. Guy, a former AFL player, had one year of coaching experience in 2000. In 2009 the AFL went on hiatus and its future was in question but in 2010 both the league and the Arizona franchise were reborn with the signing of current QB Nick Davila who had spent the previous two years with Spokane.
Davila led the Rattlers to their first winning record in 2010 (10-6) and first Arena Bowl appearance in 2011 since the ill fated 2004 season. The 2011 season was bittersweet as Arizona posted a 16-2 record and came within a minute of a third Arena Bowl title as they lost to Jacksonville.
2012 would be a different story as Guy and Davila made it back to the playoffs for a third straight year and that time there would be no late game drama as the Rattlers won Arena Bowl XXV 72-54 to show that the once great AFL franchise was back on the map.
This year Arizona rolled through the regular season at 15-3 and now seeks to become the third AFL franchise to win its fourth Arena Bowl title but what is more obvious now is how the franchise has re-established itself as an AFL power which means they could be a contender for years to come.