Arena legend Bonner gets a new start in Chicago


Sherdrick Bonner was excited about two things this past offseason: He was expecting his first child, and he was leaving the Arizona Rattlers after 14 years to join the Chicago Rush -- one of the better teams in the AFL.

Bonner, 39, is considered one of the greatest quarterbacks in AFL history. He received another gift when Chicago signed receiver Damian Harrell from the Colorado Crush. Harrell caught 132 passes (sixth overall in the AFL) and 44 touchdown passes (fourth overall) last season.

"I had some of the best memories of my life out there (in Arizona)," said Bonner, who consulted several AFL coaches before making his decision. "But if there was a time to leave, it was now. It is refreshing to have a new start to an old dog's career."

Bonner is excited to have a game-changer like Harrell on his team. While it might appear that Harrell, 32, is not terribly fast, Bonner noted that he covers a lot of ground once the ball is in the air.

Bonner is still learning when and how far to throw the ball to Harrell. Bonner loves his receiver's leaping ability, though, because it can make a quarterback look good even when he throws a bad pass.

Bonner says he was surprised to learn that Harrell is a quiet guy and was impressed by his willingness to listen to teammates.

"He is a totally different guy than when you play against him," Bonner said. "When you are on the other side of the bench, you kind of want to go over and knock that kid out. He is talking trash and getting into [trouble] with fans. But when you work with him, you see that he is a very unassuming guy."

Bonner and Harrell will replace the quarterback-receiver tandem of Matt D'Orazio and Bobby Sippio. Last year, D'Orazio threw 82 touchdown passes; Sippio led the league with 53 touchdown grabs. D'Orazio's career is on hold after having back surgery, and Sippio is now playing for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Bonner, who has had a close relationship with Chicago coach Mike Hohensee for a long time, admits that the chance to win was a major reason he signed with Chicago. The Rush won the ArenaBowl two years ago and lost to the San Jose SaberCats in the conference championship last season, after finishing the regular season at 12-4.

Bonner is also excited about rebuilding an offense that has seven new starters and complements a defense that is one of the best in the AFL.

Hohensee is confident that Chicago's defense will keep the team in every game, but he thinks Bonner and Harrell can be the difference in the fourth quarter. Hohensee was Harrell's first AFL coach on the now-defunct New England Sea Wolves in 1999, and he appreciates Harrell's ability to get open in the red zone.

Bonner and Harrell are still learning the intricacies of the Rush offense and trying to improve their communication.

"They are still familiarizing themselves with all the terminology," Hohensee says.

Hohensee, meanwhile, is impressed with Bonner's poise. He led the Rush on a touchdown drive at the end of a scrimmage against Columbus, even though he did not expect to return to the field after playing earlier in the game. Chicago's true test, however, comes in its season opener on Monday at home against San Jose.

"Let's see how we do under rapid fire," Bonner added. "I am excited, though, to get going."

William Bendetson covers football for ESPN.com.