In 11 seasons of Arena Football League play, the Arizona Rattlers have recorded one losing record — their inaugural, 1992 campaign when they went 4-6.
It's a source of pride for the organization — and now a source of concern.
With a 4-4 record at the midpoint of the 2003 season and a brutal schedule ahead, Arizona is staring at the very real possibility of its second sub-.500 season.
The Rattlers play their next four games against elite AFL competition (Tampa Bay, Orlando, Los Angeles and Grand Rapids) and five of their remaining eight games are on the road.
"I'd say the next four weeks for us are critical," coach Danny White said.
The Rattlers have not missed the playoffs since 1992 and it's unlikely that will happen this year with 12 of the AFL's 16 teams qualifying. But Arizona's continued struggles in close games doesn't bode well for the postseason.
Three of the Rattlers’ four losses have occurred on the final play of the game, including last week's 59-58 loss to San Jose in which Arizona led 58-46 with 3:32 to play before the Sabercats scored, recovered an onside kick and scored again as time expired.
"Part of it is we have a lot of new players," veteran Randy Gatewood said. "We're still trying to put it together and find where we're at as a team. Any time that's going on, teams aren't going to be able to win the close games."
White has bemoaned his team's inability to finish off teams when leading late, but quarterback Sherdrick Bonner doesn't believe the team lacks a killer instinct.
"I don't think it's an inability for us to finish. The week before (San Jose) we finished very strong against Colorado," he said. "(San Jose) just had two plays that they performed to perfection. We just have to keep working hard and keep the right attitude."
White said the Rattlers have done that.
"I think it's pretty good," he said. "We've tried not to get too hard on them because we're three plays away from having the best record in the league and we're coming off probably our best performance of the year. If we keep our perspective and look at it objectively, we're playing pretty well."
Arizona should also benefit from the additions of lineman Wendall Gaines, defensive specialist Kelvin Hunter and offensive specialist Maurice Bryant, all of whom are expected to return from injuries next week against Orlando.