CHICAGO – Continuing its countdown of the 25 Greatest Players in AFL History, the Silver Anniversary Committee has announced its selection for the 9th Greatest Player in AFL History: Sam Hernandez.
The 6-foot-3, 260-pound lineman earned Division II All-America honors at Sonoma State University in 1991, but was undrafted and unsigned by NFL squads. He caught a break in 1992 when a friend introduced him to Babe Parilli, then-Head Coach of the AFL’s Charlotte Rage. Hernandez made the roster, but struggled to find his footing, recording just one sack on the season.
Following his disappointing rookie campaign, the Rage elected not to re-sign him and every other team Hernandez called insisted his services were not needed.
With no suitors in 1993, Hernandez worked to perfect his craft as he focused all his attention on pass rushing. The extra work paid off, as Hernandez earned a return to the League in 1994 with the Las Vegas Sting. In two seasons with the Sting, Hernandez totaled 10.5 sacks and was selected First-Team All-Arena in 1995.
His success would continue in 1996 as a member of the Anaheim Piranhas. In two seasons with the team, Hernandez collected 11.5 more sacks. However, it was not until he moved back home and joined the San Jose SaberCats in 1998 that he began to cement his legacy in Arena Football history.
He put up respectable numbers during his first two years with the squad, but the team did not see much success until 2000, when Hernandez earned AFL Lineman of the Year honors following a 9.5 sack-season.
The 2000 season also represented a turning point for the San Jose franchise as a whole. Under the guidance of Head Coach Darren Arbet, the SaberCats began to assemble a core of players that included Hernandez, Barry Wagner, Clevan Thomas, Mark Grieb and James Roe, among others. From 2000 to 2005, the SaberCats went 76-27 and made the playoffs every season.
In 2002, Hernandez helped San Jose to its first championship in franchise history, a 51-14 victory over the archrival Arizona Rattlers in ArenaBowl XVI. Hernandez collected one sack in the game. Two seasons later, Hernandez and the SaberCats again topped the Rattlers for an ArenaBowl title. In 2006, the AFL Historical Committee selected the 2002 SaberCats as the Greatest Team in AFL History. The Committee also tabbed Hernandez the 13th Greatest Player in League History that year.
Following the 2005 season, the five-time All-Arena selection and member of the League’s 15th Anniversary team called it a career. He retired with more forced fumbles (20) than any lineman in AFL history and still holds the League’s all-time sack record with 59 in his career. During ArenaBowl XXIV week, Hernandez, along with former teammate Barry Wagner and Head Coach Darren Arbet, were announced as inductees for the 2011 AFL Hall of Fame class.
25 Greatest Players in AFL History
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