LIKE MOST OF US, MARK BAGNALL has a tough time remembering what he ate for lunch three days ago. But if you ask him about a certain letter he wrote 30 years ago, and then mention the naming of Phoenix's NBA expansion club, you'll jog his memory.
Bagnall was only 12 years old at the time, but he was among the droves of fans who believed they had the perfect name for the newly-announced franchise. So he sat down and wrote Karl Eller, one of the team's co-owners, a letter.
"I remember the name to this day," Bagnall says of his suggestion. "Whoa, that's amazing."
Bagnall recommended the name "Firebirds" to Eller. He sent his hand-written letter the same day he wrote it: January 23, 1968. At the end of the letter, Bagnall asked Eller to please write back "whenever you can." He closed with a "thank you."
Eller never returned the reply and Bagnall later found out that his name wasn't selected. A self-motivated youngster from Coolidge, Bagnall would grow up to own an insurance firm, which is still based in Phoenix today - the Bagnall Company. One of his clients: Eller media, which he quickly realized, is still run by Karl Eller himself.
Bagnall, a die-hard Suns fans along with his wife, Lynn, planned to make a special trip to the Suns' offices to obtain a copy of the letter. Not so much a warning as it was an adherence to deadline, Suns30.com contacted Eller before Bagnall had the chance.
"That was a great name," Eller says of Bagnall's choice. "In fact, Firebirds was one of the names that we considered."
Of course, Jerry Colangelo, then-general manager of the new franchise, went on to select "Suns" out of the 28,000 responses received in the "Name the Team" contest. Selinda King won season tickets for one year and $1,000 cash after being selected the lucky winner of the contest.
"I wanted those tickets," Bagnall says. "I thought my name was better than anybody else's."
To Bagnall's dismay, he never entered the contest (if there ever was one) held by the Triple-A Giants in 1986. An affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, the team decided to change its name that year and establish its own identity.
The name selected, of course, was "Firebirds." And the winner of the contest received a trip to Hawaii.
Former Firebirds General Manager Craig Pletenik, who moved into a position as community relations director for the Arizona Diamondbacks after the Triple-A team played its last game in Phoenix recently, says "Firebirds" was one of the most common entries in the contest.
Well Mark, the name is available for the taking again...
Two people contacted by Suns30.com regarding their hand-written suggestions couldn't remember much about the letters they wrote to Eller.
Another man, Daniel Vinay, Jr., had just celebrated his 80th birthday. He suggested the name "Lariats" in his response to Eller and included a detailed drawing of his proposed uniforms - using a rope for letters and numbers. Asked what he remembered about writing the letter, he says, "Not much."
One man with an unmistakable last name coupled with a middle initial suggested that "Camelback Cagers" or "Basketweavers" be chosen. His daughter picked up the phone and was told the return address on the letter, which she relayed to her father.
"He did live on 25 Street," she says, "but he doesn't remember writing it."
There are probably quite a few fans who don't remember entering the contest, now 30 years later. Others, might remember, but be too embarrassed to admit it. After all, quite a few of the suggestions sound a bit silly now days.
Here are a just a few of the names entered:
Copper State Boys
Sun Valley Pride
White Wing Doves