Snap Judgments: Bruce retirement ends last link to Los Angeles Rams
Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we creep within two months of the Bengals and Cowboys kicking off the NFL's 2010 preseason in the Aug. 8 Hall of Fame Game in Canton...
• More than just a stellar 16-year NFL receiving career will end Wednesday when
Hard to believe, but the Rams have already logged 15 seasons in St. Louis, after relocating from Southern California in the spring of 1995, and Bruce only played 12 games of his rookie season as an L.A. Ram. The NFL franchise that started in Cleveland in 1937 played 49 seasons in Los Angeles (1946-94), and some folks still believe the Rams are destined to return to SoCal at some point in the not-too-distant future.
Bruce, of course, will always be linked first and foremost to the "Greatest Show on Turf'' Rams of 1999-2001, the club that went to a pair of Super Bowls and won one in January 2000. And it's somewhat fitting that both he and ex-Rams quarterback
"That honor and that distinction could not be held by two better guys,'' former Rams head coach
I expect Warner and Bruce will be wearing the yellow blazer of a Hall of Famer some day, and while Bruce may never have been the game's most dominant receiver at any point during his career, his long and distinguished body of work and statistical heft (fifth in receptions all time with 1,024, second in receiving yards with 15,208, ninth with 91 career touchdown catches) left a solid mark in the record books.
Vermeil, who had Bruce for three years in St. Louis (1997-99), said Bruce was "the best receiver I ever coached, and I've been around some good ones.'' He recalled how Bruce at times would actually practice making an easy catch more difficult -- grabbing it with one hand, etc... -- to prepare himself for tougher receptions during a game.
"I used to stop him during practice and say, 'Why are you doing that?' '' Vermeil said. "But he wanted to make the easy catch more difficult in order to work on some other skills.''
That Bruce will hold the distinction of being the game's final playing link to the Rams' Los Angeles era -- a team that gave us such NFL luminaries as
• It's difficult to add anything meaningful to the scores of tributes to
I'll never forget that when I interviewed Wooden 12 years into his retirement, he seemed the happiest that I wasn't asking him about his own coaching legacy, but that of another longtime basketball coaching great,
Wootten, a 2000 inductee in the Basketball Hall of Fame, and Wooden were old friends and two peas in a pod, and Wooden once said of Wootten: "Morgan Wootten has been called the finest high school basketball coach in the country. I disagree. Morgan Wootten is the finest coach, at any level, I have ever seen.''
That fairly well summed up the John Wooden that I met at the Spectrum in April 1987, while I was still covering high school sports for the
• I couldn't help but ask Dick Vermeil for his reflections on Wooden as well, given that he coached alongside him at UCLA in the mid-70s, at the close of the Wizard of Westwood's career. In many ways, Vermeil's earnestness and ability to invest himself in the lives of the players he coached reminded some of Wooden's gifts.
"He had a tremendous value system that he imparted to athletes,'' said Vermeil, who was UCLA's head coach in 1974-75, Wooden's last two years with the Bruins. "He was just so real, and such a great example that you wanted to emulate it. He had a way of establishing unbelievable credibility in a short period of time, and that credibility allowed him to gain tremendous respect and a deep level of trust from the people around him.
"He was just very believable, and even though his players didn't always agree with him, they trusted him and had faith in him that everything he did was for their good and for the betterment of the team. He taught me to coach the entire person. He'd say you don't coach football, you coach a person who plays football, in the same way he didn't coach basketball as much as he coached people who played basketball.''
Mired in an eight-game losing streak with the Rams in 1997, his first season back in the NFL after a 14-year absence from coaching, Vermeil said he got a surprise phone call from Wooden one Monday morning in St. Louis.
"You talk about a timely reinforcement,'' Vermeil said. "He said, 'You know what you're doing and you've got a plan for the job ahead of you. Just stick to your guns and it'll all work out for good in the end. Don't waver.'
"As far back as my days at UCLA, John would convince me, 'Don't worry about those people next door, meaning USC. They're always going to be better physically. Just help the players you have be the best they can be and the rest will take care of itself.' All the concepts he used in coaching were always human concepts.''
• Given that it has been the storyline that dominated other recent offseasons, I've been pleasantly surprised at the lack of
So we've still got plenty of time to crank up Favre Watch 2010.
• Whose idea was