State Your Case: Isaac Bruce
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
Former quarterback Kurt Warner is a favorite to reach the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year, and, if that happens, he becomes the fourth member of "The Greatest Show on Turf" to make it to Canton. Aeneas Williams, Marshall Faulk and Orlando Pace are the others.
But what about the guys who caught Warner's passes?
Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks often have Hall-of-Fame receivers join them in Canton, and the envelope, please. Unitas had Berry and Mackey. Namath had Maynard. Bradshaw had Swann and Stallworth. Montana and Young had Rice. Kelly had Reed and Lofton. Aikman had Irvin. Fouts had Joiner and Winslow.
I think you get the idea.
So what about Warner? If and when he gets in, shouldn’t we start looking at his receivers, too? After all, the offense for the Super Bowl Rams was more like a blitzkrieg, with Warner & Co. launching a quick-strike assault. So, surely, there must be one of his receivers to consider.
And there is: Isaac Bruce, a finalist for the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2017.
When you think back to the St. Louis Rams, it's hard not to think of Bruce along with Warner and Faulk. They were the three most dangerous members of an offense that routinely put up dozens of points and yards. Yeah, I know, there was Torry Holt, too, and, yes, he is Hall-of-Fame worthy. But I think of Holt more as Reggie Wayne to Marvin Harrison … with Harrison, or Bruce, in this case --the guy who scared you.
He was a four-time Pro Bowler, who put up eight 1,000-yard seasons, ranks fourth in career receiving yards, 12th in receiving touchdowns and 13th in career catches and who was the second receiver in NFL history to reach 15,000 yards. More important, he played big in big games – averaging 17.3 yards per catch, with four TDs and five receptions per game in nine playoff contests -- and, yes, that matters.
Ask anyone who voted for Lynn Swann.
"Go back and look at the big games," said former Rams' coach Mike Martz on a Talk of Fame Network broadcast last summer, "and how well he performed, and the key plays that he makes in those games. (He and Torry Holt) are difference makers that impacted their teams to make them championship teams, and they helped these teams win."
Case in point: Super Bowl XXXIV. It was Bruce's 73-yard touchdown catch with 1:54 left that clinched the victory. Years later, I asked Warner what separated Bruce from other receivers, and his answer was immediate.
"Nobody," he said, "ran more precise routes."
The obvious question, of course, is: Bruce or Holt? Both were invaluable parts of "The Greatest Show on Turf." Both were as decorated as they were productive, but Holt had more Pro Bowl nominations (7), an NFL-record six straight 1,300 yard seasons and was the fastest player to reach 11,000 yards receiving. He was also an all-decade choice.
Isaac Bruce was not.
Yet when I interviewed Pace at last year's Hall-of-Fame news conference and asked whom he would choose as his next Hall of Famer, he named Bruce.
"When you watch him line up one-on-one," said Martz, "there wasn’t a corner that would line up off of him and try to cover him. They tried everything. After awhile, they tried double-covering him; backed the corner off Torry and ran a linebacker at him.
"Isaac, after a few years, was double-covered all the time. And some of the inside receivers numbers started going up because of it. But, nonetheless, there wasn’t a corner in this league he didn’t beat and beat him routinely.
"His low center of gravity, his ability to change direction without shuffling his feet and the competitive edge that he had was beyond reproach. The best I've ever seen."
Works for me.
(Isaac Bruce photos courtesy of the L.A. Rams)