State Your Case: Isaac Bruce

(Isaac Bruce photo courtesy of the L.A. Rams)

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.

Isaac BruceBut 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)
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  1. bachslunch
    January 24, 2017

    I’m fine with Isaac Bruce as a HoFer. Was a Sporting News 1st team all pro in 1999 and went to 5 pro bowls. Was 2nd all time in receiving yards on retirement and still ranks 4th. Was 6th all time in career catches on retirement and still ranks 13th. Currently 12th all time in receiving TDs. Average yards per catch just okay at 14.9. Not at Jerry Rice elite level, but plenty good enough.

    • January 24, 2017

      Agree with you. Going to be tough sell in that room, though. Guys will look at others and wonder why Bruce wasnt all-decade. Going to hurt. Still, will fight for him. My guess? He doesnt get out of top 10. But getting into room huge for him. Sets precedent and keeps him in minds of voters for 2018.

  2. bachslunch
    January 24, 2017

    Correction, 4 pro bowls. The article is right, my bad.

  3. Rob
    January 24, 2017

    Torry Holt or Isaac Bruce Clark? Who has a better chance this year Bruce or Owens?

    • January 24, 2017

      Owens has better chance this year. Bruce over Holt, but by slim margin. Believe both HOF worthy, but also believe Bruce the bigger threat.

  4. Jeff
    January 24, 2017

    I agree. Wouldn’t be the best receiver in the Hall, but would be better than some. I thought he was underrated (and I guess I was one of the ones underrating him – didn’t realize he had 15,000 yards). I don’t think it’ll happen any time soon but I hope he gets there eventually.

  5. bachslunch
    January 25, 2017

    Clark, thanks for the reply. No question that Owens and Moss will go in ahead of him. Bruce is going to be part of that second tier of WRs of the time, and he’s got seniority here ahead of Holt and Ward. My guess is that later in his candidacy he’ll sneak through, but as you suggested he could drop to the Senior pool — and if he does, my guess is Holt and Ward do too. He does have a lot of eligibility left, at least. Re all decade teams, he’s one of several players whose career inconveniently straddles two decades. John Turney did a well thought out series of 10 year span teams that run from mid decade to mid decade, don’t remember if Bruce is on one of them.

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