Monday, January 14, 2019

Isaac Bruce: Hall of Famer

Posted By on Mon, Jan 14, 2019 at 8:53 AM

Isaac Bruce was born at the perfect time. The first University of Memphis football player to top 1,000 receiving yards in a season (in 1993), Bruce entered the NFL as the league was shifting from a rather balanced run-pass enterprise to one in which the passing game is almost everything. Trouble is, some other very good pass-catchers happened to be born around the same time.

On February 2nd in Atlanta (the day before the Super Bowl), the Pro Football Hall of Fame will announce its newest class of inductees. Bruce is among the 15 modern-era finalists and hopes to become the first U of M alum to receive a bust at the sport’s cathedral of history in Canton, Ohio. While Bruce’s numbers — starting with 15,208 career receiving yards — were Hall-worthy the day he retired (after the 2009 season), Bruce missed out in his first four years of eligibility, the last two as a finalist. (A maximum of five modern-era candidates are enshrined each year.) I’m convinced this is Bruce’s year.
click to enlarge Isaac Bruce - U OF M ATHLETICS
  • U of M Athletics
  • Isaac Bruce

The challenge for Bruce has been catching (pardon the pun) appropriate attention among receivers who put up similar numbers and during the same time Bruce was setting records for the St. Louis Rams and their “Greatest Show on Turf.” Upon his retirement, Bruce was second only to the incomparable Jerry Rice (22,895 yards) among receivers on the NFL’s career yardage chart. But as he waited the required five years to be placed on the Hall of Fame ballot, Terrell Owens and Randy Moss moved ahead of Bruce. Meanwhile, the 1,000-catch club grew from two in 2000 (Rice and Cris Carter) to its current 14 members (Bruce is 13th alltime with 1,024 receptions).

There developed a logjam of eligible Hall of Fame-worthy receivers, one that’s only now finally starting to clear with the inductions of Tim Brown (2015), Marvin Harrison (2016), Moss (2018), and Owens (2018) since Bruce became eligible. Among this year’s finalists, the Fort Lauderdale native is the only wide receiver. (Tight end Tony Gonzalez is eligible for the first time and is a lock for one of the five slots.)

Bruce was a significant part of one of football’s most historic offenses, one that has already sent running back Marshall Faulk (2011), tackle Orlando Pace (2016), and quarterback Kurt Warner (2017) to the Hall of Fame. Even with Faulk and the great Torry Holt taking carries and catches away from Bruce, he led the 1999 Rams — winners of Super Bowl XXXIV — in receiving yardage (1,165 yards) and scored 12 touchdowns. Bruce’s 73-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter proved to be the trophy-clinching score against Tennessee in that Super Bowl. Warner was named MVP, but the honor could have easily gone to Bruce (six catches for 162 yards).

Along with Gonzalez, a pair of defensive backs — Champ Bailey and Ed Reed — are likely to be elected in their first year of eligibility. This would leave two slots open for Bruce and the other 11 modern-era finalists. Tony Boselli? Steve Atwater? Kevin Mawae? John Lynch? Edgerrin James? All good players, all worthy of the case that will be made for them in the selection room. But more worthy of induction than Isaac Bruce? Hell no.

Bruce is one of just six players to have his jersey (#83) retired by the University of Memphis. He visits the Bluff City regularly and, with the Rams having returned to Los Angeles, remains an icon in our sister city of St. Louis. In these parts, we've long known Isaac Bruce is a Hall of Famer. It will be nice when the Pro Football Hall of Fame officially recognizes such. Let’s hope it’s February 2nd.

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