For the fourth consecutive year, Isaac Bruce is among the 15 finalists for selection into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It’s time for Bruce to receive this honor. He’s waited long enough.
As one of the most illustrious stars of “The Greatest Show” St. Louis Rams, Bruce has a lot going for him: the eye-opening statistics, the historical impact, the longevity and a signature Super Bowl moment.
Let’s hope that Bruce finally will get a knock on his Miami hotel door on Saturday (Feb. 1), with hulking Hall of Fame president David Baker standing and smiling as he welcomes No. 80 into the shrine in Canton.
The Hall of Fame process isn’t easy. I was on the selection committee for 15 consecutive years, and a couple of other times as well. And it is truly agonizing to have to choose only five of 15 modern-day finalists each year on the day before the Super Bowl. Everyone thinks it’s simple … and to that I say: hell, no.
When you have only five spots available — and at least 10 to 12 are absolute Hall of Famers on that list of 15 — it is excruciating to reduce the number of names. The ballot cutdown from 15 to 10 always made me feel bad; in most years there was virtually no difference in the value and credentials of all 10 players. But in assessing how I’d vote, I knew one thing for sure: some really deserving men would be left out, at least this time around. And I hated that.
So I’m sensitive to the demands placed on the voters, who almost always get blasted by criticism by know-it-all outsiders for perceived omissions, slights, and crimes against humanity.
(Oh, the horror … the atrocity … Terrell Owens had to wait two whole years before getting voted in. Can we assemble the United Nations for an emergency session? Let’s call Amnesty International… and I say that as a dude who VOTED for Owens and supported his induction.)
OK, now please be tolerant as I say this: Bruce shouldn’t have to endure another disappointing Saturday. Bruce not only deserves Hall of Fame recognition; he’s earned it.
And while I will get to his career resume in a moment, I feel compelled to point out another reason why the time is right.
Though imperfect — because imperfection isn’t possible — the selection committee has actually done a terrific job of ensuring that no Hall-worthy wide receiver gets left behind, stranded in the cold, without ever gaining entry into Canton.
In chronological order, here is the list of wide receivers that have been voted in since 2001:
Lynn Swann (2001)
John Stallworth (02)
James Lofton (03)
Michael Irvin (07)
Art Monk (08)
Jerry Rice (10)
Cris Carter (13)
Andre Reed (14)
Tim Brown (15)
Marvin Harrison (16)
Terrell Owens (18)
Randy Moss (18)
Only two, Rice and Moss, were first-ballot selections. Which means that the other 10 wideouts had to wait at least one year (as a finalist) before winning the vote. Owens and Harrison waited two years. The others had longer periods of delay. But they all got to Canton. Just as Bruce will get to Canton. The pattern has been established; Bruce is ready for liftoff.
By the way: it isn’t the Pro Football Hall of Wide Receivers. Other great players at other positions get to make it, too. And again: only a maximum of five modern-era stars can be selected each year. So yeah, some wide receivers didn’t make it right away. But that’s because the committee felt it necessary — imagine this! — to honor offensive linemen, quarterbacks, linebackers, defensive backs, running backs, coaches, tight ends, etc.
And it’s also true that worthy wide receivers who played during the same stretch of time — Reed, Carter and Brown are examples — are indirectly competing against each other, and the votes get scattered among them.
The point is, if a player has been a finalist on multiple ballots, he’s a lock to eventually make it to Canton. It’s just a matter of time, and the waiting period can be frustrating and maddening. (For voters, too. As for Isaac Bruce …
If a wide receiver is destined to make it this year — no guarantees — it’s Bruce’s turn. He’s waited three years. This is his fourth year as a finalist. Bruce obviously has strong support among voters; this is just a matter of a few more voters getting behind No. 80 to get this done.
And by clearing Bruce for Canton, it opens a lane for the next bevy of wide receivers including Reggie Wayne and Torry Holt, two first-time finalists this year.
With all due respect to Holt and Wayne, it makes perfect sense for voters to consolidate in support of behind Bruce — as long as they believe he’s of Hall of Fame caliber. And voters obviously have favorable feelings, or Bruce wouldn’t be a finalist for the fourth straight year. If any of the three WR finalists should have to wait at least another year, it shouldn’t be Bruce.
Other excellent candidates are on the way including retired Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson in 2021. Bringing other positions into the discussion, the 2021 ballot is loaded with new entries: Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson and Johnson.
So this is a fine time to give the nod to Isaac Bruce. There’s some wiggle room on the 2020 ballot. He should be able to pick up the few votes that he needs. The buzz coming from Miami is positive; Bruce seems to have some momentum.
Here’s just a partial list of reasons why Bruce is a Pro Football Hall of Famer:
1-When he retired after the 2009 season Bruce ranked second in NFL history in receiving yards (15,208), fifth in catches (1,024) and eighth in touchdown receptions.
2-A full 10 seasons after Bruce played his last NFL game, he still ranks fifth in league history for most receiving yards, ninth in touchdown catches, and 13th in receptions.
3-Among wide receivers, Bruce still ranks among the top 10 all-time in yards (5th) and touchdown grabs (9th) and is just outside of the first ten in overall catches (11th.)
4-Bruce made a tremendous individual play to score the winning touchdown in Super Bowl 34. Isaac adjusted on the fly to alter course for a pass that was slightly underthrown by QB Kurt Warner, who got hit as he released the pass. Bruce snatched Warner’s throw, outmaneuvered the Tennessee DB, and sprinted in for a 73-yard touchdown to put the Rams ahead (23-16) with 1 minute 54 minutes remaining.
5-In the NFL’s 100-year history, only three wide receivers have produced this elite statistical combination during their careers: at least 1,000 catches, at least 15,000 receiving yards, and at least 90 touchdown receptions. Their names: Jerry Rice, Isaac Bruce and Terrell Owens.
6-It gets better: only two WRs in NFL history have caught at least 1,000 passes, hauled 15,000+ receiving yards, scored 90 touchdowns via the pass, and won a Super Bowl. That would be Rice, the greatest receiver in NFL history, and Mr. Isaac Bruce. Using the high-volume career stats + Super Bowl standard that I’ve mentioned here, only two wide receivers would be in the photo for this category. After 100 seasons of NFL football, only Rice and Bruce would step forward to smile for the cameras.
Goodness … how can Bruce be excluded from the Hall of Fame?
7-Bruce had his two best seasons — in terms of prolific statistics — before the “Greatest Show” days. The 1995-96 Rams didn’t have much of a rushing attack, no other threats at wide receiver, a solid but unspectacular tight end. Catching passes from Chris Miller or Mark Rypien, Bruce averaged 102 catches, 1,560 receiving yards and 10 TDs over the two seasons.
8-Bruce didn’t need Warner, Marshall Faulk, Holt, Az-Hakim or Ricky Proehl to pad his numbers. Quite the opposite, really. It can be argued that Bruce would have rolled up even larger numbers without being part of the GSOT cast. That offense had so many playmakers, and Warner (and Trent Green) spread the ball around.
So if you’re one of the nimrods that believe Bruce was propped up by his teammates … (pause for laughter) … here’s retired Dolphins wide receiver Mark Clayton:
“That sounds like the biggest crock of (expletive) I’ve ever heard,” Clayton told the Miami Herald. “What you did speaks for itself. Not them or whoever. How do they think the Greatest Show on Turf would exist? They had great players. It was a great team, but it all comes down to pulling your own weight.”
9-Bruce was remarkably unselfish. He didn’t care about pumping up his stats. He didn’t have to be The Guy. He didn’t demand the ball. He rejoiced when teammates made big plays. Bruce wanted to win. That’s it. And he set the example, and was the model, for a locker-room culture that valued team-first success over individual accolades. Bruce put his ego aside; the others followed his lead. And that’s one of the reasons why the Greatest Show Rams averaged just over 33 points per game and had the NFL’s best record (37-11) from 1999 through 2001.
“We had a group of guys that were very unselfish, very happy for one another achieving success in the offense as individuals as well as what we were doing team wise,” Holt said this week, in speaking to the Miami Herald.
10-Bruce never pulled any look-at-me stunts. The kind of stuff that could disrupt a team locker room, and damage harmony. Bruce was dignified and professional and trustworthy … a great teammate … in contrast to the egomaniacal ways of, say, Terrell Owens. And in a vapid sports culture, Bruce’s inward nature probably cost him buzz and notoriety. Again: he was all about winning. Once upon a time, those attributes were respected and coveted. Sad.
“Isaac didn’t get the attention, because he wasn’t acting the ass,” Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin said this week. “But how are we slighting him for that?”
More from Irvin:
“It’s not like he just put up numbers. He has a ring, too. I always say this, when you look back over the history of this game and you see these teams that you cannot tell or talk about the NFL without them being mentioned, Isaac Bruce was a part of the Greatest Show on Turf.
“That’s something that everybody in that era knew about. How do you say, with those numbers, in that era, in that time, what he put up, that he doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame?
“For those six, seven, eight years, they dominated, they dominated everything. And he was the lead man in the domination. So how do have everybody in there around him and not put him in. It’s just not right. It’s just not right.”
The wait should be over Saturday.
It’s up to the voters.
At this point, I don’t know what they want to see from Bruce.
One more time: only two wide receivers in 100 years of NFL football have at least one Super Bowl ring, more than 1,000 catches, more than 15,000 yards, and a minimum 90 touchdown receptions.
Three “Greatest Show” teammates have taken their rightful place in Canton: Faulk, Warner and offensive tackle Orlando Pace. Bruce should be right there with them.
Thanks for reading … have a great weekend … enjoy the Super Bowl.