While baseball has been criticized and ridiculed by how their Hall of Fame process is (though I like the veterans committee selecting players who were wrongfully not voted in) and how writers and media people who vote them in have personal agendas, football has done it right. Well, for the most part.
For another year Rams great wide receiver Isaac Bruce is on the outside looking in. How? How is it possible that when Bruce retired after the 2008 season he was top 5 all-time in most receiving stats? I don’t understand it myself (13th all-time in receptions, 5th all time in receiving yards-the other 4 are in the Hall or will be in the Hall, 12th all-time in receiving TD’s-the other 11 are in or will be in).
One argument I’ve heard has been that Bruce was in a league that started to evolve the passing game where receivers could end up with well over 1,000 yards and 8 TD’s while not even seeing the Pro Bowl. Passing games spiked up when Bruce was in the NFL, I agree. However, in 1995-1996 when the league wasn’t that, Bruce kicked some butt when his quarterbacks were Chris Miller, Tony Banks, and Steve Walsh (combined 3,119 yards, 20 TD, and 203 receptions). Nothing against those three who had prolonged careers, but they weren’t passing gods. The next 6 seasons, Bruce had over 1,000 yards receiving (the one year he didn’t had he played all 16 he would as he was short 19 yards in 2003) and was a prominent threat for the Rams. Yes, the numbers weren’t like his early runs, but the Rams were a far better team and a balanced group when they had Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt, and early on Az-Zahir Hakim as they were the Greatest Show on Turf. So needless to say, Bruce held his own.
Well, maybe he wasn’t healthy enough. He could have netted 1,000 yards in the years he was dinged up. He only had 5 seasons where he missed any time. 5 seasons out of 16. So to put that in perspective, Bruce had ten 1,000+ receiving yard seasons in 11 healthy seasons (the last one was when he was with the 49ers and Alex Smith was still not Alex Smith yet and gained 800 yards). So to me, Bruce was pretty darn healthy.
Well, maybe he wasn’t flashy enough like Rice, Owens, Moss, Irvin, or like today’s guys like Brown, Jones, or OBJ where the position itself is flashy. I hate that statement. Yes, Bruce really went about his business and in a relatively quiet manner. But you don’t need to demand the spotlight to be a wide receiver in the NFL. We see it now with Beckham and Brown now with the media circus approach they have as Owens had before them. You can still be a great receiver even today without having to do all the drama and the flashiness. It’s how football was prior anyways and even many think Julio isn’t flashy either.
Maybe the Rams Greatest Show on Turf players kept him back a bit. Before the Rams had Warner, Holt, and Faulk, Bruce was probably the lone offensive weapon they had in 1995 (Jerome Bettis WAS there, yes, but was wanting out and he wasn’t the Bus like we remembered him in Pittsburgh). Yes, the burden of the workload was taken off Bruce when 1999 started, but still put up Pro Bowl caliber numbers. And also, Michael Irvin went into the Hall of Fame who didn’t have as many healthy seasons and was trumped by Bruce in nearly all receiving numbers. And he too had guys to take the burden off of him (Emmitt, Novacek, Harper). And Irvin too especially later in his career created a media circus. And no, I’m not saying Irvin doesn’t belong (he most definitely does though I couldn’t stand him when he played-speaking of flashy), but if Irvin got in, so should Bruce.
Well, maybe he rubbed voters off the wrong way. This one I thought as well as we saw Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens not be first ballot Hall of Famers which both of them should. Harrison was very standoff-ish with the media as I remembered and was very quiet as well and had a very bad off-the-field incident late in his career. Owens was constantly a media circus and rubbed a lot the wrong way. But I don’t remember Bruce aside from being relatively quiet as “controversial.” If anything I remember he came off as a approachable guy in interviews and was a model player for the NFL community and a class act (and would have probably won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award had it been what it is today at some point of his career). So I don’t get how Bruce would be a guy who bothered voters.
To me, this is somewhat of an injustice in regards to the Hall of Fame. Bruce could do it all. He could make the deep catch. He could be a possession receiver. He could catch and make a big run off of it as well. He could also block downfield. To me he was one of the best in the era when the passing game was starting to evolve as it is today. And he was that guy who would do whatever it took for the Rams to win games without complaining. There was nothing more you could ask out of him. Well maybe one that needs to be asked and hopefully soon: “can we measure you for your yellow jacket?”
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat