Monday, December 17, 2007
By Nick Wagoner
Marshall Faulk will make history Thursday night when he is the first St. Louis Ram to have his number retired.
Someday, Isaac Bruce will almost certainly join him in the rafters. But as fans show their appreciation for Faulk, it might be a good idea to do the same for Bruce, who is on a collision course with history in his own right.
Bruce continued his climb up the charts of the league’s greatest receivers last week, passing Marvin Harrison for fourth place on the all-time receiving yards list. When all is said and done, Bruce hopes to see his No. 80 rise toward the heavens.
“As soon as I’m done, go ahead and retire that number, and put Henry Ellard’s name right on top of it,” Bruce said.
The catch that moved him past Harrison was patented Bruce. He deked Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson downfield and hauled in a 37-yard pass. That gain nudged him past Harrison. He went on to finish with 72 receiving yards, pushing him within striking distance of the next name on the list.
Entering Thursday’s game against Pittsburgh at the Edward Jones Dome, Bruce needs just 22 yards to pass James Lofton for third place on said list.
The always humble Bruce is enjoying his rise up the ranks and says he’s honored to be mentioned with the likes of Lofton and Harrison.
“It’s big when you sit back and look at the numbers,” Bruce said. “Like I say, I am very grateful. I give praise to God daily for the numbers that are being surpassed. When you look at the guys and the names, it’s amazing that your name can be in the same group with the Tim Browns, the Jerry Rices, guys like James Lofton. It’s amazing and humbling.”
Bruce’s 13,983 receiving yards make him the most productive receiver among active players. In other words, no player in the league right now has accounted for more yards than Bruce.
The only players sitting ahead of Bruce after he surpasses Lofton are Rice and Brown. Rice has set the bar extremely high, accumulating about 8,000 more yards than No. 2 Brown, but Bruce is certainly in striking distance of Brown.
“I will enjoy being No. 3, but I’m looking forward to No. 2,” Bruce said. “It’s still going so it’s not my time to sit back and look at the entire body of work.”
In 2007, Bruce has 46 catches for 607 yards and three touchdowns. Although he won’t reach the 1,000-yard mark like he did in 2006, Bruce remains productive even now in his 14th season.
Of course, Bruce’s continued precise route running and ability to perform comes as no surprise to those who have been around him.
“I’m not amazed at all,” Faulk said. “I watched him. I understand. He takes it serious. He works out as hard as anyone. It all makes sense to me why he is still in the league competing. If I needed to get a first down and it was fourth down I would go to Isaac Bruce.”
Consider that in Bruce’s time in the league he has accounted for almost eight miles of yards. He already holds every major receiving record in franchise history and his 933 receptions places him seventh in league history.
With two games to play, Bruce needs eight catches to move past Art Monk for sixth place in that category and has an outside chance at catching Andre Reed’s 951 for fifth place all time.
Regardless, Bruce is almost certain to finish his career in the top three in receiving yards and top five in receptions.
“I am sincerely happy for Isaac,” fellow receiver Torry Holt said. “He is a quiet guy, but he is a competitor, he is a champion and to see him now rapidly going up the record books, top five, top four, top three, those are in the distance, I hope that he has the opportunity to move up the ladder as much as he possibly can because you talk about a guy that deserves it by the way he plays, by the way he works, by the way he studies, his competitiveness, his love for the game. To see him being able to go up the record books and be considered the Rams’ all time greatest receiver, there’s nobody I feel like is more deserving than Isaac. I am happy for him.”
The question remains, though, as to whether Bruce will be able to achieve those milestones in a Rams uniform. Bruce has one season left on a three-year deal he signed before the 2006 season.
Bruce is due a roster bonus in the coming offseason and in an interview with stlouisrams.com two weeks ago, President John Shaw made it clear that one of the team’s top priorities in the offseason was a speedy receiver capable of stretching the field. That comes on the heels of signing Drew Bennett to a relatively large contract in the offseason.
When all is said and done the harsh reality of the NFL could strike again, making it a possibility that Thursday’s game against Pittsburgh could be Bruce’s final home game as a Ram.
Nobody knows better than Bruce that the NFL is a business. Bruce was a bit surprised when the Rams released him in March of 2006. Although he was brought back into the fold only a couple of days later, Bruce remains cognizant of the economic aspects of the game, but says he hasn’t given any thought to the possibility that it could be his final home game for the Rams.
But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t like to finish his Hall of Fame career in a Rams uniform.
“I think it’s important for the organization, I think it’s important for the fans, guys who have been here before, guys like Jackie Slater who played his entire career here,” Bruce said. “It is important for me because I have never been anywhere else. I have never expected to leave and go anywhere else and play football. I think it is important that you keep it all in the same family and never have to go somewhere else.”
Of course, nobody knows for sure just how much longer Bruce would like to play, but he has showed few signs of slowing down. Maybe Bruce doesn’t have the extra gear anymore, but he still runs precise routes and remains capable of big plays.
And you can find nary a player who prepares himself physically or takes better care of himself than Bruce.
“He shows up for work every day,” coach Scott Linehan said. “He works very hard as if he was in his first year even though it’s his 14th. It’s incredible what Isaac has been able to do in his career and I have always said it’s because he’s a true professional, he takes care of himself and he gets himself ready to play each week.”
How much longer Bruce wears the horns remains to be seen, but no matter what happens in the offseason, take a moment Thursday night to appreciate and honor not one, but two Rams legends.