Friday, April 21, 2006
By Nick Wagoner
In case any of the Rams were wondering what it would be like without Isaac Bruce, it didn’t take long for a not so subtle reminder to come rolling out.
Known around St. Louis as the soft-spoken superstar, Bruce is known around the Rams locker room as somewhat of a prankster. His sarcasm is revered by many of his teammates and he reminded them why early in practice.
After losing some of the better personalities such as Ryan Pickett and Tyoka Jackson in free agency, linebacker Trev Faulk was happy to see Bruce back for his leadership, ability and, of course, his personality.
“He is kind of quiet and reserved probably around you guys, but he’s definitely a sarcastic guy,” Faulk said.
And nobody, veteran, rookie or otherwise is immune to the jabs of Bruce, not even on his first minicamp back with the team.
“He was getting on Dexter (Coakley),” Faulk said. “He was asking Dexter if Appalachian State was going to get anybody drafted this year or if he was going to be the only Appalachian State guy in the NFL for the 12th year in a row. They’ve
done all the things they can with Dexter. They retired his jersey and named the locker room after him.”
For four days in March, it appeared that Bruce might not be back for the first minicamp under new coach Scott Linehan or at all. The Rams released Bruce on March 7, immediately setting off an outcry of upset St. Louis citizens about the loss of the long time Ram.
Fans weren’t the only ones to express surprise at Bruce’s release. His teammates were also in a state of alarm.
“I was shocked,” receiver Torry Holt said. “I was really surprised that Isaac had gotten released. I thought they could get something worked out and pay due diligence to do what you can to keep Isaac a Ram. I think Isaac for the longest (time) has been the face of the Rams coming from Los Angeles. So to see that was disappointing.”
In fact, soon after that incident, Holt contacted Linehan curious about the way Bruce’s release went down.
“I told coach Linehan, ‘That’s how we are going to do it, huh? That’s how we are going to start out?’” Holt said. “He said he was going to do everything he could to try to get Isaac back. He made a concerted effort to get it done.”
While there was some panic centering on whether Bruce would return or not, it seemed the only person not worried about it was Bruce himself.
Bruce said the release affected him, but it didn’t change his life.
“There wasn’t too much changed,” Bruce said. “I was still 33 and my family still loved me so it was good.”
Always one to look at things in a positive way, Bruce let his agent stay in touch with the Rams. After some flirtations by teams such as Houston, Detroit and Miami, Bruce finally came to an agreement on a three-year, $15 million contract on March 11 that could allow him to finish his career as a Ram.
Even during the four days, Bruce never wavered on his knowledge of the way the NFL works.
“I have seen a lot of people released from their jobs in my 13 years,” Bruce said. “It’s part of the business so I wasn’t really surprised. I know the business part of it. One day it catches up with you and it just so happens it caught up to me.”
After taking care of business with the Rams, Bruce spent the rest of his offseason following his beloved Memphis Tigers in the NCAA tournament, working out and getting married.
Upon his arrival at Friday’s minicamp, Bruce was greeted with plenty of smiles and people happy to have him back. Still, Bruce looked to downplay his return.
“They told me a couple of times good to have you back,” Bruce said. “It’s good to be here too. It’s familiar guys that I know. It’s no big deal, trust me.”
Bruce wasted no time showing that his return to the team was important for more than just his leadership and the fact that he is a good personality in the locker room. He ran crisp routes, showing no lingering effects from the toe injury that sidelined him last year and even made a nice grab a deep ball during passing drills.
As for how much longer Bruce would like to continue, he maintains that he would like to play as long as his body will allow and continues to joke that another 10 years and 2,000 catches would be solid benchmarks.
While that might be unrealistic, the possibility of finishing his career as a Ram is much more realistic than it was, say during four days in March. But just because he could finish his career a Ram doesn’t mean he will.
“It’s not real important,” Bruce said. “It’s not real big on my list. If I do, thank God. If I don’t, thank God. This is 13 here so if I finish I’ll be happy. But if not, oh well.”
Maybe the nature of the business has made it nearly impossible for players to finish their career in one spot, but if Holt has his way, Bruce will indeed retire as a member of the Rams.
“He brings a lot to the table, not only his play making ability, but the way he practices, his energy, his approach to the game,” Bruce said. “A lot of those young guys need to see that on a day to day basis. I have always said he is the epitome of a professional athlete so it was good he was able to get signed back. Hopefully he will be able to finish his career out here.”
Now a couple months removed from those four strenuous days in March, that is a legitimate possibility.