By Bernie Miklasz
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
12/22/2008


It's difficult to imagine how the day could have gone any better for Isaac Bruce.

He pulled one from the "Meet Me in St. Louis" script and had himself a Merry Little Christmas, only a few days early.

The greatest wide receiver in Rams history came home to the Edward Jones Dome and was hugged more than a department-store Santa. He embraced old friends, teammates, coaches, ushers, cops, parking-lot attendants, X-ray technicians, fans and media slugs.

And Bruce was still a most valuable baller, catching six passes in the fourth quarter, one for a touchdown, to spark San Francisco's proud 17-16 comeback victory over the same old sorry Rams.

The ageless Bruce, 36, made like Chuck Berry and came up with a couple of gold records to add to his collection.

The seven receptions gave Bruce 1,001 for his career, good for fifth place in NFL history. Only Jerry Rice, Cris Carter, Marvin Harrison and Tim Brown have caught more NFL passes than Bruce.

And given Bruce's history of providing highly charged moments in this theater, it figures that No. 1,000 would go for a 3-yard touchdown. The haul cut the Rams' lead to 16-10 and let the home team know they were about to choke away another one.

"You just had to do it that way," former teammate D'Marco Farr told Bruce after the game. "One thousand had to come on a big play, right?"

There was more. Bruce rolled up 61 yards, pushing his career total to 14,936, or enough to breeze by Brown and into second place in NFL history. There's Mr. Rice, followed by Mr. Bruce.

The fans serenaded Bruce after each reception and gave him an ovation for reaching the 1,000 milestone.

"I could hear it," Bruce said. "It's just the die-hard fans of the St. Louis Rams, the guys who show up no matter what. I was humbled by it and I'm very, very grateful. I was pretty much speechless through everything that went on."

It was a perfect day, right?

Bruce's answer surprised me.

Bruce was bummed out by the thousands of empty seats at the dome. The crowd was generously listed at 54,948. Take about 10,000 off that and you'd be accurate.

"I would have loved to have seen the stadium filled to capacity," Bruce said. "I'm sure we go a few hours on I-70 West, the Chiefs aren't doing too well, but I guarantee you it's packed right now. I'd like to see the same thing in St. Louis. And not just be the type of front-running fans. Come out and support your home team. This is what you wanted. It is what it is right now, but it's all subject to change."

There is some merit to what Bruce says. This could have Bruce's final game in St. Louis, but the marginal outfielder So Taguchi received a more emphatic and affectionate greeting from our town's baseball fans when he returned as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008. And this could have been the final home game for the last holdovers from the "Greatest Show" days: Torry Holt, Orlando Pace and Leonard Little.

But I don't believe Bruce understands the frustration level of Rams fans. The dysfunctional franchise is 5-26 since the start of the 2007 season. Overdue changes are coming on the football-management side, but fans won't be convinced until the shakeup occurs. The new owners have made the team available for sale, but no one from St. Louis has emerged as a buyer, and The Ed is no longer a cash machine. All of these factors only increase the possibility of the Rams moving in the future.

On the field, the team is poorly coached, and too many players accept losing. Perhaps all of this will change, and soon, but the damage is severe. Bruce's perspective comes from the players' side, and that's understandable. But the fans won't view the Rams through the same prism.

Before Sunday's game, Rams general manager Jay Zygmunt hobnobbed with ***** offensive coordinator Mike Martz, the Rams' head coach from 2000-2005. The former enemies shook hands, smiled and chatted.

I can't curse in the newspaper, so let me say this: The Martz-Zygmunt blood feud was a significant factor in the premature destruction of the Greatest Show Era.

And so now they're shaking hands and being buddies?

A little late, wouldn't you say?

I wouldn't expect Isaac Bruce to understand the depth of that anger, which is shared by many here.

Bruce reached two important milestones while wearing ***** colors, and that's a travesty. He should have been wearing the Rams blue and gold. Bruce's departure was just another example of the kind of the cold-hearted ineptitude that creates empty seats.