It’s the day before the Super Bowl and that means tonight we will find out who will be entering the prestigious Pro Football Hall of Fame. It’s a solid class of players but it’s not an all-time class, which leads me to believe tonight has to be the night for Rams legendary wideout Isaac Bruce to become a Hall of Famer.
Of course, that’s not as easy as it sounds; here’s a list of articles I’ve written that depicts the story and the long road of Bruce’s hall of fame campaign:
If that doesn’t summarize the case for his induction, then I don’t know what to tell you. However, on the even of tonight’s announcement, I am ready to once again go to bat for Isaac Bruce.
Here’s my latest defense not just for why he should be a Hall of Famer tonight, but why it’s been long overdue…
Common Argument #1: “Isaac Bruce played with the Greatest Show on Turf which allowed him to excel and have a Hall of Fame career. He played with Hall of Famers, Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Orlando Pace and future Hall of Famer Torry Holt. Bruce was great but he wasn’t upper echelon and that is why he doesn’t belong in the hall.”
My Answer: Isaac Bruce played with the Greatest Show on Turf and it sure did help him having talent around him, as it would with anyone. However, what isn’t fair is the fact Bruce gets punished for playing on a great team because people can’t simply do their research.
If you did your homework, you would know that Bruce had arguably his two best seasons without the Greatest Show on Turf. In those two seasons, his quarterbacks were Chris Miller, Mark Rypien, Tony Banks, Steve Walsh, Jamie Martin and Dave Barr (none of which had lasting success in the NFL). And during those two seasons (1995-1996), Bruce caught 119 balls for 1,781 yards and 13 touchdowns and then followed up with an 84 catch, 1,338 yard and 7 touchdown campaign. He was the focal point of those offenses and inarguably carried the Rams’ offense long before Warner, Faulk and Holt came into the fray.
Now, as a whole, making the argument Bruce isn’t an upper echelon WR is also an ignorant take. Bruce had eight seasons of over 1,000 yards, scored 91 touchdowns and caught 1,024 balls in his career. When he retired he was very much upper echelon, so much so he was only behind Jerry Rice in receiving yards. It’s not fair to have a short-sighted view of such a storied career just because other receivers have since had elite production (see next Common Argument).
Common Argument #2: “Isaac Bruce doesn’t have the stats other guys like Terrell Owens and Randy Moss have. Why should he be in the same conversation?”
My Answer: The funny thing with this argument is how Bruce seems to be the only HOF-worthy WR who routinely gets the “hurt twice by the talent around him” argument. Bruce gets hurt the first time because of the fact that critics contribute his success to being in an incredibly productive offensive system and the talent around him. However, he ALSO gets hurt by the fact that he doesn’t have the same numbers as an Owens or Moss. Why do you think that is? It’s supply and demand.
Early on in Bruce’s career, the Rams needed him to be The Guy. They leaned on him his second year (1995) which amounted to that otherworldly 119 reception, 1,781 yards and 13 touchdown season. That season, in particular, Bruce lined up across from Tony Drayton, Todd Kinchen, Jessie Hester and Alexander Wright. The next season, the Rams spent the 18th-overall pick on wide receiver Eddie Kennison, and Bruce’s stats dropped by six touchdowns, while also losing 49 targets and 443 yards compared to his previous season totals.
The above outputs are just a basis because when he was in the Greatest Show On Turf offense, those yards (which were already impressive as it was) were fewer than they could have been due to the offensive output that Torry Holt, Az-Zahir Hakim and do-it-all HOF RB Marshall Faulk had in the passing game. Circling back to the Owens comparison, Owens played on offenses with receiving options like J.J. Stokes, Tai Streets and Arnaz Battle. No wonder why he finished with over 50 more touchdowns than Bruce.
Also, let’s expand this nonsense argument a little more. If you are arguing over Bruce making the hall and being in this discussion over stats, then why is Andre Reed already in with less production than Bruce in every category? Or Michael Irvin, who has more rings but literally has nowhere near the same production as Bruce? Why are we not having that discussion? That’s the real question.
Common Argument #3: “Isaac Bruce doesn’t have an All-Pro honor to his name and not enough Pro Bowl appearances either. Can you really let a non-All-pro in the Hall of Fame?!”
My Answer: This speaks volume. It’s downright asinine Bruce never received an All-Pro honor and was only in the Pro Bowl four times. It says way more about the people in charge of these awards. Why? Well, in the 1995 and 1996 seasons I’ve already mentioned Bruce was never named a Pro Bowler or an All-Pro. In 1995, Herman Moore who had a legitimate case for the All-Pro honors with one more touchdown and four more receptions than Bruce received the honor over Bruce in addition to Jerry Rice. While deciding on two receivers for All-Pro honors seems like a tough decision, Bruce should have been a no-brainer Pro Bowler.
However, Michael Irvin with not one stat better than Bruce got in over him in addition to Cris Carter. In 1996, it was once again Herman Moore and Jerry Rice who received All-Pro honors when Bruce led the entire league in receiving. He did receive a Pro Bowl honor finally but there you go, there’s two instances where it was out of his control.
In 2000, Bruce was snubbed from the All-Pro honors again by Randy Moss and Terrell Owens, who had fewer yards on the season than him. The bottom line is those awards are all based on the opinions of others, and many times they are voted according to popularity and national team coverage. Bruce was named a 2nd-team All-Pro by UPI in 1995 and 1996. Bruce was named 1st-team All-Pro by Pro Football Weekly, 2nd-team by Associated Press and 1st-team by Sporting News in 1999.
Do awards matter? Of course. However, I do not think we should strictly use them to verify how good or how deserving a player is. Bruce retired the second all-time receiving leader. He’s now fifth and is still not in the hall. Furthermore, he’s rated the 104th most valuable player by Pro Football Reference per their approximate value metric.
It’s also worth mentioning there are 326 Hall of Famers currently. Bruce is 12th all-time in receiving touchdowns, 19th in yards from scrimmage, 85th all-time in career games started, 10th all-time in career yards per touch and 13th all-time in receptions. That’s a Hall of Fame resume through and through.
Common Argument #4: “How does Isaac Bruce get in over Reggie Wayne who had identical stats as him and didn’t play in a Greatest Show on Turf offense?”
My Answer: How can you make the argument for Reggie Wayne over Isaac Bruce while bringing up what he played with? Reggie Wayne came into the league with Peyton Manning as his quarterback, with Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James also part of that same offense for his first six seasons. Isaac Bruce didn’t see an offense anywhere near like that until six years into his career when he played with the Greatest Show on Turf.
In 2007, Wayne (for the first time in his career) was the focal point just like Bruce was in his second year. The only difference is that Wayne still had Peyton Manning and Bruce had Chris Miller and Mark Rypien. The next two years, Dallas Clark was emerging and the team drafted Pierre Garcon. Once 2011 hit (for the first time in Wayne’s career) he wasn’t a dominant receiver because Manning was out for the year and Curtis Painter was his quarterback.
The next year Wayne would receive help in the form of T.Y. Hilton, Donnie Avery and someone dubbed the next Manning — Andrew Luck. The next year after that in 2013, Wayne only played in seven games due to injury and in 2014 he played 15 games and finished with 779 yards receiving in his last season in the NFL.
Are the stats similar?
Bruce: 1,024 receptions, 15,208 yards, 91 touchdowns, 14.9 yards per catch, Super Bowl Champion
Wayne: 1,070 receptions, 14,345 yards, 80 touchdowns 13.4 yards per catch, Super Bowl Champion
Yes they are. However, Bruce definitely has the nod over Wayne. Here’s a list of quarterbacks each player played with and the duration.
Bruce (1995-2009 with Rams & 49ers):
Marc Bugler – 72 games (72 Starts)
Kurt Warner – 53 games (50 Starts)
Tony Banks – 44 games (43 Starts)
Chris Miller – 26 games (23 Starts)
Jamie Martin – 25 games (7 Starts)
Chris Chandler – 17 games (8 Starts)
Mark Rypien – 16 games (3 Starts)
Shaun Hill – 15 games (14 Starts)
Alex Smith – 11 games (10 Starts)
Paul Justin – 10 games (0 Starts)
J.T. O’Sullivan – 9 games (8 Starts)
Gus Frerotte – 9 games (3 Starts)
Trent Green – 8 games (5 Starts)
Steve Bono – 6 games (2 Starts)
Tommy Maddox – 5 games (0 Starts)
Ryan Fitzpatrick – 4 games (3 Starts)
Steve Walsh – 3 games (3 Starts)
Joe Germaine – 3 games (0 Starts)
Dave Barr – 2 games (0 Starts)
Scott Covington – 1 game (1 Starts)
Brock Berlin – 1 game (1 Starts)
Wayne (2001-2014 with Colts):
Peyton Manning – 160 games (160 Starts)
Andrew Luck – 48 games (48 Starts)
Jim Sorgi – 16 games (0 Starts)
Curtis Painter – 11 games (8 Starts)
Dan Orlovsky – 8 games (5 Starts)
Matt Hasselbeck – 7 games (0 Starts)
Mark Rypien – 4 games (0 Starts)
Kerry Collins – 3 games (3 Starts)
Brock Huard – 2 games (0 Starts)
In closing, any argument you make against Bruce can be shot down with facts and context. All four of these arguments are made every single day against Isaac Bruce and, as you can see, some are baseless and some are lazy. The Hall of Fame, if truly based on merit, is ready for Isaac Bruce.
It’s time, it’s time for a committee of pro football writers to do their homework. This is arguably the weakest Hall of Fame finalist class since Bruce became eligible. There is no excuse to get him in this year. Next year, he will have a chance of being buried behind the start of the modern era of receivers. Next year Calvin Johnson becomes eligible as well as aforementioned Peyton Manning and Charles Woodson. It’s only going to get tougher from here on out. This has to be the year Reverend Ike makes it to Canton.