Bruce Showing No Signs of Slowing
November 24, 2006
In an NFL era when the wide receiver of most teams doubles as the team's motor mouth, Isaac Bruce remains one of the quietest players on the St. Louis Rams.
Where players such as Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson are constantly flapping their gums about their favorite topic (themselves), the most talking Bruce does is to himself.
It would be easy for Bruce to be as brash and outlandish as the trio mentioned above, for he has accomplished more than any member of that trio. In fact, he's accomplished more than just about any player to line up at his position in the history of the game.
But Bruce believes, above all else, that no matter what, the power of positive thinking, the idea of saying, 'I can' instead of 'I hope,' can make any dream become a reality.
"I have to go back to what I allow to come out of my mouth," Bruce said. "I am always talking positive stuff. I never say anything about my career ending early or not having enough whatever it may be, speed, ability, quickness or whatever. I never talk that way. I always talk about the cans of my life and when I began putting that together it started manifesting in the flesh. I don't do that in just football, but every realm of my life."
Indeed, Bruce has become one of St. Louis' most treasured athletes in his time in the city for more than the yards, catches and touchdowns he posts on a yearly basis, though those certainly don't hurt. He has a genuine, heartfelt connection with the community because of the way he carries himself on and off the field. Class, positivity and sincerity form the basis of his place in St. Louis legend.
That's why, when Bruce found himself on the free agent market on March 5, there was a bit of an uproar around town. Of course, Bruce re-signed nine days later and while he wasn't too close to leaving (the closest he came was some preliminary discussions with a few teams), he had begun to look at the possibility that he would have to change the only NFL address he'd ever known.
"It was my preference (to stay)," Bruce said. "It was my first choice. But the importance of it, I felt like I had to do what I had to do wherever I was. I feel like I could play anywhere. I have always said that and I have always believed it. That's what I still believe."
Fortunately for both sides, everything worked out and he signed a three-year deal to stay in St. Louis. In returning to the fold, though, Bruce knew that he would be going through another change.
Not that change is new to a player who has outlasted three coaches in St. Louis alone, but it would take some getting used to. Bruce even laughed at the idea in the offseason that he would no longer be able to sleep through meetings because he had the task of learning new coach Scott Linehan's offense.
That learning process was something every player had to go through and it clearly hasn't affected the way Bruce is performing on the field. At 34, Bruce remains one of the league's best receivers and has showed no signs of slowing anytime soon. His role in the offense hasn't changed and he is getting many of the same opportunities he has had in years past.
Many observers, including receivers coach Henry Ellard, believe Bruce is still the premiere route runner in the league. High praise from anyone, but especially an accomplished former receiver such as Ellard.
"He's very intense in his route-running," Ellard said. "He's probably the quickest route runner in the game as far as getting in and out of his breaks. He doesn't mind a defender being in his hip pocket at the top of a route, because he knows he's going to create space just from the change of direction, that transition at the top of a route. Not many people can do that."
Not many people can do a lot of things Bruce can do and not many have ever done many of the things Bruce has already done. Never has that been more evident than this season.
With each passing week, Bruce's name nudges further and further alongr among some of the greatest receivers to play the game. He has passed the likes of Irving Fryar, Art Monk and Ellard himself on the receiving yards and receptions list.
When Bruce caught a 44-yard pass in the third quarter of the Oct. 29 game against San Diego, he joined an exclusive club made up of Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers. That catch put him in the top 10 in receptions to go with his already secured spot in the top 10 in yards.
Only six other players in the league can make that claim, including the likes of Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison and Cris Carter. It just goes to show that Bruce has not only had the durability and longevity to be a good player, but he has consistently made catches that matter throughout his 13-year NFL career.
"I'm just honored to be a part of it," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "I don't know how many yards I've thrown to him. But maybe one day, when people are talking about the great receivers, I can be on NFL Films throwing him some stuff.
"When you think about how many yards that is. ... I think a lot of receivers can look at his stats and can't believe he's had that many yards. It's just a tribute to him, with all those records. It seems like every week, he gets a new record."
Bruce will pass Jimmy Smith for seventh on the all-time receptions list and will go past the 13,000-yard mark in the coming weeks. By the end of the year, it's realistic that Bruce will rank as high as sixth in yards and seventh in catches.
While Bruce prefers not to discuss records and milestones, he acknowledges that there is a number, a certain point when the numbers will really begin to mean something to him. Although he is aware of the records he seems to break every week, he won't share what the number that truly means something to him.
Presumably, being mentioned with Ellard, who is fifth in receiving yards, would be one such benchmark.
It's an honor because it's an opportunity for those guys' names to be mentioned again and put in a place where they deserve to be," Bruce said. "They put in a lot of work and any time you can bring those names up in any conversation, it's a good thing for them.
"I'll just say this. I believe that anyone that is playing any type of athletics should strive to be the best. The best means do your job to the fullest and if there is someone ahead of you, press toward the mark they have. You always want to end at No. 1 so that should be a nice goal for anybody."
For Bruce to reach that kind of lofty goal seems like quite a task considering Rice has set the bar so high in most categories. But Bruce has no designs on stopping any time soon. He says the thought of when his career could end has "never even crossed my mind" and jokes that he would like to continue playing until his son gets to the NFL and they can play together. Of course, Bruce doesn't even have a son yet, so that could be awhile.
So, what is it that makes Bruce the type of player that will almost certainly land in Canton some day?
For starters, as Ellard says, few players run better routes than Bruce. On almost every route, you can see Bruce get just the right depth on the route, with a good amount of separation from the defender and, of course, finishing the job by catching the ball.
Despite his reputation for running such precise routes, Bruce says it isn't something he makes a conscious effort to do. Once again, it all starts with the power of self-motivation.
"First and foremost, I believe I am a great route runner and then I tell myself that and I go out and I do it," Bruce said. "It all starts with what I say out of my mouth then my physical catches up with my words and it turns out that way."
Perhaps more than anything else, though, Bruce's career has been trademarked by his ability to constantly learn and evolve as the game changes. If there's advancement in some sort of technology, Bruce finds it and takes advantage.
Bruce's insatiable appetite for knowledge has no boundaries. Whether it's someone with a resume such as Ellard, a star teammate like Torry Holt or a street free agent, Bruce is not afraid to ask for opinions and information.
"I knew that in this game it hit me early that you either get better or you get worse in this league," Bruce said. "I chose to get better. I believe in getting better and making people better around me and people around me make me better."
Take for example, Bruce's alteration to his workouts after hamstring issues slowed him in 1997 and 1998. He switched to a track-oriented workout that focused on running and building his legs and cardiovascular strength.
This past offseason, Bruce began watching what he eats and going to an organic diet that keeps him healthy.
"I always say the more you know, the more you go and the more you learn, the more you earn," Bruce said. "I think reading is a big part of my preparation so I am always intrigued by just sitting down and picking up a book and reading and gaining knowledge."
One day, Bruce's name will impart some information on someone in a book in which he will be prominently mentioned. The NFL Record Book.
By Nick Wagoner
For more information on the Isaac Bruce Foundation call 314-369-4074.