It’s easy to forget that Isaac Bruce came to St. Louis as a Los Angeles transplant.
The high-flying receiver from the Greatest Show on Turf helped recast the Rams as a bobbing-and-weaving Midwestern brand with more glitz and firepower than they had in any of their previous 48 seasons out west.
Of those on that short list of all-time St. Louis football greats, Bruce’s statue may stand the tallest.
But the “Reverend Ike” was taken out of Memphis State in the second round of the 1994 NFL Draft by the original LA Rams and came part and parcel when Georgia Frontiere’s team was lured here by that now vacant dome.
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Remember Bruce’s introduction to the St. Louis fans? On that sunny Week 1 day at Lambeau Field, he earned NFC Special Team Player of the Week honors by blocking a Packers punt. By the end of that first season in St. Louis, he was one of the league’s top receivers, having caught 119 passes for 1,781 yards, still the fifth-highest single-season total of all-time.
But the team averaged just five wins over the next three seasons, and recurring hamstring issues in 1997 and 1998 prompted the ever-loyal Dick Vermeil to question his “supposed superstar’s” dedication and guts.
It wasn’t until Vermeil had rebaptized the Rams with a blue-collar, offseason workload designed to separate the winners from losers. Bruce emerged a winner, and it was on Oct. 10, 1999, that he discovered how special the rest of that team would be.
Before they were “The Greatest Show,” they were known in San Francisco as “The Same Old Rams,” having lost 17 games in a row to the 49ers. But Bruce caught four touchdown passes that day as the Rams trounced their most fierce divisional rival with 22 points to spare.
There were tears in Bruce’s eyes following that victory.
The Rams went on to 13 regular season wins, home-field advantage and the NFC championship. Bruce’s 73-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown catch against the Titans proved to be the winning points in Super Bowl XXXIV.
Bruce retired in 2010 as the last remaining NFL player to have played a home game in Los Angeles. Seven and a half years later, he is among the 15 finalists for induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
No more than five modern-era players can be selected in a single year, so the competition will be stiff. Bruce will be considered with the likes of Ray Lewis, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Brian Dawkins, John Lynch, Brian Urlacher and others.
But his 15,208 yards still rank fifth in NFL history, and his 1,024 receptions are 13th. That should be enough for Bruce to join “Greatest Show” teammates Kurt Warner, Orlando Pace, Marshall Faulk and Aeneas Williams in Canton.
As a St. Louis Ram.