Bruce, Isaac 1972–
Isaac Bruce 1972–
Professional football player
“Guys look at me and think I’m too skinny,” Isaac Bruce told Sports Illustrated for Kids in the early years of his career. “They probably ask what I’m doing playing in the NFL. So I always try to make a big play. And when I block, I try to knock the defender on his butt.” That determination allowed the six-foot-tall Bruce, who at 185 pounds may not fit the image many people have of a professional football player, to emerge as one of the brightest new stars in the game of football during the late 1990s.
Nicknamed “Reverend Ike” because of his plans to enter the ministry after the end of his playing career, Isaac Isidore Bruce was born on November 10, 1972, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The 13th of 15 children, he attended Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale. He is a cousin of Derrick Moore, a running back who played for the Detroit Lions and the Carolina Panthers during the mid-1990s. During his senior year in high school in 1989, Bruce gave an indication of his emerging talent on the gridiron. He was named to Fort Lauderdale’s All-City squad, and led Dillard to a Florida state championship in the school’s division.
Following his graduation from high school, Bruce moved to California and attended West Los Angeles and Santa Monica Junior College. In 1992, he transferred to Memphis State University in Tennessee. Bruce majored in physical education at Memphis State, and enjoyed a fine collegiate football career. He graduated from Memphis State with a total of 113 pass receptions, 15 touchdowns, and 1,586 total yards.
Bruce’s abilities on the football field caught the attention of pro scouts, and he was highly regarded as the 1994 NFL draft approached. Selected in the second round by the Los Angeles Rams, he quickly fulfilled the team’s high expectations. Bruce’s first pass reception in the NFL came on September 11, 1994, during a game against the Atlanta Falcons, and it marked the beginning of a rapid rise to fame. Despite missing the last four games of his rookie season due to a sprained right knee, Bruce ranked seventh on the team in yardage gained, and was named Rams Rookie of the Year by several Southern California sports journalists’ groups.
At a Glance…
Born Isaac Isidore Bruce November 10, 1972, in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Education: attended West Los Angeles and Santa Monica Junior College; graduated from Memphis State University, Memphis, TN, with a degree in physical education.Religion: Church of God in Christ.
Career: Professional football player; star player in collegiate career at Memphis State;drafted in second round by Los Angeles Rams, 1994; followed team to St. Louis; set record asall-time leading gainer among wide receivers (record eclipsed at season’s end by another-player) in second year, 1995; led the NFL in yardage gained, 1996; plagued by injuries, 1997 and 1998; recovered from injuries and led the Rams to the NFL championship, 1999.
Addresses: Office— c/o St. Louis Rams, One Rams Way, St. Louis, MO63045.
As his second professional season approached, Bruce became one of the NFL’s most closely watched young players. He began to flash his characteristic wit when he recalled a pregame kiss from Rams owner Georgia Frontiere in an interview with the Sporting News, saying it was the “[f]irst time I ever smelled money on someone’s breath.” Following the team’s relocation to St. Louis, Bruce became the starting wide receiver. He compiled 119 receptions for 1,781 yards and 13 touchdowns. The 1,781-yard total briefly made Bruce the NFL’s all-time leading gainer among wide receivers. However, he was edged out at the season’s end by Jerry Rice of the San Francisco 49ers.
During the 1996 season, Bruce again served notice that his name would be showing up frequently in the record books. With 84 receptions for an NFL-league-leading 1,338 yards, he set a record for most pass receptions (224) in a player’s first three NFL seasons. Rounding out the 1996 campaign with seven receptions for 104 yards in the postseason Pro Bowl all-star game, Bruce seemed firmly ensconced as a celebrity star and as one of the greatest wide receivers ever to play the game. However, the next two seasons would threaten to ground Bruce’s high-flying career.
St. Louis Rams coach Dick Vermeil told Sports Illustrated that Bruce was the best player he had ever coached, “a complex, gifted athlete, probably the best vertical, one-on-one, bursting-type receiver in the league.” For his own part, Bruce told the magazine, “I don’t think I’m the best, I know I am.” During the 1997 and 1998 seasons, however, Bruce appeared to be another example of a young athlete who had pushed too hard and burned out too fast. In the first game of the 1997 season against the Denver Broncos, Bruce had to leave the field without catching a pass due to a hamstring injury. He missed the rest of the game and the next four games as well.
Bruce returned to the lineup later in the season, and at times his raw ability showed through. In a game against the Atlanta Falcons, he recorded ten receptions for a career-high 233 yards, the best performance by an NFL receiver that season. In 1998, Bruce suffered a recurrence of the hamstring injury that had plagued him during the previous season. He missed eight games and was finally placed on the injured reserve list early in December. The Rams management grumbled about his Bruce’s proneness to injury, and it became clear just how much the team’s fortunes depended on those of its star wide receiver. During the 1997 and 1998 seasons, the Rams compiled a dismal 9-23 record.
Bruce bounced back strongly in 1999, played in all 16 games, and caught 77 passes. His offensive reliability led the Rams to the NFL playoffs and to a divisional championship win over the Minnesota Vikings. Against the Vikings, Bruce had four receptions for a total of 133 yards. Another pivotal event of the 1999 season occurred off the field. Bruce’s car flipped over on a Missouri interstate highway when a tire blew out as he returned from a basketball game with his girlfriend. Bruce and his girlfriend were unhurt, and he credited divine intervention for their good fortune.
“Y’all are afraid to write the word Jesus,” Bruce told Sports Illustrated after the accident. Notable among athletes for his strong and publicly expressed religious faith, he also attributed his successful 1999 season to his religious activities. Bruce had fallen behind on tithe contributions to his church, Memphis’s Bountiful Blessings Cathedral of Deliverance Church of God in Christ. However, after he wrote a check in a six-figure amount to cover the balance, he returned to peak form. Whatever the source of his inspiration on the playing field, Bruce entered the 21st century as one of professional football’s rising stars.
Bonavita, Mark, and Brendan Roberts, eds., The Sporting News Pro Football Register, 1998 edition-, Times Mirror, 1998.
New York Times, December 12, 1999, p. 41.
Sporting News, August 28, 1995, p. 34.
Sports Illustrated, November 6, 1995, p. 114; October 12, 1998, p. 68; January 24, 2000, p. 38; February 9, 2000, p. 50.
Sports Illustrated for Kids, September 1996, p. 74.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from http://www.stlouisrams.com
—James M. Manheim
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