Bruce retires after 16 seasons
ST. LOUIS -- Wide receiver Isaac Bruce, whose four Pro Bowls firmly established him among the greatest players in Rams history, retired Wednesday with a message for a struggling franchise that has hit bottom: Be proud of who you are.
"I'd would say, 'Watch your mouth," Bruce said of advice he would offer the Rams. "Watch what you say about the team and the organization. And expect great things to happen."
The 37-year-old Bruce is retiring after 16 seasons in which he set virtually every franchise receiving record. He's second in the NFL in career receiving yards with 15,208, tied for second in yards per catch (14.9), fifth in catches (1,024) and ninth in receiving touchdowns (91). He also helped the Rams win the Super Bowl in 2000.
The Rams will honor Bruce by retiring his No. 80 on Oct. 31 during a game against Carolina.
"He was one of the guys, early in my career, that showed me what it meant to be an NFL player and how to work to become the best," former teammate Kurt Warner said in a statement.
How long had Bruce been in the league?
He was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in 1994, the year before they moved to St. Louis. He came to a team that was among the worst in the NFL -- a situation the current Rams, including No. 1 overall draft pick Sam Bradford -- can relate to: St. Louis was 1-15 in 2009.
Bruce only played on losing teams until 1999, when the arrival of Warner at quarterback, Marshall Faulk at running back and rookie Torry Holt as his counterpart at wide receiver helped to create the "Greatest Show on Turf." The Rams went 13-3 and defeated the Tennessee Titans 23-16 in a dramatic Super Bowl, with Bruce scoring the go-ahead touchdown in the final 2 minutes.
He recalled that pivotal play as "slow motion," seeing Warner under pressure and having his arm hit as he let the ball go. Bruce adjusted to the underthrow and made the catch.
"I saw smoke in the air from the halftime show," he recalled. "I just kept my eyes on the football. It was like it was taking forever to get to me. When I caught the football, everything was in slow motion for me, but pretty much everyone around me was running fast."
Dick Vermeil coached St. Louis to a 9-23 record in two seasons before the 1999 turnaround.
"It was a great experience for both of us to work together, to grow together and go through the frustrations of losing to turn that program around, then share a world championship together," Vermeil told The Associated Press. "I think it was so deserving that he be the guy that makes the difference."
Former teammates and coaches recalled Bruce's professionalism and work ethic.
"To me he was a complete receiver," said Mike Martz, the offensive coordinator in 1999 and the Rams' head coach in 2000-05. "The other part of him, the humility that he played his entire career with, spoke so well about who he is as a man."
Bruce recalled another former Rams receiver, Jack Snow, taking him aside not long after Bruce was chosen in the second round out of Memphis in the 1994 draft. The Rams were terrible, but Snow told him he was willing to fight anyone who ran down his organization.
"We came to this organization that was at the bottom of the barrel," Bruce said. "At that moment I knew this was where I was supposed to be."
Bruce spent the past two seasons in San Francisco. The 49ers agreed to allow the Rams to acquire Bruce on Monday so he could retire with the organization where he played 14 seasons.
Bruce said he doesn't know exactly what he'll do next, but he believes his career is worthy of the Hall of Fame.
"I do believe in the next five years we'll be loading up trucks and we'll be heading to Canton," he said.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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