Aundray Bruce seemed like the kind of pass rusher who would sack quarterbacks with ease and make mincemeat of offensive linemen.
Bruce had all of the physical attributes to excel as a linebacker in the National Football League.
In fact, some scouts and executives thought his game resembled those of Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks.
Unfortunately, Aundray Bruce never came close to their potential.
Dating back to his high school days in Montgomery, AL, Bruce was more of a hoops star trapped in a football player’s body.
After the Atlanta Falcons made Bruce the first overall selection of the 1988 NFL Draft, he mustered just 16.0 sacks in four seasons.
He then spent seven unremarkable seasons with the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders before retiring after the 1998 NFL campaign.
Sadly, Aundray Bruce, a former No. 1 overall pick, became an afterthought after he played his final down in the National Football League.
Aundray Bruce was born to parents Willie and Lucille in Montgomery, AL on April 30, 1966. He was one of fourteen children in their household. He had six brothers and seven sisters.
Sadly, an unknown assailant murdered Willie James Bruce in cold blood when Aundray was still a child. The perpetrator shot him in his tractor-trailer.
Consequently, Lucille Bruce had to raise her fourteen children mostly by herself. She worked as a maid and nanny to make ends meet.
Her eldest sons, Arthur and Sylvester, took over as the surrogate fathers. They worked as car washers and furniture movers to supplement their family income.
On the other hand, the eldest daughters Corine, Delores, Willie Mae, and Barbara bought food, cooked, cleaned the house, and brought up their younger siblings.
According to Sports Illustrated‘s Jill Lieber, Bruce was a shy and reticent child growing up in Alabama. He typically kept to himself because of a serious stuttering issue.
Bruce was so shy, he never raised his hand in class. He usually drew cartoon characters in his bedroom when he got home.
“I couldn’t pronounce some words, sometimes even my own name,” Bruce told Lieber. “So I didn’t speak. I didn’t want to be made fun of.”
His brother Sylvester told Sports Illustrated in the spring of 1988 that Aundray was a very soft-spoken child. He never thought he would accomplish something particularly noteworthy in the future.
Aundray’s mother Lucille, who called him “Boobie,” paid for his speech therapy appointments.
A Competitive Edge
Although Aundray had reclusive tendencies, he also had a competitive side. Aundray, the second-youngest in the brood, raced Teresa, the third-youngest, on the street when they were kids.
To Aundray’s dismay, Teresa always beat him. Aundray got some payback when he played practical jokes on her. He sometimes hid in her closet and came out without warning to startle her silly.
On the other hand, Arthur and Sylvester inspired him to play sports so he could come out of his shell. Aundray obliged and played basketball in middle school.
Arthur and Sylvester typically paid for Aundray’s meals at McDonald’s after his games. Whenever Aundray went on a scoring binge on the hardcourt, they gave him shirts and sweatpants.
Aundray grew up watching Howard Cosell and Don Meredith on ABC Monday Night Football, per the Montogomery Adviser‘s Duane Rankin.
Bruce was a Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders fan in his youth.
Aundray Bruce attended George Washington Carver High School in his hometown of Montgomery, AL. He was the Carver Wolverines’ starting outside linebacker and tight end.
Not only that, but Bruce also played on the Wolverines’ defensive line and secondary.
There have been four football players from the state of Alabama that have been the first overall pick in the NFL draft!
Harry Gilmer, Woodlawn 1948, Bo Jackson, McAdory 1986, Aundray Bruce, Carver Montgomery 1988 and Jamarcus Russell, Williamson 2007 #RussellDoItCenters pic.twitter.com/RWwXyVzVuj
— AHSAA Radio Network (@ahsaaradio) July 27, 2022
Bruce also played quarterback, wide receiver, running back, and kick return specialist for Wolverines head football coach Davis Brock. He played a total of eight positions in high school, per Lieber.
Although Aundray Bruce was a Jack of all trades, he also had a tendency to take plays off on the gridiron.
“Aundray had so much talent, but he only performed at 70 percent of his capabilities,” Brock told Sports Illustrated in April 1988. “I was determined he would reach his potential.”
Bruce explained to Lieber he did not go all out on the high school football field because he wanted to remain in basketball shape. He admitted basketball—not football—was his first love.
True to his word, Bruce sometimes stayed until 9 p.m. honing his skills on the hardcourt. Wolverines head basketball coach Dan Lewis sometimes had to return to school to persuade Bruce to go home.
Bruce’s penchant for playing pranks sometimes got on Lewis’s nerves.
Once, Lewis could not start practice because sixteen basketballs were missing. Bruce finally confessed that he had put them away in a friend’s vehicle.
An irate Lewis made Bruce run in the stands continuously for an hour and a half so he could learn his lesson.
Tigers Come Calling
Despite Bruce’s shenanigans, he flourished in his last two seasons with the Wolverines.
Behind his exploits on the hardcourt, the Wolverines made it to the class 4-A title game in Aundray’s junior and senior seasons.
Bruce won MVP honors and an All-Star game slam dunk competition in his last year at Carver in 1983.
When the Auburn Tigers became the only Division I football team that dangled a scholarship in front of Bruce that year, he almost balked.
Bruce organized a press conference but was a no-show. Bruce told Lewis he could not pull it off. His heart was on the basketball court and not the gridiron.
Bruce eventually received basketball scholarships from the Austin Peay Govs, Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs, Jacksonville Dolphins, and Alabama State Hornets.
However, Aundray Bruce wanted to play for the Alabama Crimson Tide men’s basketball team. Unfortunately, the feeling was not mutual.
Undaunted, Bruce pleaded with the school’s football team to give him a scholarship. He thought he could excel for the Crimson Tide both on the gridiron and basketball court, per Lieber.
Try as Bruce might, Alabama still would not budge.
A despondent Aundray Bruce drove to Lewis’s residence and asked him point blank what his chances were of entering the National Basketball Association.
Lewis told him they were not good.
With that, Bruce decided he would accept Auburn’s football scholarship instead.
Aundray Bruce eventually became one of the defensive standouts of Pat Dye’s Auburn Tigers in the mid-1980s.
College Days with the Auburn Tigers
Aundray Bruce attended Auburn University from 1984 to 1987. He majored in education.
Bruce’s intensity sometimes rubbed his teammates the wrong way. He set a new unofficial school record for sparking brawls in scrimmages, per Lieber.
“Actually, I’m a laid-back guy,” Bruce told Sports Illustrated in the spring of 1988. “But when I play football, I’m an intense ball of heat.”
Bruce’s college football career got off to an inauspicious start. He did not feel like he belonged at Auburn.
He longed to see his mother, Lucille, whom he had not seen in a month during his first few weeks with the Tigers.
Bruce asked for Dye’s and the other coaches’ permission to take some time off so he could visit her. Unfortunately, they turned his request down.
Bruce spent his true freshman season in 1984 on Auburn’s special teams unit.
He motivated his teammates by rewarding them with a Snickers candy bar if they beat him on kickoff plays. To Bruce’s delight, they never did.
When Dye assigned Bruce to play outside linebacker, stronger tight ends and offensive linemen manhandled him constantly.
Bruce, who had wanted to play Division I basketball before he committed to Auburn’s football team, wanted to leave. However, the Tigers’ outside linebackers coach Joe Whitt did not allow him.
Bruce’s older brother, Arthur, who was working as a butcher at the time, encouraged Aundray to stay at Auburn and make the most of his opportunity, per Sports Illustrated.
Auburn averaged nine wins per season in Aundray Bruce’s first two seasons from 1984 to 1985. They made two bowl appearances during that two-year time frame and won one: the 1984 Liberty Bowl against the Arkansas Razorbacks, 21-15.
Aundray Bruce was a natural prankster in his high school days. The trend continued when he played for the Auburn Tigers.
Aundray Bruce AU LB 1984-87 Montgomery, AL Happy Birthday!LETTERMEN of the SEC, LOTIB, & LETTERMEN of the USA™4/30 pic.twitter.com/ncgxaS4Mvj
— Darryl Fuhrman (@DarrylFuhrman) April 30, 2014
According to Lieber, Bruce removed the tires of his freshmen teammates’ cars. He also took things to the extreme. He punched some of his teammates while they were asleep.
Bruce played his most popular prank on the Tigers’ gruff assistant coach James Daniel.
One day, Bruce removed his clothes and covered his entire body with baby powder. When Daniel performed a bed check that night, Bruce snuck up from behind while swinging a 22-inch machete.
A terrified Daniel yelled at the top of his lungs and ran as fast as he could.
Unfortunately for Bruce, Daniel made him run the stadium steps at 6:00 the following morning. Bruce told Lieber several years later that he had no regrets. At least Daniel finally displayed some emotion.
Bruce, who had also once brandished his machete during a high school cheerleading camp, finally came to his senses prior to his junior season at Auburn.
Something to Prove
He told Sports Illustrated in 1988 that he only had two seasons remaining to show his true worth.
Although Bruce struggled to contain stronger offensive players throughout his sophomore season, he played well enough for Dye to name him a starting edge rusher in the 1986 NCAA season.
Pro scouts thought Bruce’s inconsistency was one of his major red flags.
For instance, Bruce had eight tackles against the Texas Longhorns in the 1987 NCAA season opener. He followed that up with a 10-tackle performance against the North Carolina Tar Heels two weeks later.
Bruce had the best game of his four-year stint at Auburn against the Georgia Tech Yellowjackets on October 17, 1987.
He had nine tackles, 3.0 sacks, one fumble recovery, one forced fumble, three interceptions, and one pick-six for good measure in Auburn’s 20-10 victory over Georgia Tech.
However, Bruce did not play well against lesser opponents such as the Vanderbilt Commodores and the Kansas Jayhawks during the season.
Tigers linebacker Kurt Crain already knew about Bruce’s on-again, off-again tendencies on the gridiron.
“That’s his one drawback,” Crain told Lieber in April 1988. “I often had to tell him during games, ‘C’mon, we need you.'”
Ironically, Bruce admitted to Lieber he indeed had a tendency to take plays off against weaker opposition. He did that so he could save his energy for tougher opposition and more meaningful games.
Although Aundray Bruce’s inconsistency gnawed at some scouts and pundits, he played well enough to earn All-SEC honors as a junior and senior.
Bruce even earned MVP honors in Auburn’s 16-7 win over the USC Trojans in the 1986 Citrus Bowl.
Auburn went 9-1-2 in Bruce’s senior season with the Tigers in 1987. Their Sugar Bowl matchup against the Syracuse Orangemen ended in a 16-16 tie.
Aundray Bruce made a good account of himself in his last two years with the Auburn Tigers.
He finished his four-year tenure at Auburn with 228 tackles, 15.0 sacks, three picks, and seven forced fumbles. With Bruce in tow, the Tigers won 36 of 49 games from 1984 to 1987.
In an unexpected move, the Atlanta Falcons made him the top overall pick of the 1987 NFL Draft. Sadly, Aundray Bruce never lived up to expectations in the pro football ranks.
Pro Football Career
The Atlanta Falcons made Aundray Bruce the first overall selection of the 1988 NFL Draft.
According to The Athletic‘s Bob McGinn, Falcons’ head coach Marion Campbell was awestruck when he scouted Bruce at the 1988 Senior Bowl.
Campbell thought Bruce, the 1988 Senior Bowl and 1988 Hula Bowl MPV, could be a difference maker for the Falcons, who were 28th in the NFL in total defense the previous season.
Campbell was sold on Aundray Bruce. The former called him a month before the 1988 NFL Draft and told Bruce the Falcons were making him the top overall selection.
The 6’5″, 236-lb. Bruce wowed the Falcons at his pro day in Auburn. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds.
Bruce’s athletic prowess impressed Herock, who thought the former resembled the great Lawrence Taylor.
Unfortunately, Herock noticed a red flag on Bruce. He had a mediocre Wonderlic test score.
Bruce signed a four-year, $4.15 million deal with the Falcons, per Sports Illustrated.
“Aundray can become as good as Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks,” Falcons director of college player personnel Ken Herock told Lieber in the spring of 1988. “He has all their qualities. There might be something, but we can’t see it.”
The Falcons Did Not Soar
Unfortunately for Herock and the Falcons, Bruce never lived up to his lofty billing. He never came close to Pro-Bowlers, Taylor and Banks.
When Bruce entered the NFL in 1988, his critics thought he needed a coach such as the Falcons’ Marion Campbell who will straighten him out. They thought the inconsistent Bruce needed more motivation to succeed at football’s highest level.
In New York Giants general manager George Young’s opinion, Bruce was a “three-and-one-player.” He goes full throttle on three plays and then slacks off on one.
Bruce, who became one of Campbell’s starting edge rushers, had a decent first two seasons with the Falcons.
He had a combined 136 tackles, 12.0 sacks, three interceptions, four forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery from 1988 to 1989.
Regrettably, Atlanta was a terrible team as the 1980s wound down. The Falcons averaged just four wins per season in Campbell’s final two years as head coach.
They also extended their postseason drought to seven years.
34 years ago today….the Atlanta Falcons made Aundray Bruce the #1 pick in the 1988 NFL Draft….one of the biggest mistakes in Atlanta sports history pic.twitter.com/bO3gi3HoEn
— PolyesterPalace (@PolyesterPalace) April 24, 2022
Boys Will Be Boys
Bruce was a 22-year-old bachelor who savored the nightlife as a rookie in 1988. He struck up a friendship with another rookie linebacker, Marcus Cotton.
Before long, Bruce and Cotton were frequently hitting the clubs.
“In ’88, there wasn’t a morning that came up where I didn’t meet the sun,” Bruce told The New York Times (via The Athletic). “I never did alcohol or drugs. It was women, and a lot of them.”
Bruce’s third season with the Falcons began on a sour note.
Two women slapped him with paternity lawsuits in early 1990. They claimed he fathered their children within a five-week span in the summer of 1989, per McGinn.
Just two months later, Bruce entered a no-contest plea to disorderly conduct after he pointed a pellet gun at a pizza delivery employee.
The employee told reporters (via The Athletic) Bruce laughed hysterically. On the other hand, the former felt embarrassed.
It was a throwback to Bruce’s college days with the Auburn Tigers when he scared the living daylights out of an assistant coach in the dormitory.
In another development which was no laughing matter, Bruce reportedly shoved Falcons defensive coordinator Doug Shivley after the latter told him to leave because of his uninspired play in the scrimmage.
Ups and Downs
When Jerry Glanville took over as the Falcons’ new head coach in 1990, he relegated Aundray Bruce to backup outside linebacker status.
One of Bruce’s best games as a pro was the 1990 season opener against Glanville’s old team, the Houston Oilers.
Bruce batted the ball down in four of five possessions against Oilers quarterback Warren Moon. The Falcons won easily, 42-27.
Moon promptly sang Bruce’s praises after the final whistle.
“I don’t think you’ll find many outside linebackers in the league who are fast as he is,” Moon said (via The Athletic).
Regrettably, Aundray Bruce could not sustain his momentum for the entire season.
Bruce had just 40 tackles, 4.0 sacks, and four forced fumbles in 30 games for the Falcons from 1990 to 1991.
1988: Game Week v Falcons- Down 13-3 late in 4Q, #NYGiants offense drove to inside the 5 yard line. Former #1 overall pick Aundray Bruce got around Mowatt to sack Simms & keep NYG from scoring a TD. McFadden was forced to settle for a 27 yarder to cut lead to 13-6 #TogetherBlue pic.twitter.com/2MsjHGrCCj
— BigBlueVCR (@BigBlueVCR) September 21, 2021
It got so bad for Bruce in 1991 that he failed to register a single tackle in fourteen straight games. Glanville even made Bruce play tight end as the season wore on because he could not get in a groove at the linebacker position.
Although the Falcons went just 5-11 in Glanville’s first year at the helm in 1990, they won ten games the following season.
Unfortunately, Atlanta lost to the Washington Redskins in the 1991 NFC Divisional Round, 24-7.
Going to California
Bruce then signed with Art Shell’s Los Angeles Raiders prior to the 1992 NFL season. He inked a one-year, $525,000 contract with the Silver and Black.
Both Campbell and Herock regretted the day they made Aundray Bruce the first overall pick in the 1988 NFL Draft, per The Athletic.
Campbell whiffed on 1987 Heisman Trophy winner, Tim Brown of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Falcons director of college player personnel Ken Herock wanted Brown badly. He urged Campbell to go to South Bend, IN, and scout the highly-touted wide receiver.
After sizing up Brown, Campbell told Heron the Notre Dame wideout exceeded his expectations. However, Campbell felt the Falcons needed to shore up their defense so they passed on Brown.
The Los Angeles Raiders selected Brown, one of the best wide receivers in college football, five slots after Bruce in 1988. Brown went on to become a nine-time Pro Bowler and Pro Football Hall of Famer.
Ironically, Bruce and Brown were teammates with the Raiders from 1992 to 1998.
Bruce took the field as a backup linebacker in 89 of a possible 96 games for the Raiders during that seven-year time frame.
He had 99 tackles, 16.0 sacks, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, one interception, and one defensive touchdown in those 89 games.
The Raiders averaged eight wins per season from 1992 to 1998. They lost to the Buffalo Bills 29-23 in the 1993 AFC Divisional Round—their lone postseason appearance with Aundray Bruce on their roster.
His pro football career ended in an inauspicious fashion. He played in just one game for first-year Raiders head coach Jon Gruden in 1998.
Time to Hang ’em Up
Aundray Bruce retired following the 1998 NFL season.
He finished his 11-year pro football career with 275 tackles, 32.0 sacks, four interceptions, one defensive touchdown, nine forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries.
Bruce’s second NFL coach Jerry Glanville thought he lacked maturity when he played in the National Football League.
However, if Aundray Bruce were to play in today’s NFL, Glanville felt it would have been a different story.
“Today, he’d probably be a star because, hell, nobody hits anybody, anyway,” Glanville told McGinn in the fall of 2021. “If he was a rookie in 2020, he’d be All-Pro.”
Aundray Bruce is currently residing in his hometown of Montgomery, AL, per The Athletic.
Although Bruce did not live up to high expectations, he feels fortunate he played in the National Football League for eleven years.
“You dreamt that type of stuff,” Bruce told the Montgomery Adviser 20 years after he retired from the NFL. “Let’s just be honest—the majority of the people who dreamt that type of stuff, it never happened for them. I consider myself fortunate.”
Bruce is currently the director of player relations of S.A.F.E. Youth Camps Coordinators, Inc.
Bruce also coaches the defensive linemen of the Faulkner University Eagles.