Make no mistake about it: Isaac Bruce was one of the best wide receivers in National Football League history.
Bruce racked up more than 15,000 career receiving yards and 91 career receiving touchdowns.
Only a few elite wideouts have ever reached that stratosphere.
Ironically, several NFL scouts snubbed him prior to the 1994 NFL Draft.
Almost three decades later, Isaac Bruce wore his gold jacket and unveiled his bust in Canton.
He definitely got the last laugh.
The man nicknamed “The Reverend” definitely set the bar high for the next generation of wide receivers.
Isaac Isidore Bruce was born to parents Jesse and Karetha in Fort Lauderdale, FL on November 10, 1972.
Bruce is part of a large family. He has fourteen siblings – eight sisters and six brothers.
Bruce and his brother and sisters grew up on 29th Avenue and 4th Street in TaterTown Village in Broward County, FL.
They crammed themselves in a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home.
Jesse Bruce worked as a roofer. On the other hand, his wife Karetha (who fondly called herself “K”) was a Pentecostal minister.
Karetha made it a habit to minister to her children every day when they were growing up.
Before the kids went to school every morning, Karetha sat in an adjacent hallway and read aloud Bible verses. They also went to church for six hours every Sunday.
“Church is all this family knows how to do,” Bruce’s sister Charlotte told SI.com’s Sally Jenkins in August 1996.
The Bruces’ religious upbringing had a profound effect on Isaac to this very day.
While Isaac Bruce was a good, churchgoing kid, he didn’t back down from anybody.
When Bruce was 13 years old, he stepped out of a crowd and clobbered a bully during a schoolyard fight. He vanished into the crowd afterward, per SI.com.
— Frank Cusumano (@Frank_Cusumano) August 6, 2021
Isaac Bruce attended Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
Bruce had 644 yards on 39 receptions as a senior wideout for the Dillard Panthers.
He became an All-County selection who helped the Panthers win the 1989 Florida State 4-A title.
Several Division I-A schools recruited Bruce. The Western Michigan Broncos, Memphis State Tigers, Virginia Cavaliers, San Jose State Spartans, Fresno State Bulldogs, Colorado State Rams, and California Golden Bears all expressed interest in signing him.
Isaac Bruce would go through the proverbial eye of the needle before he made a name for himself in the collegiate ranks.
College Days With The Memphis Tigers
Isaac Bruce signed a letter of intent to play football for the Purdue Boilermakers.
Unfortunately, his low SAT scores prevented him from enrolling at Purdue University.
Bruce enrolled at West Los Angeles College and Santa Monica College in California at the beginning of his college football career.
When Bruce arrived in California for the first time in 1990, he told TheRams.com’s Stu Jackson it felt like home because it was similar to South Florida.
Bruce compared Southern California to a melting pot of different backgrounds and cultures. He also started listening intently to West Coast rap in the early 1990s.
According to Jackson, Bruce and his three roommates lived in a quad dorm at Northrop University. It had a common room. However, it didn’t have a kitchen.
The less-than-desirable conditions made many of the aspiring football players pack their bags and leave.
Bruce and Co. had to endure the ear-piercing roars of jets thundering overhead because their dorm was on the edge of Los Angeles International Airport.
When Memphis Tigers receivers coach Randy Fichtner visited Bruce in Los Angeles, he wasn’t so sure he’d get his diploma after taking one look at his dorm room.
“It wasn’t a question of whether he was talented enough to make it,” Fichtner told Jenkins in 1996. “It was a question of whether the elements would let him.”
Nonetheless, Isaac Bruce and Sam Rogers – whom the Buffalo Bills selected 64th overall in the 1994 NFL Draft – toughed it out.
Despite the dingy living arrangements, Bruce’s time in Los Angeles allowed him to hone his craft and become a better wide receiver, per TheRams.com:
“As far as football is concerned, Los Angeles gave you the ability to better your craft, which was football for me, all year long.”
“I had the opportunity to play against guys who were playing Canadian football at the time, learn from them. I had the opportunity to play against guys who were playing Canadian football as defensive backs.”
Bruce’s tenure in LA didn’t just teach him how to mature on the gridiron, it also taught him to become a better man off it.
He told Jackson going to junior college three thousand miles from home was a great experience. Bruce said the humbling experience taught him the value of the dollar and how his parents sacrificed to budget their family finances.
Isaac Bruce had 677 yards and seven touchdowns on 42 receptions at Santa Monica College in 1991.
Consequently, he earned all-conference honors that year.
— JAMROCKKICKS (@JamRockKicks) December 28, 2019
Bruce eventually transferred to Memphis State University (now known as The University of Memphis) in 1992.
Bruce became the school’s first 1,000-yard receiver in the 1993 NCAA season.
The Tigers finished with identical 6-5 win-loss records in each of Bruce’s two seasons at Memphis State.
He had a combined 1,586 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns on 113 receptions in his two-year stint with Tigers head football coach Chuck Stobart’s squad.
The Tigers had just one appearance on national television during Bruce’s tenure.
Not wanting to waste the valuable opportunity, Bruce took the field again after getting stitched up at the half due to a vicious hit from a Miami Hurricanes defensive back that made him literally bite his tongue, per SI.com.
Bruce finished the game with two touchdown receptions.
Isaac Bruce would become the player some NFL scouts didn’t see coming and one of the greatest wide receivers in the history of the National Football League.
Pro Football Career
The then-St. Louis Rams made Isaac Bruce the 33rd overall selection of the 1994 NFL Draft.
Two weeks before the 1994 NFL Draft kicked off, an anonymous scout rang up Bruce. He told him he’ll never make it to the big stage.
Some twenty-seven years later when the Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted Isaac Bruce, he took a shot at the scout who told him he won’t amount to anything in his enshrinement speech:
“To the nameless voice that called me two weeks before the draft in 1994 to let me know that the NFL wasn’t checking for me. They didn’t like me.”
“They liked more of NFL legends Bert Emanuel and Ryan Yarborough. I know you’re alive, I know you’re listening. I prayed God (would) keep you alive for this day. My message to you is – rap legend Kool Moe Dee wanted me to ask you, ‘How Ya Like Me Now?'”
"To the nameless voice that called me two weeks before the draft in 1994 to let me know that the NFL wasn't checking for me… HOW YOU LIKE ME NOW?!"
— x – Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) August 8, 2021
Isaac Bruce certainly didn’t hesitate to say what was in his heart when he made his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech.
However, he was far more reserved when he was a rookie in the National Football League in 1994.
Bruce was so shy and reticent, he never uttered a complete sentence when he spoke, per Jenkins.
The devout Bruce always brought a Bible with him at practice. Rams quarterback Chris Miller tried to converse with his rookie wide receiver. However, the latter would just nod or shake his head before flipping pages from scripture again.
When St. Louis running back Johnny Bailey moved into Bruce’s apartment complex in Crevecoeur, MO in the summer of 1995, he invited him to go clubbing.
Despite Bailey’s best efforts, Isaac Bruce didn’t budge. Bailey finally gave up and just rolled his eyes.
However, the two teammates wound up going out for dinner on several occasions.
It turned out there was another side to the reclusive Bruce.
Bailey successfully convinced Bruce to play blackjack at a riverboat casino. The latter won $600 and continued gambling.
Bruce told Jenkins he went to a party just once prior to his third season in the pro ranks.
“Yeah, I went to a party once, just to see how it was,” he told SI.com. “It’s nothing I could get used to.”
Isaac Bruce wasn’t meant for the partying lifestyle.
According to Jenkins, it wasn’t uncommon for Bruce to start his day at 3 a.m. He’d occasionally stroll at the local mall so he’d stay awake. Hardly anybody recognized him whenever he wore his ball cap.
While at the mall, Bruce hardly bought anything.
One time, Bruce booby-trapped a water cooler that sprayed water like a geyser when Rams wide receivers coach Mike Martz tried to drink, per SI.com.
Bruce spiked the pigskin against the end zone wall after he had a 26-yard touchdown reception against the Oakland Raiders during a preseason game on August 12, 1996.
Members of the Raiders’ famous “Black Hole” didn’t take the gesture well. Bruce didn’t back down. In fact, he stayed in the end zone and threatened to take them on.
Fortunately, Bruce’s Rams teammates stepped in and intervened before things escalated.
Isaac Bruce could play on both sides of the ball.
When he made his first career start against the Green Bay Packers in 1995, he blocked a punt and recovered the ball in the first quarter.
Just five seconds later, Bruce hauled the pigskin 23 yards into the end zone.
In 1995 Isaac Bruce had one of the best seasons in NFL history as a wide receiver. Here against Atlanta, Bruce posted 191 yards and 2 touchdowns! But he also had a 50 yard return receiving a lateral on a Punt! @ProFootballHOF pic.twitter.com/fX6XJGXwIs
— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) January 22, 2020
Bruce torched the Atlanta Falcons for 191 yards, two touchdowns, and a 51-yard punt return the following month. Exactly a week later, he had 173 yards on nine receptions against the San Francisco 49ers.
“People have to start double-covering that guy,” legendary 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice said (via SI.com).
The Philadelphia Eagles heeded Rice’s advice. To their dismay, Bruce still got away with 105 receiving yards on nine receptions the following week.
Isaac Bruce was clicking on all cylinders.
After a slow start to his NFL career, he racked up a combined total of 3,119 receiving yards in his second and third pro seasons.
Bruce’s 1,338 receiving yards led the league in the 1996 NFL season. To nobody’s surprise, he earned the first of his four Pro Bowl nods that year.
Alas, a groin injury limited Bruce to a combined seventeen games over the next two seasons.
The Rams were a bad football team back then.
Since relocating to St. Louis from Los Angeles in 1995, they had averaged fewer than six games per season.
Bruce’s groin injury added insult to injury to the Rams’ cause.
He attributed the injury to “disobedience” – he stopped tithing at his Bountiful Blessings Cathedral of Deliverance Church of God and Christ in Memphis, TN (the city where he lived in the offseason), per SI.com.
Bruce issued a six-figure check to cover his back payments. His injury somehow disappeared within days.
To the delight of Rams fans, “The Greatest Show On Turf” – a high-octane offense that featured Bruce, quarterback Kurt Warner, wide receiver Torry Holt, and running back Marshall Faulk – turned things around in the 1999 NFL campaign.
St. Louis won a then-franchise record thirteen games that year.
Alas, Bruce injured his right groin in the NFC Divisional matchup against the Minnesota Vikings.
When Bruce made it to the Rams locker room, he rang up his mother on a cell phone from a small corridor.
He never told the St. Louis medical staff about his predicament.
When Bruce’s older sister Juliana Joseph picked up on the other end of the line, he asked her to pray Peter 2:4 with him.
“Pray with me,” he told his sister (via SI.com). “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”
Isaac Bruce’s prayer was answered just several plays later.
Bruce had a 50-yard touchdown reception from Warner to seal the Rams’ 49-37 victory.
Wideout Ricky Proehl hauled in a touchdown in St. Louis’ 11-6 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1999 NFC Championship Game a week later.
Bruce told Proehl’s “Catch For The Ages” STLToday.com’s Jim Thomas in 2010 it was his favorite moment at the Trans World Dome (now known as the The Dome at America’s Center).
Isaac Bruce picked up where he left off from the memorable divisional round win over the Vikings.
Bruce had a 73-yard touchdown catch in the waning moments of Super Bowl XXXIV against the Tennessee Titans.
St. Louis linebacker Mike Jones’ game-saving tackle of Tennessee wide receiver Kevin Dyson at the goal line helped seal the Rams’ first Super Bowl title.
— Isaac Bruce (@IsaacBruce80) September 8, 2019
Isaac Bruce had earned his first and only Super Bowl ring. He also earned Second Team All-Pro honors in the 1999 NFL campaign.
Bruce continued playing at a high level after the Rams’ Super Bowl triumph.
He had five seasons of at least 1,075 receiving yards in his next eight years in St. Louis.
As for the Rams, they were a competitive bunch in the next four years after they won Super Bowl XXXIV.
They made four postseason appearances during that stretch. They ultimately reached Super Bowl XXXVI.
Unfortunately, the New England Patriots ended their quest for a second Vince Lombardi Trophy with a 20-17 win on February 3, 2002.
The Rams were an inept football team from 2005 to 2007. They averaged fewer than six wins during that span.
St. Louis released Bruce after he refused to take a pay cut on February 3, 2008.
Bruce agreed to a two-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers worth up to $6 million a month later.
The move reunited Bruce with his former Rams head coach Mike Martz, who served as San Francisco’s offensive coordinator.
While 49ers great Jerry Rice already gave Bruce permission to wear his already-retired No. 80 jersey, the latter decided to wear No. 88 instead.
You know you’ve been a #49ers fan for a long time when…
— 904 Niners Nation (@904NinersNation) May 28, 2018
Bruce had a combined 1,099 receiving yards and seven touchdowns on 82 receptions during his tenure in the Bay Area.
The 49ers were an average football team with Isaac Bruce on board. They averaged eight wins per year and didn’t contend for the postseason.
San Francisco traded Bruce to St. Louis on June 8, 2020 so he could retire as a member of the Rams organization.
Isaac Bruce’s 15,208 receiving yards are the fifth-most in NFL history. His 91 receiving touchdowns are the 13th-most all-time.
He cemented his legacy as one of the best wideouts who ever played in the National Football League.
Isaac Bruce and his wife Clegzette reside in South Florida with their three children.
Football runs in Bruce’s bloodline.
He is the older cousin of CFL wide receiver Arland Bruce. He’s also the younger cousin of NFL running back Derrick Moore.
Bruce opened his Bruce Zone Training Center in Fort Lauderdale, FL in 2014. It focuses on personal training, rehabilitation, and injury prevention.
He also does youth ministry work at Words of Life Church in North Miami Beach.
Thanks to everyone who came out to the IBF free football clinics today! See you again next year! Thanks to our sponsors who make it possible! @AmerenCorp @EdwardJones @mercysaintlouis @LouFuszFootball @KidsDentistry Performance Chiro pic.twitter.com/ODHFYngA5q
— Isaac Bruce (@IsaacBruce80) June 5, 2021
Bruce launched his St.Louis-based Isaac Bruce Foundation in 2006 which focuses on educating children about the importance of establishing a healthy lifestyle early in their lives.
The foundation gives scholarships to students from Bruce’s alma mater, the University of Memphis, and Broward County, FL every year.
Bruce told ESPN’s Thomas Neumann in 2015 he enjoys awarding scholarships to the students:
“When I award the scholarships every year, I totally enjoy calling up the winners and just hearing the screams of excitement and the rejoicing on the other end of the phone,”
“I truly enjoy that. Those are moments I’ll always cherish and remember.”
Bruce also shows his passion for youth endeavors on the gridiron.
He has volunteered as a wide receivers coach at his high school, Dillard High in Fort Lauderdale, in recent years.
Bruce said he wants his players to “mature into young men.” He also wants to hone their football catching skills, per ESPN.
If there was one player Isaac Bruce would pay to watch, it’s DeSean Jackson.
“If I have to sit down and pay to get in, I’d pay to watch DeSean Jackson,” he told Neumann. “(Odell Beckham, Jr.) is pretty good. A.J. Green, he’s good. But I’d pay to watch Jackson.”
Bruce has expressed an interest in joining an NFL ownership group someday. Urban renewal in various cities has also piqued his interest.
He earned the nickname “The Reverend” because he wanted to become a minister when he retired from professional football.
The Memphis Tigers retired Bruce’s No. 83 jersey in October 2003.
The St. Louis Rams retired Isaac Bruce’s No. 80 jersey seven years later.
Mike Martz, Bruce’s coach with the Rams and offensive coordinator with the 49ers, told The Associated Press (via ESPN) he raised the bar high for the wide receiver position:
“He took a level of excellence and a standard he set for himself throughout his career and worked toward that, a standard higher than anybody else’s.”
“He is the standard of how that position is supposed to be played.”
A month before Bruce’s enshrinement in Canton, he proclaimed to CBS Sports’ Bryan DeArdo he and Torry Holt were the greatest wide receiver duo in NFL history:
“It may seem like a whole lot of arrogance to other people, but numbers don’t lie.”
“Everything we put on the football field, the film, it is what it is. You can always go back and turn it on.”
The explosive duo of Bruce and Holt, esteemed members of the St. Louis Rams’ “The Greatest Show On Turf,” combined for more than 28,500 career receiving yards.
Isaac Bruce became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020 in the summer of 2021.
— x – Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) August 7, 2021
Bruce finally joined other members of “The Greatest Show On Turf” Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, and Orlando Pace in Canton.
Isaac Bruce currently hosts the “Bleav in Rams” podcast with his former Rams teammate Doc Holliday.