When the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee met Saturday to sort through 15 modern-day finalists, Isaac Bruce didn’t survive the cutdown.
This wasn’t surprising. With Terrell Owens on the list of finalists for the third consecutive year, and Randy Moss appearing on the ballot for the first time, Bruce had no chance to siphon enough votes from the two prolific receivers. Moss and Owens had the numbers. They get a helluva lot more publicity, and had more folks campaigning for them.
Moss was a gentleman through the process, and the brash Owens continued to portray himself as the target of some sort of Selection Committee Conspiracy. Owens is effective at playing the victim card, so he used it to rally supporters and put pressure on the committee.
But in fairness to Owens and Moss, it’s not as if they have weak cases. Heck, no. Owens finished with 1,078 catches, 15,934 yards (No. 2 all-time) and 153 touchdowns (No. 3.)
Moss is fourth all-time with 15,292 receiving yards and ranks second in NFL history with 156 touchdown grabs.
Owens was sopping up much of the attention with his gripes over the Hall of Fame process.
Moss, on the ballot for the first time, had considerable star power. And he wouldn’t have a problem drawing voters to his side.
I wasn’t in the meeting this year — I couldn’t travel because of back problems — but Owens got enough votes to receive one of five five modern-day slots and a place in the Hall. And Moss breezed through to Canton in his first year of eligibility.
Bruce, a finalist for the second consecutive year, is still waiting.
It had to be difficult to watch multiple wide receivers move ahead of Bruce and reach Canton sooner. The disgust is understandable among those who revere Bruce the man even more than Bruce the wide receiver. He’s a Hall of Famer either way. But with Owens and Moss in the way, Bruce was blocked.
I know you don’t want to hear it, but that’s the truth. Despite the best efforts of sincere individuals who supported Bruce in the selection meeting, Isaac simply would not receive the benefit of full consideration until Owens and Moss were cleared for Canton.
Fortunately, that happened Saturday.
And that was a positive development for Bruce.
With the selections of Moss and Owens, Bruce has a clearer path to the Hall of Fame.
But it isn’t a wide open path. The competition is never soft. And the committee can only, at maximum, choose five of the 15 modern-day finalists.
Bruce and others who didn’t make it this time figure to have a solid shot to be finalists again in 2019. Other top holdover candidates include safety John Lynch, cornerback Ty Law, running back Edgerrin James, and offensive linemen Tony Boselli, Allen Faneca, Kevin Mawae and Stece Hutchinson.
And some big names will eligible for the first time in 2019 including tight end Tony Gonzalez, safety Ed Reed, cornerback Champ Bailey, middle linebacker London Fletcher and cornerback Asante Samuel.
But please keep this in mind: there’s obviously a lot of support in the room for Bruce or he wouldn’t have made it to the Final 15 for two years in a row. And that in itself bodes well for his future chances. When a candidate is a finalist on multiple occasions, his chances for induction are excellent. That’s because he already has a good foundation of support among the selectors. Then it becomes a matter of more voters getting behind him.
That’s easier to do now that two prominent wide receivers were voted into the Pro Football Hall for 2018. Bruce will face competition down the road from Reggie Wayne and Steve Smith Sr., but he has a better overall case.
I’ve gone through these numbers before, so I’ll keep it tight this time:
A) Bruce had big-time stats. At the the time Bruce retired, only Jerry Rice had more receiving yards in league history … only four players had more career receptions … and only eight had caught more touchdown passes. Even now, having been retired for eight seasons, Bruce ranks fifth all-time with 15,208 receiving yards.
B) Isaac Bruce won a Super Bowl for the 1999 Rams with a special 73-yard catch-and-run after tracking an under-thrown pass, coming back to snare it, and then making a move to beat the Tennessee defensive back to the end zone.
C) And I really get ticked off when I hear someone say, “Isaac Bruce put up all of those numbers because he was part of those ‘Greatest Show’ teams.”
Over a two-season period, 1995 – 1996, Bruce led all NFL wide receivers with 3,119 yards … which means he had more yards than Jerry Rice … over the two years Bruce averaged 102 catches, 1,559 yards, and 10 touchdowns… His quarterbacks were Mark Rypien, Chris Miller, Steve Walsh, and Tony Banks … the starting wideout opposite Bruce was Todd Kinchen … the second-leading receiver was tight end Troy Drayton. The running backs were a banged-up Jerome Bettis in ’95, and mediocre rookie Lawrence Phillips in ‘96. Bruce thrived for an offense that had no stars and a weak supporting cast. If anything you can argue that the Greatest Show suppressed Bruce’s career numbers because the offense had so many viable options for pass distribution.
Finally, I’m more confident of Bruce making it to Canton for this simple reason: the committee is doing a great job of doing something about the backlog of wide receiver candidates. The proliferation of the modern passing game has led to wide receivers amassing huge receiving stats.
In the 1970s, NFL teams combined for an average of 52.5 passing attempts and 351 gross passing yards per game.
In the 1990s: teams combined for an average 65 passing attempts and 441 gross passing yards per game.
Let’s move forward: from 2010 through the 2017 season that just ended, NFL teams combined for 70 passing attempts and 496 gross passing yards per game.
Many receivers have big numbers, and those receiving stats will continue to grow. And even though it’s never been easier to roll up catches and receiving yards and touchdowns, the diva receivers think they’re first-ballot locks for Canton. And if they have to wait a couple of years, or even five years … it’s a crime. It’s a human-rights violation.
I was watching the NFL Network last week when retired Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin said the selection committee “doesn’t respect wide receivers?”
The committee has voted in 13 wide receivers over the last 18 years.
In the 21 years before that, only six wide receivers gained induction to Canton.
We’re putting in wide receivers at a faster rate than at any time in Hall of Fame history.
And I can definitely think of one WR who needs to go into the Hall of Fame very soon.
Thanks for reading …