In less than a week, the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s selection committee will gather in San Francisco to elect the Class of 2016.
Among the 15 modern-era finalists are wide receivers Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens. For the life of him, former Rams coach Mike Martz doesn’t understand why Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt aren’t in the discussion.
For the second year in a row, Bruce and Holt failed to reach the finals in the Hall of Fame voting. All the more disconcerting to Martz is the fact that Owens leapfrogged Bruce and Holt into the finals in this, Owens’ first year of eligibility.
“‘Surprised’ isn’t the word,” Martz said. “You can’t print how I felt when T.O. leapfrogged those two. That’s just plain out-and-out ridiculous.”
In contrast to Owens’ often controversial career, the Rams didn’t really have any divas, showboats, or “me” players during the brief but dazzling Greatest Show on Turf period. From Kurt Warner, to Orlando Pace, to Bruce and Holt — even Marshall Faulk — the Rams just went about their business under Dick Vermeil, and then Martz, as head coach.
“Had they promoted themselves, which was contrary to everything we were about, they’d probably get in without an issue,” Martz said. “Had they pulled a T.O., they’re probably get in without an issue. That’s just not who we were.
“If they big-timed it and did all that dumb stuff, they’d probably get in earlier. I think they’ll eventually get in. I don’t think that’s an issue, but it’s tragic that people think of them like that. If Marvin Harrison gets in, how could they not get in?”
One of the problems with the biggest stars of the Greatest Show is that they all retired at the same time, which meant they all became Hall-eligible at the same time. Warner, Pace, Bruce and Holt all became eligible for the first time a year ago.
And there’s simply no way four members of the same team are going in during the same year. (A maximum of five modern-era players can be elected each year.)
So if Pace and Warner get in soon, that probably helps clear the decks for Bruce and Holt to a degree. Pace and Warner are both finalists for the second year in a row. It will be surprising if Pace doesn’t get in this year; then again, it was surprising that he didn’t get in last year. The first-time eligibility of Brett Favre this year may make it tough for Warner to make the Class of 2016.
There’s no doubt that Bruce and Holt have Hall of Fame credentials. For starters, both caught touchdown passes in the Rams’ Super Bowl XXXIV triumph over Tennessee, with Bruce’s being the game-winner.
“You kinda start with that,” Martz said “Look at their production. More importantly, look at their yards per catch. And then look at it consistently over a long period of time — it’ll compare to anybody. In some cases, nobody comes close. I mean nobody’s even come close to what Torry did.”
Holt’s six consecutive seasons of 1,300-plus receiving yards from 2000 through 2005 is a league record. Knee issues helped limit his career to 11 seasons, but he had more yards in his first nine seasons (11,864) than anyone in league history. That’s right, more than even Jerry Rice.
As for Bruce, he ended his career second on the NFL’s all-time list in reception yards (15,208) and fifth in receptions (1,024). He still ranks fourth and ninth, respectively, in those categories six years later in what increasingly has become a pass-happy league.
One of the apparent knocks against Bruce is that he was a product of the Martz system and benefited from the talented players around him.
That’s a faulty line of reasoning early in his career because he had 119 catches for 1,781 yards in 1995, and 84 catches for 1,338 yards in ’96 — long before the Greatest Show on Turf cast was assembled.
In 1995, for example, the team’s No. 2 receiver in terms of receptions and yards, tight end Troy Drayton, had only 47 catches for 458 yards. The running game was weak that year as well. Even though Jerome Bettis would be a future Hall of Famer at running back, he got in coach Rich Brooks’ doghouse with a contract holdout, then suffered a nagging foot injury, and finished with only 637 yards rushing — the second-lowest total of his 13-year NFL career.
So Bruce was literally the only player opposing defenses had to worry about in those years, and still was virtually unstoppable. Later in his career — when Holt, Faulk, and Warner were around — Bruce’s opportunities were actually limited to a degree because of the great cast around him.
“People say, ‘well it was the system,’” Martz said. “It wasn’t the system. The system worked against him because we had other receivers, plus the running back, and the tight end that were catching passes.
“So it wasn’t like (Bruce and Holt) were targeted more than anybody else. We targeted everybody. We spread it around. They were able to get these numbers, in spite of not being targeted as much as so many other receivers were in the league. And then both of them in big games just showed up big.”
Bruce started his career five years ahead of Holt, in 1994 with the Los Angeles Rams. But starting in 1999, Holt’s rookie year and the Rams’ Super Bowl championship season, they were paired together for nine seasons in St. Louis.
For the first three or four years they played together, Martz said defenses rolled their coverage to Bruce.
“They doubled Isaac all the time,” Martz said. “They went 2-on-1 on Isaac all the time. And he still had the numbers.”
But not enough to reach Hall of Fame finalist status so far.