When it comes to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, recent years have been good to several cornerstone players of the “The Greatest Show on Turf.”
Running back Marshall Faulk got the call to Canton in 2011 in his first year of eligibility. Left tackle Orlando Pace was inducted in 2016, his second year of eligibility. On Saturday, quarterback Kurt Warner puts on the gold jacket in his third year of eligibility.
And don’t forget defensive back Aeneas Williams. Joining the Greatest Show relatively late in his career in a 2001 trade with the Arizona Cardinals, Williams was inducted in 2014.
One by one, they have taken their place among the game’s all-time greats.
That leaves Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt as the last two pieces of unfinished business when it comes to the Greatest Show and Canton.
(OK, perhaps linebacker London Fletcher, who spent the first four years of his 16-season career with the Rams, has a chance. But he doesn’t become eligible for the Hall of Fame until 2019.)
For now, it’s Bruce and Holt moving into the on-deck circle for Canton. It could be a long wait. Or maybe not. Like Pace and Warner, the two gifted wide receivers became eligible three years ago. Bruce was a finalist last year; Holt has never gotten past the semifinalist round.
Wide receiver has been a logjam position for years when it comes to Hall of Fame voting. It becomes even more so this coming year when Randy Moss becomes eligible. And there’s still Terrell Owens and his candidacy in the mix.
“I’ll tell you, I’d take Isaac and Torry over T.O.,” Jim Haslett said.
Currently linebackers coach for the Cincinnati Bengals, Haslett was head coach of the New Orleans Saints, going against Bruce and Holt and the Rams at the height of the Greatest Show. Later, he got to see Bruce and Holt every day when he was defensive coordinator and then interim head coach in St. Louis (2006-08).
He’ll never forget the first time he met the pair, and the impression they made on him.
It was late afternoon during Super Bowl XXXVI week, and Haslett — then head coach in New Orleans — had a couple of things to take care of at the Saints’ practice facility.
With the Super Bowl in New Orleans that year, the Rams were using the facility for practice in preparation for their contest with New England. But on this day the team had cleared out long ago. Well, not everyone.
“Torry and Isaac were in the weight room lifting,” Haslett recalled. “Nobody else in the whole freaking building but the three of us. They came back to lift weights together.
“I thought, oh my God, this is Week 21 (of the season). You’re gonna play a game here in three days. The biggest game of their life. And you’re in there freaking lifting weights!”
Haslett was amazed. He just sat down and watched them go about their work.
“That was like my first introduction to them,” Haslett said.
That was 15½ years ago. Bruce and Holt had a lot of fun playing receiver for the Rams. But as much as anything, Haslett’s chance meeting with the duo was a fitting snapshot of what they were all about.
They weren’t “me” players. They weren’t divas. They didn’t throw tantrums or try to draw attention to themselves. They were professionals, first and foremost, talented professionals who knew how to prepare and handle their business.
Maybe it’s because Bruce had more longevity, and therefore better career numbers than Holt. Or maybe it’s because Bruce already has been a finalist. But there seems to be a sense that it’s Bruce’s turn for football’s highest honor among the Greatest Show Rams. That he should be next.
Just ask former Rams linebacker Mike “The Tackle” Jones.
“My personal opinion — I tell everybody this — he should be the next guy to go in,” said Jones, now the coach at St. Louis University High.
Jones says he’s very happy for all the “St. Louis” Rams who have gotten into the Hall of Fame, including Warner this Saturday.
“But Isaac is the greatest St. Louis Ram to ever play,” Jones said. “Kurt had a tremendous career with the Rams. But you look at his length of time and Isaac’s length of time. I believe Isaac was here from ’95 to 2007.
“I think he has every receiving record that the Rams have. The amount of games, the touchdowns, the receptions, the yards. You look at every category that a wide receiver can be ranked on, and I think he’s 1 or 2.
“His scope of work is unprecedented. You just can’t say anything but, he’s the greatest St. Louis Ram ever. And I think everybody that’s played with Isaac from ’95 till he left the Rams will say the same thing.”
Haslett, with the perspective of having coached against and coached with Bruce (and Holt), was most impressed with Bruce’s route running and work ethic.
“He’s probably one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around,” Haslett said. “In practice. In the game. All the time. In the weight room. He was a student of the game. He understood coverages. He understood what was going on.”
As for the route running?
“He was by far, I think, the best route runner that probably ever played football as a wide receiver,” Haslett said. “Because everyone would say, ‘Well, he’s not real fast.’ But then he would explode out of a break on a route.
“He would run what we’d call a ‘post-corner’ and he would take it to the next level. He’d run like a post-corner, corner. And you’re like, ‘How’d the hell he put three moves on in the time somebody else would put a foot in the ground twice?’
“That’s how quick he was. The guy was phenomenal.”
The ability to separate from defenders while going in and out of breaks is what separated Bruce from basically every other receiver in his era.
But will it separate him from the pack when it’s time for the next round of Hall of Fame voting?