Will Isaac Bruce Cap Career With Appearance in St. Louis?
The last remaining Los Angeles Rams player still active -- Bruce was a second-round draft pick there in 1994 -- is preparing for what figures to be his last hurrah.
Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome, where Bruce was a standout until he left for San Francisco after the 2007 season, figures to be his last, capping a prolific career in which he compiled 15,208 receiving yards – second-most in league history -- and 1,024 catches, which ranks fifth among NFL receivers.
Now the dean of a young, developing 49ers receiving corps that features first-round draft pick Michael Crabtree, Bruce, 37, was supplanted from the starting lineup in mid-season by Josh Morgan. This week, Morgan and other 49ers receivers approached coach Mike Singletary and Morgan offered to return his starting spot to Bruce, a four-time Pro Bowler and one of the signature players in the Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf" Super Bowl era.
Bruce, who has battled nagging injuries throughout much of the season, hasn't even been in uniform six of the 49ers' last seven games. On Wednesday, Bruce told the St. Louis media in a conference call that he was "75 percent" certain he is retiring after this season, and Singletary strongly hinted that Bruce will be on the field on Sunday in the city that made him a receiving icon.
Bruce , who rarely speaks to the media, said this week that he does want to play in this game, at a place where fans lovingly chanted his nickname "Ike" and consider him NFL royalty.
"Well, going back to St. Louis is always special for me. It gives me a chance to see the guys that run the dome," Bruce said. "It gives me another opportunity to look at the banners and the rafters and just have some of the memories that I had when I was playing there with some of my former teammates."
He admitted it was not choice this season to be deactivated so that the younger 49ers wideouts could get more playing time.
"No, that wasn't my decision. I don't make decisions like that," Bruce said. "The head coach makes decisions like that, and he let me know of the decision that he made, and I did agree that Josh was ready to play."
Bruce said he was surprised that his younger teammates stepped forward to request he take one of their spots on the game-day roster and admitted, "I don't think I would have done it."
Will this game appearance, whether it's a curtain call or a chance to prove he's still fresh enough to play in 2010, ultimately impact Bruce's legacy?
"In a way, but like I said, I don't think those guys' ability to grow and the experience that they gain, I don't think that should be interrupted, not even by me," Bruce said. "I think they've earned [the right] to be starters in this league and to be starters on this team. I was a little shocked, but at the same time, they should play."
Bruce has indicated he may enter the ministry or perhaps become a teacher when his football career ends. One of the NFL's most dignified players, "Reverend Ike" never made headlines for anything other than his superior play and he has never touted himself or his abilities. Rather, Bruce let his on-field performances and his work ethic speak for him.
Someone asked Bruce how he wished to be remembered and what his legacy should be, if his career does conclude on Sunday.
"A man of no reputation," he said simply.