(Mike Martz, Isaac Bruce photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Rams)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
Hines Ward is Hall-of-Fame eligible next year, joining Terrell Owens in the line of wide receivers waiting at Canton's doors. But they're not alone. No, there are two other wide receivers of consequence in the queue, though neither was a finalist in his first two years of eligibility.
I'm talking about Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.
Both have been semifinalists since becoming Canton eligible in 2015, but neither made the cut from 25 to 15 as Owens did in his first try … and there's someone out there who believes that's an injustice. In fact, he believes Holt and Bruce not only should be finalists ... but should be in the Hall.
"When you just look at the numbers and the productivity over a long period of time," former coach Mike Martz said on a recent Talk of Fame Network broadcast, "I don’t know how you can deny them."
Martz is not exactly an unbiased spectator. He coached Holt and Bruce at St. Louis when the Rams put the "Greatest Show on Turf" into two Super Bowls, winning one of them, and set records for offensive productivity. Running back Marshall Faulk was on that team, and he's in the Hall. So is left tackle Orlando Pace, with quarterback Kurt Warner a trendy pick to join them as a member of the Class of 2017.
(Torry Holt photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Rams)
But where does that leave Bruce and Holt? On the outside looking in, that's where, and Martz doesn't get it.
"It's hard when you look at a 10-year span for Torry, for instance," said Martz. "His first 10 years were the best in the history of the league of any receiver. How does that not get him in and of itself?
"And then Isaac, in his long career and his productivity … Go back and look at the big games and how well he performed … and the key plays that he makes in those games. These guys are difference-makers that impacted their teams to make them championship teams, and they helped those teams win."
Martz has a point. In his 10 seasons with the Rams, Holt had an NFL-record six straight years with at least 1,300 yards receiving, an NFL-best six straight seasons with 90 or more receptions, was the fastest player to reach 11,000 yards receiving (130 games) and had an NFL-record 868 receptions in a single decade (2000-09).
Oh, yeah, he was also a seven-time Pro Bowl choice, three-time All-Pro and member of the 2000s' all-decade team.
Then there's Bruce. He had eight years of 1,000 or more yards, ranks fourth all-time in receiving yards, ninth in career receptions, 12th in career touchdown catches, was a five-time Pro Bowler and made some of the biggest catches in the history of the franchise – including a 73-yard reception late in Super Bowl XXXIV that propelled the Rams to a 23-16 defeat of the Tennessee Titans.
When we caught up to Pace at this year's Hall-of-Fame induction, I asked him which player or coach he'd give a pass to Canton for induction. After considering Warner and Holt, he chose Bruce.
And Martz understands why.
"What made him so special?" he was asked on the Talk of Fame Network.
"You don’t have enough time," Martz said. "When you watch him run one-on-one, there wasn’t a corner that would line up off him and try to cover him. They tried everything. After awhile they started double-covering him; backed the corner off Torry and ran a linebacker out to him.
"Isaac, after a few years, was double covered all the time. So these numbers … he's getting doubled most of the time. And some of the inside receiver's numbers started going up because of it. But, nonetheless, one-one one, there wasn’t a corner in this league he didn’t beat in this league and beat him routinely.
"His low center of gravity, his ability to change direction without shuffling his feet and the competitive edge that he had was beyond reproach. The best I've ever seen."