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Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt brought out best in one another

During an August 2017 interview on the Rich Eisen show, former Rams quarterback Kurt Warner offered a compelling reason why wide receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce had yet to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Working against the duo, Warner surmised, is the fact they played together. Had they played separately, perhaps they could've put up bigger numbers and wouldn't be compared against each other so often when having their candidacies evaluated.

At the same time, Warner and former teammate Orlando Pace also see those accomplishments while sharing the field as an accolade that should work in their favor.

"They're both competitors," Pace said in a phone interview this week. "The best analogy I can say is iron sharpens iron."

Indeed, both Bruce and Holt brought out the best in each other on their way to hall of fame-caliber careers.

Former Rams defensive tackle D'Marco Farr arrived on the team as the same time as Bruce in 1994. His locker was right next to Bruce's for seven straight seasons, giving him a front-row seat to Bruce's rise.

Before teaming with Holt to help the Rams launch the offensive juggernaut that was the Greatest Show on Turf era and producing numbers worthy of hall of fame consideration, Bruce was their primary producer on that side of the ball.

"It's beyond the numbers, man," Farr said in a phone interview. "You gotta look at what he meant to us with those numbers. He was the only thing we had that was scary offensively."

Bruce had a relatively quiet rookie season but followed it up finishing as the Rams' leading receiver for each of the next two years, highlighted by 119 receptions for 1,781 yards and 13 touchdowns in 1995 – all career-highs and team-highs for the Rams that season.

"He became our confidence, so to speak," Farr said. "It used to be funny, from the defensive side of the bench when the offense was on the field, we would be screaming across the field to the other team's defense, 'Aye, the ball is going to 80!' and they still couldn't stop him. We would make fun of them for, 'Look, we only have one guy and he's still killing you.'"

Bruce, according to Farr, only knew one speed, which is to say that Bruce's effort in practices were no different than games. Farr said he used to have to tell Bruce to take it easy on the Rams' young cornerbacks in order to not shatter their confidence and help them get better instead.

"I'd never seen anything like him until we got this kid from North Carolina State," Farr said.

That kid from North Carolina State, of course, was Holt.

"Like, wow, ok, so, here's a guy that's not backing down from the challenge of being as great as Isaac on the practice field, not backing down from the challenge of our corners going at him and he's excelling, just like Isaac Bruce," Farr said. "And in games, when his hand is up, he feels he's open just like Isaac. So it depends on which way the quarterback is looking, but either way the ball is going downfield with the both of them."

Soon, other teammates would see what Farr was seeing.

Those same work habits was one of the first things that stood out to former Rams running back Marshall Faulk during his earliest interactions with Holt.

Right away, Faulk could tell Holt was a student of the game who had a high level of professionalism at a very young age. Those attributes made for a quick transition from college to the NFL.

That cliché about the game slowing down for younger players as they gain more experience?

Holt didn't need to wait.

"He came in, and man, his ability to play fast, and his ability to think while playing fast, was thoroughly impressive," Faulk said. "A lot of people don't understand that the process of thought slows down speed quicker than anything. And for him, that was not an issue. That was not an issue. I mean, he was a grown man as a rookie, but the best part was just how eager he was to learn. A lot of tangibles that a lot of young guys (are missing), he had coming in."

While Faulk joined the Rams around the same time as Holt, he was already quite familiar with Bruce.

When he was with the Indianapolis Colts, Faulk scrimmaged against Bruce and the Rams at the University of Illinois during training camp in 1998. Much like Holt, it didn't take long for Faulk to figure out Bruce was special.

"First play of the game, (the Rams) ran a play-action and threw this beautiful bomb to Isaac Bruce, and I was like, 'Oh my God,'" Faulk said. "He had the ability to catch the ball over his shoulder and not lose stride. You want to talk about somebody that could track a football, and his ability to run routes? Just the ability to track the football, and it didn't matter if he was in traffic, I think that was impressive."

Issues with his hamstring would limit Bruce to just five games that year, but that one play from the preseason was enough for Faulk to see how talented Bruce was. A little over eight months later, Faulk would team up with Bruce thanks to a trade between the Colts and the Rams.

In his first season in St. Louis, Faulk saw Bruce finish with 77 catches for 1,165 yards and 12 touchdowns to help the team finish 13-3 and capture Super Bowl XXXIV.

Across the seven seasons Faulk, Bruce and Holt shared the field, the trio posted the following stat lines:

• Bruce: 501 receptions, 7,615 receiving yards, 48 receiving touchdowns.

• Faulk: 470 receptions, 4,071 receiving yards, 27 receiving touchdowns.

• Holt: 619 receptions, 9,487 receiving yards, 54 receiving touchdowns.

Asked about Warner's opinion that playing together works against Holt and Bruce when it should instead be part of their case for induction, Faulk said he agreed with that statement.

"Add to that dynamic – look at how many balls I caught," Faulk said. "Now just imagine, most of the guys that are in the hall of fame, they were a one-man band. They may have had a running back who ran the football and they may have had another wide receiver who was average, but never did they have what Isaac and Torry had."

The way Faulk sees it, take away his involvement in the passing game and there's no question Bruce and Holt end up with more 100-catch seasons than they already had.

"When you look at it, that is just unbelievable," Faulk said. "As a tandem, they were able to put up the numbers that they did and have me catching balls in the backfield. It blows me away when you really think about it."


Holt said this month that he couldn't have walked into a better situation when he was a rookie due to the example set by the experienced players already on the team. One of those veterans he mentioned by name was Bruce.

Based on Pace's comments, it comes as no surprise.

"Every time Isaac did something special, I think Torry looked at that and it really probably made him a better pro," Pace said.

From Pace's perspective, both were competitors who shared a mutual respect for one another and were driven to win championships. That mindset left an enduring impact on the team.

"When we were playing for the Rams, it was the diva receiver, the big personalities. (Isaac) and Bruce were neither of those things," Pace said. "They just went about their business, played football, made plays. They didn't pout. They weren't bad locker room guys. These were great men, great teammates, great leaders on our team that made us better."

Three members of the Greatest Show on Turf have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Now, they are ready to welcome two more.

"Obviously, we have a great contingency with the Greatest Show on Turf with myself, Kurt and Marshall, but we're just waiting on those guys," Pace said. "And every time we see each other we talk about the hall of fame, (and how) it wouldn't be complete until those two guys are in the Hall of Fame. I'm expecting a big weekend. … I think they're deserving of it. But as their teammate, it would be a proud moment for me as well."

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