Facebook Twitter

Bruce shines in the spotlight

SHARE Bruce shines in the spotlight

NEW ORLEANS — Isaac Bruce would like to be known as a player who makes big catches all the time, not just in big games.

Still, history shows the St. Louis Rams' Pro Bowl wide receiver likes the spotlight.

Two years ago in the Super Bowl, he caught six passes for 162 yards. His 73-yard touchdown reception on an underthrown pass from Kurt Warner against the Tennessee Titans is perhaps the biggest play in franchise history.

"I have a tape of the game at home, and if there is nothing on television, I pop that tape in and fast-forward past everything up to that catch," Bruce said Tuesday during Super Bowl media day interviews. "It was one of the best moments of my career."

In the NFC championship game last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, Bruce had several big moments. The Eagles dropped their safeties deep to discourage the long ball, so the Rams worked their way down the field methodically, and Bruce had a team-leading eight catches for 84 yards and a touchdown.

That included grabs of 15, 12 and 17 yards, all producing first downs during the Rams' 10-play, 71-yard drive in the third quarter of a 29-24 victory. He's one of the best in the NFL at changing direction without sacrificing speed.

"Isaac just had a stupendous game," coach Mike Martz said. "You watch, he'll show up and be a key factor in the Super Bowl."

That's not a role he's played in every game. In the regular-season finale, he hurt his back in the first half because he was wearing new inserts in his shoes and had just one catch for 6 yards. In the Rams' first-round playoff victory over the Packers, he was held to one catch for 19 yards.

In Bruce's defense, a handful of balls intended for him were batted down by Packers linemen. After the game, he said he was open, but just didn't get the ball.

"I don't want to be just a big-game receiver, because there are a lot of games leading up to that big game," Bruce said. "I feel like I can make plays in any game — the first game of the season or the last game of the season or preseason, as long as they keep me in."

Bruce has had far more impressive seasons, but he said he's never played better than right now.

"If I've changed, it's for the better," Bruce said. "I know I'm a lot smarter player, but there's a lot more playmakers on the team."

Bruce made his fourth Pro Bowl, even though he had to share the spotlight and usually was the wide receiver teams game-planned to stop. Both he and Torry Holt had 1,000-yard seasons, and Holt had two more catches and 257 more yards.

Marshall Faulk had a team-leading 83 receptions, 17 more than Bruce.

Both realize double coverage on Bruce creates openings for them.

"We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Isaac," Holt said. "Ike is one of the smoothest route-runners in the game, and it's good to have an opportunity to watch him."

Bruce's most impressive season — at least statistically — remains 1995, the Rams' first year in St. Louis after moving from the West Coast. He had a career-best 119 catches for 1,781 yards, the second-highest total in NFL history, with 13 touchdowns. His next-best year from a statistical standpoint was 87 catches for 1,471 yards last season.

He'll trade both of those for the dangerous balance offered by the 1999 and 2001 teams. Though he didn't get as many catches this year, he averaged a team-best 17.3 yards per reception — and the Rams are in the big game.

"We all play the decoy role," he said, "and it works out just fine."

Bruce believes he and Holt could both have big days on Sunday if the Patriots blitz as often as they have in the past and play bump and run, man-to-man coverage. Bruce had one of his biggest games of the season at New England, catching seven passes for 130 yards.

"I think we'd rather see that," he said. "With the safety in the middle of the field, that means Torry and myself will get a lot of opportunities.

"They kind of played that way the first time, so we just have to fight fire with fire."