Isaac Bruce still waiting: Pro Football Hall of Fame postpones enshrinement ceremony to 2021
Isaac Bruce waited six years before his selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, way too long if you ask any St. Louis Rams fan. Now he must wait again — for his enshrinement ceremony.
The Hall of Fame announced Thursday that this year’s enshrinement — set for Aug. 8 — has been postponed until August 2021 due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
“The health and safety of our Hall of Famers, fans and volunteers who make enshrinement week so special remains our top priority,” David Baker, president and CEO of the Hall of Fame, said via press release. “The Hall will honor the Centennial Class of 2020 next August, along with what promises to be an equally spectacular Class of 2021, as part of a multi-day celebration of football with an atmosphere that will deliver for fans ‘Twice the Fun in ’21.’”
The National Baseball Hall of Fame canceled its 2020 induction ceremony, scheduled for July 26 in Cooperstown, N.Y., nearly two months ago due to the pandemic. It has been pushed back to July 2021.
Why it took football so long to make its decision is anyone’s guess. Logistics will be a nightmare next year in Canton, Ohio, in terms of hotels, dining, and venue space for the traditional inductee parties.
The Class of ’20 is huge, with 20 inductees in what was billed as the NFL’s Centennial Class. The normal class is usually eight inductees or less. Plans call for induction ceremonies to be held on separate nights for the Class of ’20 and the Class of ’21.
But what about the Gold Jacket dinner, normally held in the Canton convention center the night before the enshrinement? Floor seating is normally at a premium for the highly-anticipated dinner when there are only eight inductees instead of 28.
Bruce was hoping for a separate event for the Class of 2020. And Thursday’s announcement isnt quite that. A Hall of Fame induction amounts to a lifetime achievement award for inductees. For them, it’s a moment that happens once, and once only.
“My perfect script for it, absolutely,” Bruce told the Post-Dispatch on Monday. “Just let us have our day to shine. And let the next class do what they need to do.”
But at the end of the day, being a member of football’s most exclusive club is all that matters.
“Me personally, as long as I don’t have to give the title back — the new title back,” Bruce said, laughing.
The one that reads: Isaac Bruce, HOF ’20. That’s how Hall of Famers sign autographs.
“And the ring,” Bruce added. “I think the ring is very significant. So as long as I can keep those things, I’m good.”
MUCH TO DO
Prior to the coronavirus shutdown in March, Tiffani Wilson Burris flew to Bruce’s home in South Florida to come up with a guest list for Canton. Wilson Burris, a St. Louisan who is executive director and manager of the Isaac Bruce Foundation, said it took them 4 ½ hours.
“Just going through the list figuring out who he wanted to make sure was there, you could just tell he was getting really excited about it,” she said. “And I think just being able to be around the people that helped him, that has been special, that’s he’s going to be surrounded by all those people at once.”
It’s a guest list of 325, with each guest allowed to bring a “plus-one”; so potentially, that’s 650 friends, relatives, former teammates, coaches — you name it.
“You know what, when you play 14 years in one place (St. Louis), two years in another place (San Francisco) — a total of 16 — that’s just in the professional ranks,” Bruce said. “You come across a lot of teammates, coaches and guys that really helped you.
“Even guys that were performing on a scout team, they benefited me a lot by really just giving me a look in practice. . . . And then you talk about the college ranks, the high school ranks. I come from a high school (Dillard High in Fort Lauderdale) that’s like ingrained into the community. It’s over 100 years old and football’s been a big part of that for many of those years.
“And then to have someone from that school go into a professional sports Hall of Fame, I mean, it’s huge. They’re looking forward to it. So a lot of those people had to be invited as well.”
Bruce and Wilson Burris sent the list a while ago to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but the Hall never sent out the official invitation to guests. Bruce and Wilson Burris booked a venue for the post-enshrinement party, but as they waited to see what happened there was still entertainment to be booked, food to be ordered, lighting and additional furniture needed for the venue, flight arrangements to be made, and all sorts of other details to finalize.
Now, all that must wait till next year.
The delay created anxiety for just about everyone involved and everyone planning a trip to Canton for Bruce’s enshrinement. Coach Dick Vermeil, for example, calls Wilson Burris almost every week to get an update.
“We’re just trying to keep him calm,” Bruce said, laughing. “It’s a big deal for Coach.”
As for Bruce, he’s keeping it even-keel — as usual.
“It’s one of those mid-stream adjust things, like Frank Gansz always talked about,” Bruce said. “And just be prepared for it, be prepared for however they want to do it.”
The late, great “Crash” Gansz was special teams coach on the Rams’ Super Bowl XXXIV championship team.
Adjusting on the fly has led to a unique set of circumstances when it comes to Bruce’s Hall of Fame bust. Normally, he would’ve flown to the Utah home of sculptor Blair Buswell and posed in early spring. But not during the pandemic.
The Hall of Fame voting takes place on the day before the Super Bowl, which conveniently for Bruce took place in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area. Bruce met briefly with Buswell there, the day after the Super Bowl. (And also was measured for his gold jacket and ring.)
He gets the ring at a Rams game sometime this coming season. The gold jacket is presented at a dinner in Canton, the night before induction. The bust is unveiled on stage during the enshrinement ceremony.
Once the pandemic hit, Bruce picked out a photo for Buswell to use as a starting point on the bust. Anyone who’s watched Bruce run routes as a wide receiver knows he’s a perfectionist. And so it was with the photo.
“He’s very particular on photos, always has been,” Wilson Burris said
Bruce and Wilson Burris went through all kinds of pictures — head shots from Rams media guides over the years, pictures from community events, etc. — to find the exact facial expression Bruce wanted for his bust. In the end it was the head shot from the 2002 Rams media guide.
Once that was settled, social media took over.
“I posed for (Buswell), just sitting via Zoom,” Bruce said. “Just sitting in front of my iPad, him watching me, telling me to turn around, show this profile. Left, right. I was helping out as best I could.
“He’s doing a good job. I’m pretty impressed with the progress that he’s made.”
New Hall of Fame members have an exhibit, and Bruce has sent all kinds of memorabilia. His Super Bowl XXXVI jersey (from the loss to New England) . . . a Pro Bowl jersey . . . a game-worn throwback jersey from 1999 . . . a game ball from his first NFL catch . . . game-worn cleats . . . Super Bowl helmets . . . practice sweats and shorts from training camp in Macomb, Ill., . . . stuff from his college days at Memphis . . . even his letterman’s jacket from Dillard High. And more.
Interestingly, Bruce did not send his jersey from Super Bowl XXXIV (the victory over Tennessee). Apparently, he’s not sharing that.
Beyond the Hall of Fame activity, Bruce always seems to be involved in something.
In May, his foundation awarded three college scholarships to students in St. Louis and Fort Lauderdale. His Flight 300 program once again is offering to pay for transportation for college-bound students. (The application deadline is July 1 at isaacbruce.org.)
Registration is open for his free youth football camp, scheduled for July 25 at Rams Park. (Bruce will have access to all three fields at Rams Park, so there will be social-distancing and no contact at the camp.)
And his annual fundraising gala in St. Louis has been pushed back to Oct. 2, and is still a “go” at this point. This year’s gala is being billed as a celebration with St. Louis of Bruce’s Hall of Fame induction.
Back home in South Florida, Bruce is on the Dillard board interviewing candidates for the head football coach job. With schools shut down during the pandemic, he has helped wife Clegzette tutor their two daughters.
“I was the first hour out of the day,” Bruce said. “I was the Bible instructor . . . Any words that they didn’t recognize, you have to write ‘em down, give a definition for. And I gave commentary on what was being spoken, and who was it written to, what was it about. And we did confessions based on the word.
“So I had the first hour and probably the last hour, where I took the entire family through physical training sessions.”
Which sounds equally daunting.
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