But the memories came rushing back Sunday as Isaac Bruce’s No. 80 jersey was retired, the Rams beat the Carolina Panthers in their throwback ’99 jerseys (the Rams clinched the NFC West against Carolina that season), and safety Oshiomogho Atogwe and cornerback Ron Bartell paid homage to Bruce by doing the Bob ‘N Weave in the end zone after Atogwe’s interception put the final nail in the Panthers’ coffin.
Atogwe was knocked out of the bounds at the 2-yard line after his 34-yard return. There was 1:24 left on the clock. He and Bartell knew the Panthers had no timeouts remaining. So, the 15-yard penalty for excessive celebration would be meaningless.
A beaming Atogwe said after the game, “That was for Isaac. We weren’t trying to show anyone up or be flashy. But it was the right time and the right place. It was for Isaac.”
Atogwe was 18 years old in 1999, and Bartell 17, but when asked how they knew about the Bob ‘N Weave, which was banned by the NFL after that season, Atogwe said, “If you’re with the Rams, you have to know about the Bob ‘N Weave. But Ron, well, he wasn’t the instigator, but he was passionate about doing it.”
When it was mentioned there would probably be fines coming from the NFL, Atogwe smiled and said, “No problem. We’ll just suggest they give the fine money to Isaac’s foundation.”
Bruce spoke to the team Saturday, and his message, as usual, was prescient.
Said Atogwe, “He talked to us about having fun and belief in the organization. He gave us some history of the Rams’ organization, what it meant to him, and how he used it to uplift his teammates. He talked about having pride and that you’re not just passing through. You should strive to leave the team better than it was.”
Added quarterback Sam Bradford, “He really focused on having confidence in yourself, being positive, always encouraging your teammates. I think it was really good for us as a team to hear that. Isaac is a great guy, and to be able to win on the day we retire his jersey is a great day for the organization.”
Coach Steve Spagnuolo was also impressed. “Terrific as always, in the special way that Isaac does it,” Spagnuolo said of Bruce’s words. “He’s not very loud, but his words speak volumes. What I remember most is him reminding the team to always encourage each other and that’s the thing that sticks out.”
Concluded Atogwe, who was with the team for Bruce’s final three seasons with the Rams, “I learned (from Isaac) about playing with a passion. Everybody knows that Isaac is competitive and there are seldom few who can match his competitiveness. I was out there filled with his spirit and having fun, just how Isaac used to play and practice. I can’t say enough about a phenomenal individual and a blessed man of God.”
That brought back some of Bruce’s words as he spoke before the game.
Said Bruce, “This is just another example of when you honor God, he honors you.”