NFL: 49ers' Martz and Bruce appear pumped to face their ex-team, the Rams
By Jim Thomas
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS — At the NFL scouting combine last February, Mike Martz was getting peppered with questions about being forced out in Detroit. It was pointed out that his new club, San Francisco, was scheduled to play the Lions in 2008.
"You're assuming there's a lot of anger and angst, and there's not," Martz said playfully. "I love being in this division (NFC West). I love being out West again."
Then came the punch line: "Playing St. Louis again; that's another ball of wax."
That time is at hand. On Sunday, Martz and the San Francisco 49ers play host to the Rams at Candlestick Park. True, Martz has already faced his old team — in 2006 as offensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions.
But this is different. This is the 49ers, the team that Martz used to love to hate. With the possible exception of Isaac Bruce, no one got as fired up for 49ers week at Rams Park as Mad Mike. The same Mike Martz who as Rams head coach gleefully pulled out a broom in the cramped visitors locker room at Candlestick in 2000 to symbolize a season sweep over the old West Coast rival.
"It was cool," recalled Torry Holt, one of a handful of current Rams who were in the locker room that day. "It showed us that he's in tune with what's going on. And it showed some personality there, too, with the broom and stuff."
At the Senior Bowl last January, Martz's first official duty as a 49er, he ran into a couple of former Rams whom he once coached in St. Louis.
"They were like, 'Coach, I can't believe this,"' Martz recalled. "It was hard, believe me. When I put that (49ers) red jacket on. ..."
That was nine months ago. Although it has been three years since Martz last coached in St. Louis, he'd like nothing better than to show the Rams they made a mistake in firing him after the 2005 season.
By the numbers, it sure looks like a mistake. The Rams were 56-36 under Martz; they are 17-35 since he last coached a game for St. Louis.
And just imagine how Bruce feels. After 14 seasons with the Rams, through incredible highs and lows, Bruce was unceremoniously released last February. The Rams announced the move in a terse news release.
It didn't take Bruce long to join Martz in San Francisco. Sunday marks Bruce's first game against the Rams. Call it the Mike and Ike Game.
"Mike and Ike? You mean like the candies?" Rams linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa joked.
No, the coach and the wide receiver. Both highly competitive. And both integral parts of one of the greatest offenses in NFL history.
"A lot of history with those guys," Holt said. "It should be fun. I know those guys, they'll be honed in and tuned in, ready to go."
Ready to stick it to the Rams. Martz respectfully declined an interview request by the Post-Dispatch on Tuesday. Things didn't even get that far with Bruce, who refused to do a 10-minute conference call with the St. Louis media Wednesday.
Neither Martz nor Bruce will ever have a career in diplomacy. So chalk up their reluctance to talk as a case of if you don't have anything good to say ...
They want to beat the Rams, not talk about how their tenures ended with the organization.
Martz, unhappy about not getting his contract extended, lost a power struggle with president of football operations Jay Zygmunt.
After being asked to take a second pay cut in three years with the Rams, Bruce was deemed expendable. His replacement, $30 million free agent Drew Bennett, suffered a season-ending foot injury after making his one and only catch of this season.
Bruce isn't putting up monster numbers in San Francisco, but his 411 receiving yards, 17.1 yards a catch and four touchdowns are better than anything put up so far by Rams pass catchers, including Holt — Bruce's running mate for nine seasons in St. Louis. They formed one of the best wide receiver duos in NFL history.
"I think so," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "Twenty years from now, you'll be able to say 'The Greatest Show on Turf' and I think everyone will be able to spit out the names. ... When they were going, it was special just to be a part of some of those records those guys set. I'm just happy I was able to play with those guys for a couple years."
As the losses and the offensive woes have mounted in St. Louis, the appreciation for Martz and Bruce seems to have grown in the locker room at Rams Park.
"Mike just wanted to win, man," Holt said. "Even though he may have (ticked) some people off, he did it his way. And when we came in on Wednesday and we got the game plan, we knew that he was going to attack people for four quarters — no matter what was going on with our football team.
"So I admire and respect that a lot with Coach Martz. His 'I'm going to whoop-your-(butt)' type of attitude. He was really into, and he still is, trying to embarrass you defensively with his offense. As a receiver and as a skill player, you've got to love being in his offense. Hands down. No question about it."
Or as Dane Looker succinctly put it: "He'd try to step on your throat any time he could."
As for Bruce, he brought leadership, focus, confidence and resiliency to work with him every day at Rams Park.
"I sat next to Isaac for seven years, right next to him in the meeting room," Looker said. "So I always picked his brain, just trying to get as much as I could out of him on how to run routes and play football.
"He's a great counselor on the field. He's also kind of a counselor off the field as well.
"Everyone thinks Isaac didn't talk much. But when he did, you listened. Just stuff on nutrition. Spirituality. All kinds of things. He would just kind of impart his wisdom on you."
On Sunday, the only thing Bruce wants to impart on his former teammates are catches, yards, and a touchdown or two. Which is why Tinoisamoa says he's waiting until after the game to renew acquaintances.
"I want to actually hit him pretty good," Tiniosamoa said. "Seriously, I do. I want to hit him pretty good because I know he's going to come out, he's going to try to prove something. We don't want that. It'll be good to see him do good, but not against us.
"So when I hit him, I'm not going to say nothing because I want to hit him again, and hit him again, and I'll say something to him after the game."