Walter Iooss Jr.

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  • The Rams great spent his early retirement years going with the flow as voters decided his Hall of Fame fate. But with a glut of wide receivers up for enshrinement (including teammate Isaac Bruce), and the current NFL making his exceptional numbers look less so, Holt has come to realize it’s time to speak up.
By Jonathan Jones
July 31, 2019

WAKE FOREST, N.C. — Torry Holt came prepared. For a mid-summer, Sunday afternoon interview, he arrives with a Macbook and a Five Star spiral notebook. Within each are ideas, statistics and readings.

Deep into our conversation at this juice bar he frequents, I ask Holt about a stat of his I came across but don’t have at my fingertips. Don’t you have the most receiving yards by a player in his first five years in NFL history?

“Yep,” Holt replies as he reaches for his iPhone. He searches for what appears to be a graphic posted to Instagram. “I had 6,784 yards, and [Randy] Moss had 6,743.”

The former St. Louis Rams great is gearing up for his Hall of Fame push. To self-promote is unnatural to him, but in the last few months he has leaned in any time a microphone is near. Neither he nor any of his representatives requested an interview, but when approached for this story he recognized the value in getting his side out there.

Holt has a solid case for Canton. No player in NFL history has strung together more 1,300-yard seasons consecutively (six) than Holt. Only Jerry Rice has more consecutive 1,100-yard seasons (nine to eight). He has a Super Bowl ring. He was a member of the revolutionary Greatest Show on Turf. In 11 seasons he went to seven Pro Bowls, made two All-Pro teams and led the league in receiving yards twice. Holt was one of four receivers named to the 2000s All Decade Team, and he’s the only one of that quartet to not be in the Hall despite being a semifinalist the last five years.

“For me it’s if it’s going to happen, I’ve got to make it happen,” he says. “I’ve got to force the issue in a positive and respectful way.”


“I just want more dialogue around the case. Not 2-3 minutes. Not 6-8 minutes,” says Holt, referring to the amount of time case is presented as a semifinalist, which is shorter than that of the 15 finalists. “Let’s break it all down. You can’t tell me it’ll take you 3-4 minutes to break down my career. But if that’s what I’m dealing with, then I ain’t gonna get a chance … Just have that conversation. If I know that that has happened, then I’m O.K. But I know that’s not happening.”

That a receiver has to wait to get into the Hall of Fame is nothing new. Only six receivers have made it on the first ballot. Hell, Lynn Swann had to wait more than a decade to get to Canton. Holt’s case presents some unique challenges, though.

His career was cut short by a knee injury, so he doesn’t have the same longevity as some of his peers. He played on an all-time great team that already has three members in the Hall (Kurt Warner, Orlando Pace, Marshall Faulk). The longer he waits, the more competition enters the fray for coveted spots, and all the while his impressive numbers from the 2000s start to look more pedestrian as NFL offenses continue to dominate.

But perhaps his biggest roadblock—at least for now—is a former teammate. Isaac Bruce is fifth all-time in receiving yards and a three-time finalist for the Hall. Of the six retired players among the top seven on the all-time receiving yards list (hello, future first-ballot Larry Fitzgerald), Bruce is the only player not in the Hall.

It would seem Bruce’s longevity (16 years compared to Holt’s 11), career numbers (15,208 yards and 91 TDs to Holt’s 13,382 yards and 74 TDs) and established position on the team as the Rams morphed into the Greatest Show outweighs Holt’s solid decade in the minds of the Hall voters.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

“[Holt] is absolutely deserving,” says The Sports Xchange’s Howard Balzer, a 16-year Hall voter who presents Rams finalists to voters each year. “When everyone looks at this or that, you could make the case that perhaps he’s more deserving than Isaac, and I’m not going to say that anybody is wrong in thinking that. But obviously the majority, however many votes it’s been, believes Isaac is more worthy.”

Holt recognized this potential roadblock once he started creeping into Hall of Fame conversations. He promises there’s no animosity toward Bruce, saying they can’t help that they “played on the same team and had 1A and 1A receivers.” And he points to Swann and John Stallworth in Pittsburgh, and Andre Reed and James Lofton in Buffalo, as examples of receiving teammates who eventually join each other in Canton.

It would seem next year is as good as any for Bruce to finally get into the Hall. Troy Polamalu is the only first-year-eligible player who could get inducted next year, meaning that at least four spots will be open for repeat finalists like Bruce, Edgerrin James, Alan Faneca, Steve Atwater, Tony Boselli, John Lynch and others.

“All of the things I mentioned for myself, he checks off those boxes as well; he just did it longer than I did,” Holt says. “So we’re going to be competing. But that still doesn’t deter me or minimize the fact that voters should have a serious conversation about my career, just as they should have a serious conversation about his career. He was a finalist last year and hopefully this will be the year where he works his way in and that clears the way for me.”


As Holt mounts his campaign, he’s still testing out a few bullet points on his resumé. He points to how, as the sixth overall pick in the 1999 draft out of N.C. State, the former All-America met and exceeded the heavy expectations placed on him throughout his career. For those who want to say Kurt Warner “made” his career? The majority of his yards came from the arm of Marc Bulger, including Holt’s career 2003 season (1,696 receiving yards).

“There are some guys who have really great seasons, like myself, who really stand out,” says Warner, who adds Holt is as complete a receiver as he had been around in his career. “And then there are guys who are consistently really, really good and you knew every year what you were going to get. That was Torry. He played as high a level as anyone year in and year out. Without dropping off, playing at that particular level, even with all the unbelievable talent around him, that to me is what speaks volumes.”

Isaac Bruce (No. 80) is perceived to be ahead of Holt in the Hall of Fame pecking order in large part due to his longevity (16 NFL seasons to Holt's 11). But in the nine seasons they played together, Holt had more receiving yards in eight of those years, and more catches in seven.

Elsa/Getty Images

Balzer points out that Pace, Warner, Bruce and Holt all retired following the 2009 season, meaning all four became Hall-eligible at the same time. He says that may have led to a sort of pecking order in voters’ minds, and we’ve seen the way that’s gone for Holt.

Once Bruce is in, it may very well clear the way for Holt. But then he’ll still be competing against the likes of Hines Ward. Reggie Wayne will soon be eligible. Steve Smith, Andre Johnson and Anquan Boldin are soon after that. And then, perhaps in some voters’ minds, there will be the question of how many Rams, a team that made headlines but ended up with just one Super Bowl, should go into the Hall.

So that’s why Holt, 43, has taken it upon himself to be more vocal. He seized the opportunity when asked about the Hall on an episode of Good Morning Football in June. At a preseason gathering of college coaches in the Research Triangle, he again made himself available. He regularly retweets his highlight videos and former teammates and competitors pushing for his candidacy.

Before last year, Holt’s attitude toward the Hall was, “if it happens, it happens.” That changed when he talked with former Rams offensive line great Tom Mack, who waited two decades to get in. Mack told him to never stop fighting, and Holt is taking that advice.

“It would be a stamp on those days that I used to run outside of my house and running in the grass and pulling tobacco and doing drills late at night,” Holt says. “That’s why I was doing it—to be one of the best at my position and one of the best of my time. Being a Hall of Famer validates that. It’s a mindset for me. If I get in, great. If I don’t, in my mind the way I worked and the way I approached, I’m a Hall of Famer.

“But it’s different obviously when you put that jacket on and the world now knows. I want the world to know that I was considered on that level.”

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