Before there was Duron Carter, the CFL had Arland Bruce III.
The uber-talented receiver spent 12 seasons north of the border as an entertaining and sometimes controversial personality. At times he was a lightning rod for criticism, never more so than when he got into the endzone and pushed the art of the touchdown celebration to its limits.
“I love touchdown celebrations because it’s hard to score a touchdown, in life or on the field,” Bruce told The Rod Pedersen Show on Thursday.
With 11,609 career yards and 94 touchdowns to his name, Bruce did a lot of celebrating, but none ever became quite as iconic as the time in 2008 were he hauled in an 11-yard toss from Kerry Joseph and then pulled on a Spider-Man mask.
“It was something that was kind of choreographed before the week started. I think the new Spider-Man movie had just come out and I had a mask, so I told my son if I score then I’m going to put the Spider-Man mask on,” Bruce grinned.
“My mentality is scoring. I think I’m number five in touchdown scoring in the CFL for receivers. It’s hard to score a touchdown, so my mentality is they’ve got to stop me or I’m going to do something. Not to disrespect the game, but just to bring entertainment to the game.”
The action sparked a fervour among CFL fans, but admittedly lost some gravitas as he struggled to remove the mask along the sidelines. That didn’t stop the CFL from levelling serious financial consequences to the then-Toronto Argonauts slotback.
“When I did pull the mask out, the mask slid down my leg so that is why it took so long for me to pull it out. I did get fined $4,000 dollars for that,” Bruce laughed. “If you see the video, I went to the sideline and then was like, ‘Oh man, where’s the mask?’ and then put it on on the sideline and still got fined.”
It wouldn’t be the last time Bruce received a significant punishment for his post-score antic.
“The next time when I did the Michael Jackson celebration, I got fined another $3,500 and traded. Now they’re doing all kinds of stuff when they score a touchdown! It’s some crazy!” Bruce pointed out.
That incident took place the year after Bruce went full Peter Parker. Despite assurances from new head coach Bart Andrus that once he scored, nothing he did in the endzone mattered, stripping off his shoulder pads and laying cross-armed in a mock coffin to honour a deceased pop star ultimately severed that relationship.
“Bart Andrus came in and said you can do whatever you want to and that’s when I did the Michael Jackson,” Bruce explained. “I guess he didn’t like that and that’s when he traded me.”
Bruce had tested the NFL after his first two seasons in Winnipeg, but returned to Canada to play six years in Toronto. The disagreement with Andrus sent him packing to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, where his thousand-yard production continued for two seasons. He was traded to the B.C. Lions in 2011, lighting the fuse for an improbable Grey Cup victory, and finished his career in with the Alouettes in 2013.
In later years, the three-time All-Star came under fire for different reasons. Shortly before his release from Montreal, Bruce was fined for homophobic comments directed at openly gay player Michael Sam. He apologized to the LGBTQ community early in his appearance Thursday, calling his actions ‘silliness.’
After retiring, Bruce attempted to sue the CFL and his five former clubs over concussion-related trauma, argued that he sustained “permanent and disabling” repetitive head trauma as a player. In court documents, Bruce says he continues to suffer post-concussive symptoms, including depression, paranoia, delusions and other medical issues.
The case was dismissed by Canadian courts and the Supreme Court of Canada ruled not to hear his appeal, deciding that the process had to go through union arbitration. Bruce later filed a grievance with the CFLPA in 2018.
The future Canadian Football Hall of Famer currently sits 11th all-time in receptions and receiving yards and fifth in touchdown receptions.