Born: June 20, 1955
Town: Englewood, New Jersey
Bruce Harper was born June 20, 1955 in Englewood. He grew up in Englewood, where he attended school with the younger siblings (and future bandmates) of the Isley Brothers. Bruce attended Dwight Morrow High School at the same time as John Travolta, who played briefly for the football team. Bruce was a couple of years ahead of Bill Willoughby, the first player to jump from high school to the NBA. Bruce stood 5-8, but what he lacked in size he more than made up for in speed and strength.
Considered too small for a major college football program, Bruce ended up at tiny Kutztown State College. The school had a good football team, led by Doug Dennison, who ended up going to the NFL and playing several seasons for the Cowboys. Bruce would eventually become the Golden Bears’ first 1,000-yard rusher. He also set a school record with 21 touchdowns.
Bruce went undrafted in 1977, but made the Jets as a free agent. He returned kicks and punts, and got about five touches a game as a reserve running back between 1977 and 1979. During those seasons he led the NFL in kickoff returns and return yardage each season. In 1978, he had the league’s longest punt return, an 82-yard touchdown, and also led the NFL with 2,157 all-purpose yards.
Bruce led the league in all-purpose yards again in 1980. That season, he caught 50 passes out of the backfield and was voted team MVP. Bruce followed with 52 catches in 1981, and rushed for a career-best 393 yards. He played for the Jets through the 1984 season—his last two years exclusively as a running back. Bruce retired with 11,429 all-purpose yards and 21 touchdowns. He was one of the most beloved players in team history, and his #42 lived on in the person of super fan Fireman Ed, who wore Bruce’s jersey.
After football, Bruce lived in northeastern Bergen County, in the towns of Norwood and Closter. He founded a mentoring program for New Jersey schoolchildren, partnering with other former Garden State sports stars.