March 5, 2023

From Saskatchewan To Montana: Bob Bruer Caught Legendary 49er’s First Touchdown Pass

Former Saskatchewan Roughriders tight end Bob Bruer has demonstrated an ability to hold on to the football — for more than 43 years, in fact.  

Bruer, 69, is still the proud owner of the ball he caught on Nov. 18, 1979 for his first of eight career National Football League touchdowns.  

He was on the receiving end of a 16-yard scoring strike from a 22-year-old San Francisco 49ers rookie named Joe Montana, whose first NFL touchdown pass came with 1:15 left in a game against the Denver Broncos, who won 38-28.  

“With perfect pass protection, (Montana) looked left first, then peeked right and fired a dart over the middle into the end zone,” Chris Willis of Pro Football Journal wrote.   

“The pass looked to be too high. But not for the 6-foot-5 Bruer, who put his right hand up as high as he could to grab the ball with one hand. He then brought the ball into his body in the end zone for a touchdown.”  

That was the ice-breaker for Montana, who would throw 272 more touchdown passes during an illustrious career that included four Super Bowl victories in as many starts.  

The legendary quarterback relived it all as part of “Joe Montana: Cool Under Pressure” — a series that was released in 2021 by the Peacock streaming service.  

“They called me up and said, ‘Hey, we want you to do an early part of that (series) because you caught his first touchdown pass,’ ” said Bruer, who joined the 49ers after playing for Saskatchewan in 1977 and 1978. “I went, ‘OK.’   

“Then they finally sent me the video and I went, ‘Well, that was a one-handed catch. That’s pretty cool.’ I’ve seen it a million times now and it has gotten crazy.  

“It was good to see it. I didn’t realize it was a one-handed catch. It’s one of those things where you tell that story and say, ‘I think I caught it.’ Finally, somebody says, ‘I just saw that thing in the newspaper and it listed Joe’s touchdown passes.’ I’m afraid somebody is going to go, ‘You liar. You were Number 12,’ but it was Number 1.   

“It was my first NFL touchdown catch, too, so that’s why I kept the ball.”  

It will not leave his possession, even though a handoff would be a lucrative proposition.  

“People keep wanting to buy the ball,” said Bruer, who resides in Tyler, Texas.   

“It’s ridiculous. There’s people with too much money, but it’s not enough for me to do it.”  

Mind you, the amount of money offered has created some temptation — albeit not enough for a deal to be consummated.  

“I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I don’t need it, but when Joe did that special with Peacock, people came out of the woodwork,” Bruer said.  

“They were throwing some numbers around that could have put my granddaughter through college or bought me a Tesla. It’s worth a second thought.”  

Initially, though, it wasn’t even an afterthought.  

“When it happened at the time, it was, ‘Hey, I caught a ball. No big deal,’ ” Bruer said. “We lost the game.   

“But, as time went on, the fame and notoriety of Joe obviously made the ball a little bit more special.   

“We talk occasionally and he says, ‘You send (the ball) to me.’ I say, ‘Fine. You send me your Super Bowl rings and we’ll be fine.’ ”  

No deal. No problem.  

“Joe’s a good guy — a good family man,” Bruer continued. “What you see is what you get.  

“We stayed in touch for a while and then, over the course of the years, we’d play against each other sometimes. We’d meet up after the game at the bus or when they were heading to the airport and talk for a little while.  

“It wasn’t like we were back and forth for years and years, but this thing (with Peacock) has kind of rekindled the phone calls and the relationship a little bit.”  


A phone call from Saskatchewan rekindled other memories.  

Bruer joked that seeing the 306 area code on his phone made him wonder if he was being hounded about, say, unpaid parking tickets from his time in Regina.  

Instead, it was a reporter from Riderville.com, wanting to reminisce.  

“I’ve been blessed,” Bruer reflected. “The biggest thing was heading north to play in Saskatchewan. If I hadn’t gone up there, I would have never played down here.   

“They kept trying to make me a tight end (in the NFL). I could run and catch. I had coaches down here going, ‘You can catch as well as anybody we’ve got, but you can’t knock over a pine tree, so go get tougher,’ which is what Saskatchewan helped me to do.”  

After starring at Minnesota State University, Mankato, Bruer was selected by the Houston Oilers in the ninth round (221st overall) of the 1975 NFL draft.  

Houston released him in August of 1975, whereupon he had an NFL stint with the Green Bay Packers.  

In 1976, Bruer attended training camp with the Dallas Cowboys, only to be cut on Aug. 23 of that year. He signed with the Chicago Bears late in the 1976 season and remained with them for all of the 1977 pre-season.  

Not long after being released by the Bears, Bruer made his way to Saskatchewan. He arrived in Regina on Sept. 30, 1977, just in time to see the team work out in the infield of a horse racing track on the exhibition grounds, as was the custom back in the day.  

“I remember watching the first practice,” he said. “There was a punt that went into the end zone and they punted it back out. I thought, ‘That guy’s going to get his (butt) handed to him by the coach.’   

“Then I came to realize that that’s a way they prevent the other team from getting a single point.”  

A single pint could create another issue.  

“I also learned quickly that you can’t walk around with a beer in your hand when you’re in a pub,” said Bruer, incredulous to this day. “No, you’ve got to stay where you’re sitting. Hopefully that rule has been changed since then.”  

Bruer enjoyed an auspicious CFL debut, making a team-high five catches for 46 yards in a 20-18 loss to the Montreal Alouettes at Olympic Stadium on Oct. 9, 1977.  

Montreal led 20-4 before Saskatchewan scored back-to-back fourth-quarter touchdowns. After the second TD — a seven-yard pass from Ron Lancaster to Brian O’Hara with 1:26 remaining — Bruer added a two-point convert.  

“Ronnie threw me the ball and I tapped my feet to stay in bounds,” Bruer recalled. “Ronnie came up to me after the catch and he had a way of delivering words. He said, ‘You dumb import. Quit tapping your feet five yards in bounds.’  

“Watching the field, I realized, ‘That’s right. The field’s a little wider here.’ I had to get used to that. Ronnie let me know real quick.   

“I did tell him, ‘I caught it, though, didn’t I?’ ”  

As a first-year CFLer, Bruer caught eight passes for 80 yards in four games.  

He followed up in 1978 by catching 34 passes for 491 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games.  


Next stop: San Francisco, where first-year 49ers head coach Bill Walsh was intrigued by the athleticism that had allowed Bruer to complete the 40-yard dash in a brisk 4.5 seconds and, once upon a time, score 51 points in a high school basketball game for Montello (Wisc.) High School.  

Always inventive, Walsh dialed up a play that resulted in a nine-yard touchdown run by Bruer on a tight end reverse during a 1979 pre-season game.  

“Walsh was a genius,” Bruer said of the Hall of Fame coach. “That word is used too much in football, but he was.”  

Bruer caught 26 passes for 254 yards and the aforementioned TD collaboration with Montana during the 1979 season.  

In 1980, Bruer suffered a broken tailbone with the 49ers, who placed him on waivers early in the season and hoped that he would not be claimed. No such luck. The Vikings reached out to Bruer and the interest was reciprocal.  

The 49ers’ brass tried to convince Bruer to stay, but to no avail.  

“I’d already said yes (to Minnesota) and, if I do anything, I do what I say I’m going to do,” he said. “I said, ‘I can’t (stay). I’ve already said I’m going to do it. They’ve already told me what they’re going to pay me and I’m going home.’   

“They said, ‘Well, we don’t want you to, so we’ll match it,’ but I’d already made a verbal commitment and that’s what I was going to do. It turned out all right.”  

Bruer played in 51 games with Minnesota over four seasons, catching 46 passes for 455 yards and seven scores.  

Late in his football career, he established a wholesale printing company that proved to be a successful venture. He later went into real estate, faring well once again, before retiring — at least for a little while — four years ago.  

He is a proud husband (to Judy), father (to Whitney) and grandfather (to seven-year-old Isla).  

“I was chasing my granddaughter around but, when she started going to school, I got back into the working end for a company called Aramark,” noted Bruer, who has been a manager of operations with that company for two years.  

When we caught up with him, he was at an airport in Anaheim, Calif., waiting to fly back to Texas and spend time with his family.   

Sitting in a departure lounge, he was delighted to chat about a brief, but memorable and impactful, residency in Saskatchewan.  

“I’m very grateful,” Bruer concluded. “Tell everybody up there, ‘Thank you, thank you. You made my career.’ ”