Bruce never managed to win a cap as United captain and Ferguson said of the now Sunderland manager: "Bobby Robson came to the team hotel in Portugal the year we played in Eusebio's testimonial game and, in front of all the players, he apologised to Steve for not picking him for England.
"He accepted he had made a mistake. Steve was very unfortunate not to play for his country but he was a great player for us."
Perhaps not great in the same way as Cantona or Ryan Giggs, but in terms of heart, determination, bravery and desire, Bruce was out on his own.
"He was always hobbling about the training ground with knocks and hamstrings but he would just rub them off and play. It was incredible," Ferguson added.
"Heroes get built up very quickly at United. There are some unsung heroes, who don't get the same plaudits. Denis Irwin was one and Steve was exactly the same.
"But his partnership with Gary Pallister lasted for years. They hardly missed a game between them.
"They were pretty great characters too. It makes me laugh just thinking about them."