Class of 2022: Cliff Branch - Never giving up on a dream earns spot in Pro Football Hall of Fame
By Barry Wilner
Special to the Pro Football Hall of Fame
CLIFF BRANCH was a game breaker, the kind of receiver every defensive back and defensive coach feared.
When the Raiders’ great was enshrined posthumously into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a Seniors member Saturday, he was remembered as a deeply religious family man whom Raiders owner Mark Davis called “one of the most respected wide receivers in all of football.”
“Cliff Branch could go to the end zone from anywhere on the field,” Davis added. “Every team feared Cliff Branch and that speed he had.”
Branch spent his entire 14 NFL seasons with the franchise that selected him in the fourth round of the draft in 1972 – an Olympic year when Branch set an NCAA championship record with a 10-second 100-meter dash but stuck with football.
A very wise choice.
“He was a game-changer,” Hall of Fame coach TOM FLORES, then a receivers coach in Oakland, told the Associated Press. “He had one-of-a-kind speed and several gears with his speed. I had to coach him on how to slow down. That sounds ridiculous, but he was trying to run the routes I was teaching in mock speed and couldn’t do it. He was tripping and clumsy, so I taught him to glide. He could glide faster than most people could run. Then when you have the need, turn it on.”
Branch led the league with 1,092 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns in 1974. He led the Raiders in receiving yards six times (1974-76, 1979-1980, 1982) and in touchdown receptions five times (1974-77, 1982). He concluded his career with 501 catches for 8,685 yards and 67 touchdowns in 182 regular-season games and helped the Raiders make seven AFC title games and win three Super Bowls. Indeed, he held NFL records of 73 receptions for 1,289 yards (17.7 average) in 22 postseason games and had five postseason touchdowns.
He was a three-time All-Pro who made four Pro Bowls.
And, as his sister Elaine Anderson said from the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium stage Saturday, Branch, who died three years ago “never gave up on his dream. This is what he dreamed of, this is what he longed for.”
“Clifford was drafted by the Oakland Raiders,” she continued, “and when this occurred, his blood turned Silver and Black. It was Al Davis who said, ‘The fire that burns brightest is the will to win.’ Clifford was born with the will to win.
“I want to tell you there is a sweet spirit in this place today. Our Clifford, No. 21, would not miss his Enshrinement for nothing. He longed for this day, and No. 21 is seated front and center with Al Davis and John Madden.
“Today is bittersweet. Bitter because we miss our beloved Clifford and sweet because it is now history.”
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