The Pro Football Hall of Fame has been generous to the Raiders over the years, enshrining 14 players, a coach (John Madden) and an owner (Al Davis).
Three of the enshrines have come in the last 14 years as senior nominees — Madden, quarterback Ken Stabler and punter Ray Guy. But there’s a belief in the Bay Area that the Raiders remain shortchanged by the Hall of Fame selection process – that many qualified candidates who wore the silver and black remain at the front door, on the outside looking in.
So that’s the subject of this week’s Talk of Fame Network poll – who’s the best Raider not enshrined in Canton? Lots of worthy candidates with Super Bowl rings. So who do you like? Here are your options:
Cliff Branch, WR. An Olympic-caliber sprinter, Branch set the then NCAA 100-meter dash record in 1972 with a 10.0 clocking and was invited to the Olympic trials. That speed became his calling card on the football field. Branch averaged 17.3 yards per catch in his 14-year career, helping the Raiders win three Super Bowls. He deposited 67 of his 501 career catches in the end zone for touchdowns. He went to four Pro Bowls but has never been a Hall of Fame finalist.
Todd Christensen, TE. Kellen Winslow and Todd Christensen were the elite tight ends of the 1980s. Winslow led the NFL in receptions twice that decade. So did Christensen. Winslow posted three 1,000-yard seasons in the 1980s. So did Christensen. Winslow went to five Pro Bowls in the 1980s. So did Christensen. Winslow is now in the Hall of Fame. Christensen is not. Christensen led the NFL with 92 receptions in 1983, helping the Raiders win a Super Bowl that season.
Tom Flores, Coach. Coached 12 seasons with the Raiders and Seahawks, winning two Super Bowls with the Raiders. He won 52.7 percent of his career starts (97-87-0), taking his teams to the playoffs five times and winning two division titles. Flores ranks 41st all-time in coaching victories. The first person in NFL history to win Super Bowl rings as a player, assistant coach and head coach.
Lester Hayes, CB. A 1980s NFL all-decade cornerback. Hayes arrived in Oakland as a fifth-round draft pick in 1977 and became a starter in 1978. By 1980, he was the NFL’s best cornerback with a league-leading 13 interceptions, one short of Hall of Famer Dick “Night Train” Lane’s NFL single-season record. Hayes was voted to his first of five consecutive Pro Bowls that year and helped the Raiders win another Super Bowl in 1983. He intercepted 39 career passes and has been a Hall of Fame finalist four times.
Jim Plunkett, QB. A Heisman Trophy winner at Stanford and the first overall pick of the 1971 draft, Plunkett needed three stops in his NFL career before achieving his potential. He played with the Patriots and 49ers before he resurrected his career with the Raiders, with whom he won two Super Bowls. Plunkett played 16 seasons but never went to a Pro Bowl and has never been a Hall of Fame finalist.
Jack Tatum, S. A three-time Pro Bowler, Tatum was the thumper in the middle of the Oakland defense that powered the Raiders to the playoffs six consecutive seasons in the 1970s. The Raiders reached the AFC title game four times and won a Super Bowl. Tatum intercepted 37 passes in his 10-year career. He also recovered 10 fumbles and returned one for his only career touchdown. Tatum also has never been a Hall of Fame finalist.