Who’s the best Raider not in the Hall of Fame?


Cliff Branch photo courtesy of the Oakland Raiders

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.

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13 Comments

  1. Heidi
    September 26, 2018
    Reply

    I’d love to read this article, but I can’t due to so many ads covering the content. I mean I’d REALLY love to, otherwise I wouldn’t be leaving a comment.

  2. bachslunch
    September 26, 2018
    Reply

    Definitely think Dave Grayson should be an option here. Maybe Art Powell, too.

    For me, the biggest Raider snubs in descending order: Cliff Branch, Dave Grayson, Art Powell (if he’s considered a Raider), Lester Hayes, Todd Christensen. Won’t complain if any of these folks get in.

  3. Steve
    September 26, 2018
    Reply

    I think they should all be in but I’m biased! If forced to choose I’d say Branch is 1A and Lester is 1B.

    Also a great argument for Christensen, who never gets mentioned. And unlike Winslow he earned two rings.

    I also think Plunkett is the only eligible two time SB winning QB who’s not in, and he took the hardest route to that achievement by a wide margin. Would love to see him get his day in the sun.

    • bachslunch
      September 27, 2018
      Reply

      In the pre-Super Bowl era, Tommy Thompson, Tobin Rote, and Jack Kemp also won two titles and are not in the HoF. Thompson has two NFL titles, Kemp has two AFL titles, and Rote has one from each league. Not sure I’d heavily support any of them, though.

      • brian wolf
        September 27, 2018
        Reply

        I Believe Thompson does deserve HOF consideration not only for the two consecutive Championships but for being one of the first successful T formation QBs. He was also tough as nails playing with one eye !!

        Like Plunkett, Phil Simms and Charlie Conerly also had hard roads in their careers. Simms won two Championships as well despite being injured and missing the second SB game. He had to overcome injuries and benchings while trying to hold off Hostetler as well. Conerly won a Championship and was part of three runner ups as well and never had a blazing receiver like Shofner, to throw to. Though Rote was an excellent receiver. He was so unselfish, he allowed his backup, Don Heinrich, to start games while he evaluated the defences before coming in.
        Take away Weeb Ewbank and Johnny Unitas, he has three Championships as well.

      • Steve
        September 29, 2018
        Reply

        Thanks for pointing that out, too many people ignore the pre-Super Bowl era. Heck, too many people ignore the pre-ESPN era for that matter, including some HOF voters IMO!

        Having said that, I still think Plunkett’s route to winning two Super Bowls is completely unmatched and worthy of honor and recognition:

        -Heisman winner/Rose Bowl MVP
        -First overall pick of draft, Rookie of the Year
        -Beaten/injured on bad teams, traded, out of football
        -Clears waivers, signed by Al Davis
        -Wins two Super Bowls in his 30’s, calls his own plays

        You can’t find another guy who can match that journey to the top!

        • bachslunch
          September 29, 2018
          Reply

          Plunkett’s career is certainly fascinating and unusual, agreed. But there are several players who fit that description who don’t have HoF level careers: Jack Kemp, Joe Don Looney, Doug Flutie, Joe Kapp, Ricky Williams, Tommy Maddox, Tim Tebow, Jim Marshall, Troy Brown, Rich Gannon, Michael Vick, Garrison Hearst, and Earl Morrall all come to mind.

          My biggest complaint against Plunkett is how staggeringly awful his regular season stats look. His numbers are at or near the bottom of every QB ranking adjusted for era I’ve seen. Even four time SB winning QB Terry Bradshaw, whose stats adjusted for era aren’t that good, is significantly better than Plunkett. I just don’t think he has any kind of reasonable HoF case, and two SB titles don’t make up the difference.

          • brian wolf
            September 30, 2018

            The thing about Plunkett too is that he had a good season with the 49ers in 1976, though their winning season petered out. If Monte Clark had stayed as head coach, and Joe Thomas not meddled so much, Plunkett would have had more success with them and never joined the Raiders. There may have never been a Bill Walsh or Joe Montana.

            Still, Plunkett is 8 – 2 in playoff games and undefeated in four championship games, that has to count for something. The way he ran the offence against the Redskins in his second SB win, I felt he should have been MVP, though Hayes and Haynes, Allen and Branch were outstanding.

          • bachslunch
            September 30, 2018

            Was just looking at Plunkett’s regular season stats with San Francisco. They look pretty much the same as his Patriots years. QB rating for Plunkett’s first seven seasons, last two with SF: 68.6, 45.7, 65.8, 64.1, 39.7, 63.0, 62.1. Those are unfortunately not good numbers, best I can see. He did a little bit better with the Raiders, though he only broke a QB rating of 80.0 in three of his eight seasons there. Again, not good, I’m afraid.

            The 8-2 postseason record is also pretty much another way of saying “two Super Bowl wins.” His postseason record in those two seasons is 7-0, which means in his two other postseason years he went 1-2. Two titles isn’t enough for a HoF case when that’s all he’s got, any more than it would be for Thompson, Kemp, or Rote. It’s a noteworthy accomplishment for sure, but not necessarily a HoF one by itself.

  4. brian wolf
    September 27, 2018
    Reply

    There are alot of great Raiders players not in the Hall,including Art Powell, Dave Dalby, Raymond Chester, Dave Grayson, An older Lyle Alzado, Greg Townsend, Rod Martin, An older Andre Rison, etc
    who upheld the Raider tradition of winning football games.

    Still to not have Tom Flores in the Hall is a travesty…the guy was the first Raider quarterback, was one of only a handful of players to play the entire 10 year existance of the AFL, who won a Super Bowl ring as a player, assistant coach, and two more as a head coach.

    I am hoping he is elected this year though, I feel the other players mentioned in this article deserve their place one day as well.

  5. Brad
    September 30, 2018
    Reply

    Definitely Jim Plunkett! Once he played on a good team with some blocking up front he won two Super Bowls. When you think about the way he was bashed around by NFL defensive linemen when he was with the Patriots, (and just about lost the use of his knees!) it’s a wonder he was still playing by the time he went to the Raiders. Aren’t too many QB’s who were more deserving of a Super Bowl win than Mr. Plunkett.

    • bachslunch
      October 2, 2018
      Reply

      Brad, I see what you’re saying, though if you’re going to go that route you need to consider players like Archie Manning — a fine QB who spent his career stuck on those awful Saints teams. I’m just not sure how viable speculation is for a HoF case. Otherwise, we’d have to seriously consider someone like Greg Cook, who was reportedly a fine QB on a bad Bengals team whose career was ended early via injury.

      There’s no question that your success as an NFL player often depends on how good you teammates are, far more than for MLB or the NBA. That comes under the “life’s not fair” category, but it’s a sad reality.

  6. Brad
    October 3, 2018
    Reply

    I see your point, but Manning never won two superbowls after leaving the Saints. I like Manning and thought he did a darn good job for a terrible team, just like Plunkett did. BUT, Plunkett proved what he could do with a good team and Manning never got the chance.

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