State Your Case: Cliff Branch


 

BranchB&W

(Photos courtesy of the Oakland Raiders)

By Clark Judge

Talk of Fame Network

If you’d been around the San Diego Chargers in the late 1970s they would’ve told you the best receiver they faced was not Lynn Swann or Dave Casper, both of whom are in the Hall of Fame. Nope, it was the Raiders’ Cliff Branch, and don’t look for him in Canton.

He’s not in, and don’t ask me why.

Branch is what San Diego Union-Tribune columnist and Hall-of-Fame selector Nick Canepa calls “the best player not in the Hall of Fame,” and he won’t get an argument from those Chargers. Branch was one of the league’s most dangerous, most explosive and most dynamic deep threats, a guy who one season averaged … averaged … 24.2 yards per catch.

Think about that for a moment. He had 46 receptions which, in today’s game of inflated receiving numbers, is a pretty good month. But with those 46 catches he had 1,111 yards. Now, compare that to the NFL’s top 40 receivers in yardage in 2014, when only one (DeSean Jackson at 20.9) averaged more than 16.4 yards per catch, and maybe now you can appreciate that greatness that was Cliff Branch.

He was fast. He could catch. And he knew how to beat you, leading the league in touchdowns twice in three seasons. When you wonder why Al Davis believed so strongly in the vertical passing game, look no farther than guys like Cliff Branch and Warren Wells.

Neither is in the Hall, though I understand why with Wells. While he averaged a whopping 23.1 yards per catch for his career – including 26.8 in 1969 when Darryle Lamonica was his quarterback – he played only five seasons. OK, so he was radioactive for three of them – leading the AFL in touchdown catches one year and in yards receiving the next – but, like it or not, longevity is a factor that can determine a Hall-of-Fame candidacy.

And if you don’t believe me ask Terrell Davis.

In Branch, however, there are no issues with a brief career. He played 14 seasons with the Raiders, and he was marvelous for most of it. In fact, he was so good he was named to the league’s All-Pro team four consecutive years. But he wasn’t named to an all-decade team that included Swann, and, since we’re on the subject, let’s compare the two.

Branch had more catches, 501-336, and more yards receiving, 8,685-5,402. He had more touchdowns, too, 67-51, and averaged 17.3 yards per reception to Swann’s 16.3. Yeah, OK, so Swann retired early. And, yes, he was a part of four Super Bowl champions, and that was factored in his election.

But look at Branch: He was part of all three of the Raiders’ Lombardi Trophy winners. Furthermore, he had three touchdowns in those games. So the only area where he falls short is rings. Yet he’s only one behind.

Look, I’m not here to say Lynn Swann doesn’t belong in the Hall because he does. But look at Branch’s numbers. No, better yet, look at him play. Talk to defenders who had to cover him at the peak of his career … because they couldn’t. It was an era when there weren’t a lot of game breakers at wide receiver; when teams ran the ball far more than they threw it, averaging 12.8 completions per game in 1977 and 37.4 runs. So you had to make those completions count, and Lynn Swann did.

But so did Cliff Branch.

Then why isn’t he in Canton? I wish I knew. Bad enough that he hasn’t been a finalist. Worse that he’s been a semifinalist – meaning a top-25 choice – only twice, and, sorry, but I don’t get it.

Some people tell me he and quarterback Ken Stabler are collateral damage suffered for having so many Raiders from the 1970s – a team that won one Super Bowl – in the Hall of Fame, but that’s not good enough. You’re either good enough to be in Canton, or you’re not.

And Cliff Branch is.

So let’s get his case in front of the voters, and let them tell us why he’s not Hall-of-Fame worthy. I know a lot of former Chargers who would be interested in their answers. So would I.

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36 Comments

  1. Phil Williams
    April 1, 2015
    Reply

    Ive been saying for years that Cliff Branch has earned the right to be the HOF. What other player in NFL history has contributed to winning 3 Super Bowls, and contributed in a major way, not to be enshrined in Canton.
    I just dont get it.

  2. Steve
    April 1, 2015
    Reply

    Thanks for writing what I’ve been thinking Clark! Peter King semi-championed him a couple of years ago, then seemingly dropped the ball for God knows what reason. Perhaps Cris Carter having to wait for 5 years was a bigger outrage than Cliff waiting for 25 years? When will the voters realize that it’s not a travesty every time a modern-era guys does not get in on the first ballot?

    • April 1, 2015
      Reply

      Thing I don’t get: He’s only been a semifinalist TWICE? And never a finalist EVER? Please.

  3. rich
    April 1, 2015
    Reply

    I’d love to beat a dead horse and answer phil as to how many have contributed greatly to 3 SBs and not be in the HOF….how about Dave Dalby!But yeah….cliff’s a no-brainer,so what’s that say for writers?

    • April 1, 2015
      Reply

      It says we need to get him in the room, that’s what. Criminal to think he’s only been a semifinalist — meaning final 25 — just twice.

  4. Jeremy Harper
    April 1, 2015
    Reply

    I see Cliff Branch is also a nice person! I wear my autograph Cliff Branch jersey to every Raider game I can make.

    VOTE BRANCH IN FOR THE HALL NEXT YEAR NFL!!! OR TELL US WHY NOT!!!

    • April 1, 2015
      Reply

      Can’t vote on him unless he’s nominated, and he’d have to be nominated by senior committee. It has only two candidates up next year and one the following, so going to be tough — especially with the long list of all-decade players waiting in the queue.

  5. Stan Elias
    April 1, 2015
    Reply

    Cliff Branch “Mr. Speed” Cliffs Corner, 3x SB. Champion & his numbers say it all.AND is loved by the Raider Fans & respected by fans of other teams.Watch his film & be excited!!!

  6. Rob
    April 2, 2015
    Reply

    Clark, Cliff should be in the Hall of Fame. What his chance of being a Senior Nominee and who do you think should be for the 2016 class?

    • April 2, 2015
      Reply

      There is so much traffic there that I don’t believe he’s on the fast track. Not saying that’s how it should be; just calling it as I see it. Only two nominees, and, as of last year, there were 73 all-decade choices not in Hall, including 60 that hadn’t been discussed. That Cliff Branch has been a semifinalist only twice is wrong. Guy was a gamebreaker.

  7. Rob
    April 2, 2015
    Reply

    Cliff should be in the HOF.

  8. Michael Schulze
    April 2, 2015
    Reply

    Mr. Judge: Thank you for writing this article. There is no question Cliff Branch belongs in the Hall of Fame. Not only was he a blisteringly fast speedster, he made big plays in big games. Ask the Dolphins. Ask Mel Blount. He also wasn’t afraid to fight for the ball and make the tough catch. Look at the highlights of Super Bowl XV when he wrestled the TD pass away from the Eagles’ DB. Cliff was a total package as a receiver. Plus, he had that great springy gait as he jogged back to the huddle like he had flubber in his shoes.

    • April 2, 2015
      Reply

      Maybe we should have you write future articles on him. You covered all the bases.

  9. rich
    April 2, 2015
    Reply

    I see that Jeremy has touched on something that few have mentioned…that in this awful football age of self-congratulatory,self-celebratory,just plain old “selfs” (who called them independent contractors had it about right) cliff Branch was always a class act,a genuinely nice person and how sad that that accounts for zero when being considered for the Hall,only stats.However, if the stats are to be the criterion to be used to determine worth for hall inductions,then indeed let’s use stats!I can think of a former Raider for each finger who should be in the Hall if one is going to use stats alone.And yeah,these 5 are suffering the fate of having played among and beside too many great players if one can imagine such a thing,but history shows us that the raiders from 1967 to 1977 were just such a team.So while we’ve already compared branch(and favorably so) with Swann who’s in the Hall, compared Stabler’s numbers with Namath’s,who’s in.Or Dalby with any center, or Jack Tatum or Lester hayes with Ken houston.No system is going to be 100% fair but to deny admission because one played with too many great players is plain ridiculous.

    • April 2, 2015
      Reply

      Will say I’m believer in the idea that if you’re good enough you belong; if you’re not you don’t. don’t care how many teammates are in.

  10. H Herndon
    June 3, 2015
    Reply

    Cliff Branch should of been picked 20 years ago.! NOBODY GIVES GREAT RAIDERS ANY CREDIT.! CLIFF BRANCH WAS A BAD ASSED RECEIVER THAT NOBODY COULD COVER.! HE HAD HANDS AND COULD RUN A ROUTE LIKE NO OTHER.! MORE “EVERYTHING” THAN SWANN., AND OWNS 3 SUPERBOWL RINGS.!! PUT HIM IN.!! I DEMAND IT.! PUT CLIFF BRANCH IN THE HALL.!! PUT HIM IN.!! THE DUDE WAS WICKED., I WATCHED HIS WHOLE CAREER.!! PUT HIM IN THE DAMN HALL OF FAME.!!

  11. July 26, 2015
    Reply

    Thanks, Clark for bringing attention to Cliff’s case. He CLEARLY belongs. 3X SB winner and played in the biggest games, against the best defenses, in the decade that MADE the NFL. He’s owed an apology and immediate enshrinement.

    • July 27, 2015
      Reply

      he won’t get an apology. but he should get his time in that room. would love to have his case discussed. thanks for the note.

  12. Salvatore Alaimo
    July 31, 2015
    Reply

    There is no question that Cliff Branch belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for all the reasons stated here. He has the stats, the Super Bowl rings, and the longevity so what gives here. I think part of the problem is that the process in part is a popularity contest and Branch played before most of the voting writers were born. I guess it’s too much to ask that they respect and bone up on their NFL history given their occupations. Let one of the modern players wait another year to make room for Cliff Branch. It’s that simple.

  13. Tom
    October 19, 2015
    Reply

    Could allegations of cocaine use be working against Cliff Branch?
    Prior to the 1977 Super Bowl, a Raider starter (rumored to be Branch) was said to be so stoned on cocaine that the Raiders weren’t sure he could play. Branch caught only 3 passes for 20 yards that game – far less than expected. In 1978, Branch played in a fog all year, dropping several passes he should have caught. He supposedly went to rehab in the off-season and Mark Davis served as his minder. In 1979, the old Branch seemed to be back.
    Then again, substance abuse issues didn’t keep Michael Irvin out of the Hall, so why Branch?

    Why is Bob Griese in the Hall but Ken Stabler is not? All Griese ever did was hand off to Csonka and Morris. In two Super Bowl wins, Griese threw only 18 passes. Stabler threw 19 in one Super Bowl.

    Another Raider who deserves more consideration: the late Jack Tatum. What defensive back ever instilled fear in opposing receivers to the degree that Tatum did? Quite a few opposing receivers dropped balls because they heard Tatum’s foosteps. Tatum changed opponents’ game plans because they were afraid of him. Ronnie Lott modeled himself after Tatum.
    Granted, Darryl Stingley was a tragedy but Tatum’s hit was clean and legal.

    • October 20, 2015
      Reply

      Don’t know about Branch … but I’d hold off on Stabler. Feel pretty good about his chances getting in this year as a senior candidate.

  14. rockhardten
    January 10, 2016
    Reply

    I knew every time I saw the Oakland Raiders that Cliff Branch was going to make a big play and he also affected the defenses entire coverage,because no one could run with Branch one on one.The Steelers teams that won 4 Super Bowls have a slew of HOF players,so the excuse the Raiders have too many players in is just ridiculous and Branch killed the Steelers.Cliff Branch retired as the all time leading playoff receiver and it’s just ridiculous he hasn’t made it past the semi finals,let alone being voted in as the games top deep threat of his era.

  15. Anonymous
    January 16, 2016
    Reply

    We all loved Cliff Branch…… A favorite by all. He was truly a special player. Sweet, sweet hands and great after the catch runs, even with one hand an rarely ever lost the ball. Hes a HOF for sure.

  16. Tom Stevens
    April 18, 2016
    Reply

    Cliff Branch is the biggest snub in Hall of Fame history, and everyone knows it. 3 players were starters for the Oakland and LA RAIDERS Super Bowl victories: WR Cliff Branch, LB Ted Hendricks, and C Dave Dalby. Ted was a shoe-in for the HoF, he made it; Dave was a very good center and could be considered but centers have to have phenomenal careers to be considered and inducted (Webster and Otto). Cliff should have been a shoe-in as well, not just stat-wise for his era, but for what he brought to the game… a premier deep threat, a WR you couldn’t minimize or suddenly you’re on fire and smoked. The longevity of Branch is a wonder, blazing down the sidelines just as fast in his later days as he did in his earlier days (99 yards against Washington, anyone?}. No touchdowns in the first SB, but when you’re competing with Freddy B and a run game behind one of the best offensive lines in history, it isn’t a wonder. The next SB, one touchdown. The next, two touchdowns. Branch never faded, he was always the same ol’ dude… 170lbs with a jetpack strapped on and the uncanny ability to track a football 50 yards down the field and catch it. Just do the right thing, get him in the Hall of Fame.

    *I know you can’t stick everyone in the HoF, but the second biggest snub in NFL history is Jim Plunkett. Dude wins the Heisman Trophy and then gets thrown to the wolves as New England’s QB, traded to the armpit of the NFL, San Francisco, and is basically thinking about retirement before he gets clubbed to death on another crappy team. Lo and behold he joins the RAIDERS, gets a shot to lead a real team, and wins a SB. Three years later he does it again, winning his second SB. AFAIK there are no other 2x winning SB QBs that aren’t in the HoF. Seriously?! You can make a movie out of this guys life! More than that, its what embodies a Hall of Famer, not just stats, not just championships, its the grit and determination, its coming off the bench after being replaced and still having the goods to deliver a SB win to the fans. Plunkett is a legend, but shouldn’t just be a legend to RAIDERS fans, he should be a legend to everyone.

    • Rick Gosselin
      April 18, 2016
      Reply

      The Jerry Kramer and Ken Anderson camps would respectfully disagree.

  17. May 9, 2016
    Reply

    did cliff branch’s playoff stats go up or stay around the same as his regular season stats…..?

    • May 9, 2016
      Reply

      Roughly the same. Yards per catch up slightly. Catches (or percentage per game) up slightly. Touchdown percentage down slightly.

  18. Alan Edward's
    July 4, 2016
    Reply

    Some people might argue with me but in my opinion Cliff Branch is the greatest receiver the Raiders have ever had. The man was blowing by defenders that were much younger till the day he retired. I have been telling everyone he belongs in the Hoffman since he was eligible and it’s great to finally see so many people recognizing and giving Cliff his props. Now if we can just convince those Raiders hater voters to do the same. More Raiders that belong in the hall. Coach Flores,LesterHayes,DaveDalby,JackTatum, and one that never even gets his name mentioned, Dt ReggieKinlaw. Look at the film of superbowl 15 and 18. The man was dominant,but Branch should be the first of all them names.

  19. […] la classe 2015, Ken Stabler e Roger Craig sono in corsa quest’anno. Vediamo gli altri: Cliff Branch, Lester Hayes e Todd […]

  20. John U
    August 31, 2016
    Reply

    I started a petition, Cliff Branch for Pro Football HOF, last August 2015. The number comparisons show a true inequality here. Look at his 1st team All-Pro selections compared to existing HOFers from his era. 30 years after retirement he is still 3rd in postseason yards (1289) behind Rice and Irvin. http://www.thepetitionsite.com/276/842/889/induct-oakland-raider-wr-cliff-branch-into-the-nfl-hall-of-fame/

    • August 31, 2016
      Reply

      Go for it! Cliff was one of most feared receivers of his time. And one of the most reliable in the biggest games.

  21. Joseph Wright
    October 18, 2016
    Reply

    Documented fact: In the 1974 AFC Title Game between the Raiders and Steelers, Branch beat Hall of Fame Steelers cornerback Mel Blount so badly (9 catches; 186 yards including a 38-yard TD),Steelers defensive coordinator Bud Carson benched Blount from the middle of the 3rd quarter until the final gun.

  22. February 16, 2017
    Reply

    I actually wore a cliff branch throwback jersey when I was in Pittsburgh, PA for around a year (G20 Summitt)…..I got some glares but nothing to serious…the Raiders beat Pittsburgh that year and knocked them out of the playoffs (Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl the year before).

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