Of the many Raiders who seem to have been excluded from the hall of fame for some reason (Ken Stabler, Ray Guy, Jack Tatum), Cliff Branch has as much reason to feel aggrieved as any of them. It was my privilege to meet Branch in 2008, at the Raider Image store in Oakland. He still has that energy, and a real buzz about him, even after all these years.
He looks like he could still play—he has aged that well.
But as with any theory or opinion, you have to back it up with evidence, and to do that I am going to compare Cliff Branch’s career with that of two receivers from the same era who are already in the hall of fame, Lynn Swann and Bob Hayes.
Years Rec Yards Average TD Long SB Rings
Bob Hayes 11 371 7414 20.0 68 95 2
Lynn Swann 9 336 5462 16.3 51 68 4
Cliff Branch 13 501 8685 17.3 67 99 3
Now any reasonably objective person looking at these statistics could only conclude that these three players are clearly in very much the same group, and if you had to pick one player to be excluded, it would be Hayes, not Branch. Cliff played longer, had considerably more receptions than either, more yards than either, better yards per reception than Swann, and had just one touchdown less than Hayes.
Cliff Branch also had three super bowl rings to go with those stats, which is more than Hayes won in his career. So it’s not like he had the catches and the yardage but not the rings to go with it.
I also know that statistics aren’t the full measure of a man’s career.
Anyone who has seen Cliff Branch play, will immediately see that he was one of the smartest, toughest receivers ever to play the game. Although he weighed only 170 pounds, he would routinely jump up and take the ball away from a much bigger, or even two much bigger defensive backs.
Branch rarely missed a game, even after taking savage hits or being driven head first into the turf by Steelers cornerback Mel Blount.
Cliff could also produce on the big stage, catching passes in each Super Bowl, including two TD receptions in Super Bowl XV, and six for 94 yds (including a 50 yard catch) and TD in Super Bowl XVIII.
There is also no flaw in Cliff’s character as a reason to exclude him from the hall. He has never been arrested or been investigated for substance abuse. He never did anything that would have brought him into conflict with the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
When I met him, he was as friendly and likeable as any player in or out of the league. He showed a genuine interest in the fans that spoke to him. A lot of players now could learn a lot from Cliff Branch, as a player and as a person.
So I ask, how is Cliff Branch not in the Hall of Fame?
It beats the hell out of me.
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