Branch came to Boulder by way of Houston, Texas in late 1960’s as a recruit of CU legend Eddie Crowder. The speedster competed as a two-sport athlete setting NCAA records in both football and track and field. He returned eight kickoff for touchdowns during his career with the Buffaloes (1968-72), along with running a blazing 10.0 second 100-meter dash at the 1972 NCAA championships semifinal in Eugene, Ore.
Branch complied a 14-year career in the NFL including wins in Super Bowl XI, Super Bowl XV and Super Bowl XVIII for the Raiders. A four-time pro bowler, who led the league in receiving in 1974 with 1,092 yards (18.2 avg.) and 13 touchdowns.
After receiving news of Branch’s passing, the Raiders released a statement.
”Cliff Branch touched the lives of generations of Raiders fans,” the statement read. “His loss leaves an eternal void for the Raiders Family, but his kindness and loving nature will be fondly remembered forever. Cliff’s on-field accomplishments are well documented and undeniably Hall of Fame worthy, but his friendship and smile are what the Raider Nation will always cherish.”
Branch is one of the best receivers from his era not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The 501 catches for 8,685 yards and 67 touchdowns are better numbers than the career stats for Hall of Fame Steeler receivers John Stallworth and Lynn Swann. Known for being a big play target, Branch still holds the record for the longest play in Raiders franchise history with a 99-yard catch-and-run from Jim Plunkett in 1983.
In a 2016 Ralphie Report article, Branch said he was “disappointed” and felt he deserved to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. ”If you want go on numbers with some of the players that are in the Hall of Fame, my numbers are better.”
Branch went on to say the role of Al Davis might have played a factor for him and other Raiders being left out of the hall.
”I think it’s a political thing because a lot of the players are blocked from being in the hall of fame with the Raiders because of Al Davis. (He) was the most hated owner because of his lawsuit against the NFL and he won lawsuits against the league. The sportswriters have always had hatred towards Mr. Davis because of his pioneer way and being very successful. You think of all the people that went into the hall of fame and all the times Al Davis presented players from not only the Raiders— I think there’s a lot held against Mr. Davis because of his players.”
Raiders owner Mark Davis tweeted Saturday on the Raiders’ twitter account, “Cliff was my best friend. I will miss him dearly.”