Los Angeles Raiders great and former Colorado Buffaloes alum Cliff Branch was selected as a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022 on Tuesday.
One of the best of his era, Branch won three Super Bowls in his 14-year NFL career but has still been skipped over for years. Family, friends and fans now hope that honor will come posthumously. He was previously selected as the senior finalist in 2020, but missed the cut in the expanded legacy class.
Branch earned four consecutive Pro Bowl selections and three straight First Team NFL All-Pro honors during his prime in the mid-1970’s. He’s one of just six players to have at least three receiving touchdowns in Super Bowl history. He retired as the league’s career playoff record holder for receptions and receiving yards, which stood until they were broken by Jerry Rice in 1994.
The records Branch set along with his accolades are an undeniable factor for his nomination into the Hall of Fame. Many would argue his time is well overdue and could have been influenced by the NFL’s strained relationship with the late Raiders owner Al Davis, who sued the league in 1996 after forcing the team to move from Los Angeles. At least, that’s how it was according to Branch.
“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,” Branch told TRR in 2016.
“(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.”
Branch caught 501 passes for 8,685 yards during his career with an all-time average of 17.3 yards per catch and 67 touchdowns. His stats are comparable to Charlie Joiner, Chuck Hayes, John Stallworth and Lynn Swann— four legends who played in the same era at the same position and are currently enshrined in Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“The four times we played together in the Pro Bowl, I was the starting wide receiver and they were always the backups”, Branch recalled. “In head-to-head situations our Raider teams were better. Maybe not against the Steelers because they beat us two out of the three championship games. Even though, the Raiders had more wins against Pittsburgh overall.”
Before Branch passed away in 2019, he wanted Hall of Fame voters to know that the thought of being enshrined in Canton meant everything to him and would be a lasting mark on his legacy.
“I only missed the playoffs twice in my career,” Branch said. “I played in three Super Bowls and out of a 14-year career, I was one game away from the Super Bowl half of my career. I was a feared deep threat in the National Football League in the 70’s and 80’s. With all that said— all those things should have a lot of credibility with me getting into the Hall of Fame.”
Branch joins former Rams coach Dick Vermeil as the only other finalist named to the 2022 class. ”I am overwhelmed. I’m not sure I belong there,” Vermeil said. But he showed extreme gratitude for the committee for their consideration.
To be elected in 2022, Branch and Vermeil must receive 80% of the voting support by the selection committee when it meets early next year. The selection committee will consider 18 finalists: the senior (Branch), the coach (Vermeil), a contributor (to be named on Aug. 31) and 15 modern-era finalists, according to the Hall.