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Cliff Branch selected to 2022 Pro Football Hall of Fame class

The late Colorado receiver heads to Canton as a senior inductee later this year.

Los Angeles Raiders v San Diego Chargers Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Cliff Branch won’t have to wait much longer to get his roses. Unfortunately, they will be received posthumously.

The former Las Vegas Raiders All-Pro wide receiver was named to the 2022 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, per an official announcement on Thursday night. Branch becomes the first University of Colorado alumni to be enshrined in the halls of Canton, an honor the late great talent felt would cement his legacy in football.

“I only missed the playoffs twice in my career. 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,” Branch told TRR in 2016.

“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.”

As fate would have it, the voters finally agreed with Branch’s assessment of his legendary career. He received the required 80-percent threshold after being on the ballot for 32 years.

Branch came to Oakland as a fourth-round selection (98th overall) in the 1972 NFL Draft. The track and field star turned deep threat speedster from Houston, Texas was originally recruited by Jim Mora, Sr., who was part of Eddie Crowder’s staff in the late 60’s and early 70’s and helped develop Branch’s raw athleticism early in his career at Colorado.

“(Branch’s) main asset was his speed,” Mora noted. “He could run like a deer. Very fast and quick. That was his biggest plus. He also had great hands, but he was a guy that once he got in the open nobody was going to catch him. That made him a true weapon while at Colorado. We knew once he had open ground ahead of him it was going to be a touchdown. It didn’t matter how far he had to run.”

As previously noted, Branch was 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 both records were broken by Jerry Rice in 1994.

Many critics have questioned why football’s ultimate honor came so late for Branch. Regardless of the excuses provided throughout the years, or the possibility of those associated with Raiders owner Al Davis being held out of Hall of Fame consideration purposefully, the important factor remains that Branch’s contribution to the game will now be celebrated. It’s an undeniable statement and gives hope for other legacy players still waiting on their call.

One of Branch’s most-respected mentors knows that feeling all too well after his personal battle for NFL recognition. “That’s great. That’s just so great,” Hall of Fame coach Tom Flores said nearly speechless about being told Branch’s bid for Canton was finally being accepted. “This is the best news ever and made my whole year.”

Flores, like Branch, waited throughout the years and felt the pain of being rejected time after time before unveiling his bust last year. The only difference is that now Branch’s vision for an enshrinement weekend will be carried out by Flores and others. The memories for the former Raiders coach came flowing back to him this week— both good and bad. But Flores adored Branch, and once told his wife, Barbara, they might have to adopt him.

“Fred (Biletnikoff) was one of his best mentors. He took him by the hand and I told him, “Watch that guy and do what he does.” Except (Cliff) would do it at mach-speed. Fred and I literally had to teach him, and he would look at me crazy, how to slow down. He was so fast. I would say you have to slow down. You’re running a route and not a sprint at world-class speed. You can’t do that. I used to tell Snake (Ken Stabler) and (Jim) Plunkett don’t wait for him to get open— just throw. He was by far the fastest player I’ve ever coached.”

Branch played his entire NFL career with the Raiders, a feat rarely uttered in today’s game with the emergence of free agency. He finished with 501 receptions for 8,685 yards and 67 touchdowns, which was second-best during his time in the league and ahead of prior inductees Lynn Swann, Charlie Joiner, and John Stallworth.

Oftentimes Branch’s opponents were amazed at his longevity and unique prowess on the field. In an era before the days of widespread distribution of NFL content it was all spoken word and first-hand accounts that were used as scouting reports from week-to-week.

“Obviously, Cliff was one of the best at what he did without a true vertical passing game,” said Hall of Fame linebacker and Kansas Chiefs legend Willie Lanier. As one of the Raiders closest rivals in the AFC West, Branch tormented Kansas City’s secondary on a regular basis.

“It was part of how the game was played. And it would be amazing to know how many yards he would have in today’s game,” Lanier continued. “With everybody going vertical and offenses throwing the ball just to see how he would compete... a fascinating skill Cliff had well-before it was popular.”

But that was also the Raiders as a whole during the 1960s and 1970s. A trailblazing organization ahead of the times with Davis as a progressive owner, who hired the youngest coach in history at the time, the iconic John Madden, and then Flores as a minority candidate. One of Branch’s best teammates during his career was also his consistent roommate for training camp. Henry Lawrence spent 13 seasons lining up with Branch and thrived on a trio of Super Bowl championship teams.

“It’s definitely overdue, but the best news for me, is that it’s done,” Lawrence said about his late former teammate. “It’s unfortunate that Cliff is not here to reap the benefits of his All-Pro caliber career with the Raiders and even in college. It’s great news and sad news not having my brother here to celebrate.”

Overall, the Raiders will see the 30th member of their storied franchise inducted into the Hall of Fame this August.

A total of four in a two-year span with Branch being joined by Richard Seymour, along with Flores and Charles Woodson as part of the expanded 2021 class.

The pair of Raiders join Leroy Butler, Tony Boselli, Sam Mills, Bryant Young, Dick Vermeil (coach) and Art McNally (contributor) as the entire 2022 Pro Football Hall of Fame class.