By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame will announce its 2022 class of inductees tomorrow. Among the candidates under consideration are the likes of Richard Seymour, Devin Hester, Tony Boselli, Patrick Willis, Ronde Barber and DeMarcus Ware. All great players, for sure.
But I’ll say this right now: If former Oakland Raiders wide receiver Cliff Branch is not among the inductees, the selection committee will have (pardon the pun) dropped the ball…again.
Branch, who died in August of 2019, was one of the first elite speedsters in the NFL. The former Colorado Buffaloes star excelled both on the football field and on the track. In fact, on June 2, 1972 – nearly 50 years ago – Branch set an NCAA record for the 100-meter dash, finishing with a blistering time of 10.0.
The Raiders selected Branch in the fourth round of the 1972 draft and, with tutoring from crafty veteran Fred Biletnikoff, developed into a feared wideout that perfectly fit owner Al Davis’ love for the vertical game. Branch spent all 14 of his NFL seasons with the Silver and Black.
You want credentials? Branch was a 3x First-Team All-Pro, a 4x Pro Bowler and the 1974 league leader in receiving yards. He also led the league in receiving TDs on two occasions. The Raiders have won three Super Bowls; Branch was a member of all three of those championship teams. His career statistics (183 games, 501 receptions, 8,685 yards (17.3 ypr), 67 TDs) compares favorably with Pittsburgh Steeler greats Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, and Dallas Cowboys legend Drew Pearson – all who are in the Hall of Fame.
Current Raiders owner Mark Davis said of Branch, “He changed the game.”
Make the right call, Hall.