Cliff Branch Belongs In The Pro Football Hall of Fame

John Madden once told NFL Films “Cliff Branch was so skinny when he walked his back pockets would fight.” Yet no one put fear in NFL secondaries when it came to getting beat deep during the 1970’s. When someone says close your eyes and picture the Oakland Raiders of the ’70’s, one of the first visuals you’d have would be Stabler launching a bomb in Cliff’s direction.

BranchBWDrafted out of Colorado in 1972, Branch was a football and track star in college. Oakland had been without a true deep threat since Warren Wells departure a few years earlier. His baptism by fire would come as he learned the game from Hall of Famer WR Fred Biletnikoff and going up against Hall of Fame CBs Willie Brown and Skip “Dr Death” Thomas in practice.

Going against those 2 big physical corners, Branch grew up in a hurry. When he was unleashed on an unsuspecting NFL as a 1st time starter in 1974, Branch blazed for 60 rec 1,092 yards and 13 TDs. Pedestrian by today’s standards until you realize he was 4th in receptions and led the league in yards and touchdowns.

It was the 1st of 4 straight Pro Bowl and All Pro seasons. He was the #1 weapon on a team that finished in no less than the AFC Championship in each of those campaigns. His best season capped off the Raider’s Super Bowl XI championship when he caught 46 passes for 1,111 yards and 12 touchdowns. Why was it his best? He led the league in TDs and was 2nd in yards losing to Roger Carr by 1 yard on arguably the most powerful NFL champion of the 1970’s.

One aspect of Branch’s game that makes him an all timer is how he played in big games. When everyone marveled at Hall of Famer Jerry Rice as he was breaking all time NFL post season records, whose records did you think he was breaking? When Rice caught 3 TDs in Super Bowl XXIV, he was breaking the Super Bowl record for touchdowns in a game when Branch set it with 2 against the Eagles in XV. When Branch retired after the 1985 season, he was the NFL’s All Time postseason reception (73) and yardage (1,223) leader before Rice broke them some 9 years later. He had broken the previous records set by fellow Raider WR Biletnikoff, who was now his coach.

However records and numbers only tell a part of the story. How much space did defenses give him in respect to his speed that opened up opportunities for Biletnikoff and Hall of Fame TE Dave Casper?? Do you realize he was the only skill player on all 3 Raider Super Bowl champions?? Against the Eagles in Super Bowl XV it was his 2 scores that broke the game open 21-3…winning it 27-10.

In Super Bowl XVIII when the Raiders held a precarious 7-0 lead over Washington it was Branch who blew that game open too. The Raiders first score was a blocked punt. In the 2nd quarter, a 35 year old Branch beat Anthony Washington and Darryl Green on a 50 yard bomb to put the silver and black in scoring position. A few plays later Branch scored from 14 yards out to give the Raiders a 14-0 lead. This took John Riggins out of the game and forced the Redskins to pass into the teeth of a secondary led by Vann McElroy, Lester Hayes, Mike Haynes, and Mike Davis. A 38-9 triumph won him his 3rd championship ring.

For his 14 year career he caught 501 passes for 8,685 yds and 67 touchdowns. His fellow receivers Biletnikoff and Casper have each made “The Hall.” This August his original quarterback, Ken Stabler will be enshrined posthumously. His original coach John Madden and the late Al Davis have both been enshrined. Once Tom Flores and Cliff Branch are voted in, it will close this chapter on Oakland /L.A. Raiders football.

For enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you Cliff Branch.

Happy Birthday John Madden – One of The Chancellor of Football’s Mentors

John Madden Football Screen 1To a new generation of football fans, John Madden was a colorful announcer that had his likeness on the front of the popular video game series. What many of them don’t realize is how much effort he put into the game of Pro Football during his tenure coaching the Oakland Raiders. He was the first person to win more than 100 games in less than a decade, and of the first dozen Super Bowl winners, his 13-1 Oakland Raiders had the second best record to win it next to the undefeated 1972 Dolphins. He was the first to leave the game citing coaching burnout.

One amazing aspect of John Madden’s football odyssey are the points he made in several books that showed his love of the game while translating it to something fun and everyone could understand. In Hey Wait A Minute, One Knee Equals Two Feet, and One Size Doesn’t Fit All, he popularized notions that are still a part of The Chancellor of Football’s repertoire today.

  • One knee equals two feet: When a receiver catches a pass and only has one knee touch the ground before going out of bounds, its a good catch as though two feet had touched. This is also good of one elbow or hitting the ground butt first before going out of bounds
  • One stepper: A term used for cornerbacks when reacting to a receiver breaking his route in or out. Whether they are in a back pedal or running side by side with a receiver, the good cornerbacks react in just one step where the marginal cornerback will take two or more before reacting.

These are a few of the nuggets that he showed how he saw the game and simplified it for millions while giving valued information to assessing players and talents. Why prattle on when we can offer you something better… John Madden himself.

For many years he teamed with Pat Summerall in the booth and was the most expressive color analyst in television history. They developed the telestrator for him to diagram plays and blocking assignments for live television. He was a pioneer. Its a shame he didn’t make it to Monday Night Football until late in his career. The casual fan would have learned a lot about the game from him instead of only seeing him for 4 or 5 times a regular season.  The one thing we want the video game generation to understand is he was a record setting coach before. He made it to a record 5 straight conference championship games in the 1970s, which was second to Vince Lombardi and Paul Brown. Or the most since the AFL / NFL merger. Do you realize how re-written history is if he wins the 1973, ’74, ’75’ and ’77 AFC Championship games??

If his Raiders had won, the Miami Dolphins don’t repeat as champions for Super Bowl VIII. You don’t have the back to back champion Pittsburgh Steelers of Super Bowl IX & X. After winning it all in 1976, they would have defended their title against the Dallas Cowboys for Super Bowl XII..,.but alas this happened in the 1977 AFC Championship Game:

Just like the Immaculate Reception back in 1972, his Raiders got jobbed in the playoffs. Yet Madden would go on to coach through the 1978 season before retiring as coach of the Raiders. His record was 103-32-7 over a 10 year period. Note that he had 7 ties during his career which started in 1969 as head coach but the NFL didn’t adopt regular season overtime until 1974, hence all the ties. He made the playoffs in 8 of his 10 years and had the best winning percentage of all time of those who coached 10 or more years. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.

John Madden, Pro Football Hall of Famer.

John Madden, Pro Football Hall of Famer.

He was one of the game’s greatest coaches before becoming the best color analyst of the television era covering the NFL. His coaching tenure actually started in the old AFL which became the AFC. Then he started having his All Madden Teams when he covered the game for CBS & Fox. He was more than just the name sake on Electronic Arts video game that bears his name. Year after year he challenged them to make more realistic game play and was a part of that game’s overall growth and success. We mention it here because a complete generation learned intricacies of football through the Madden video game series starting in 1989.

So today, we celebrate John Madden’s 76th birthday. Happy Birthday!! Thanks for your contributions to the NFL.

RIP Al Davis, Gene Upshaw, & Jack Tatum who appeared in the video.

Mark Collins' 2Five Sports.

Mark Collins’ 2Five Sports.

Taylor Blitz times is partnering up with 2Five Sports, a top recruitment company that helps players market themselves to perspective colleges. The Taylor Blitz Times influence is growing every day by leaps and bounds. We want to be there for football players at every step of the way. Learning the game, playing it safely, and players to make it to the collegiate and professional ranks. If you’re a high school participant with the grades and not getting exactly the looks that  you want. This is a way to market yourself and get in front of the right coach for you.

Mark Collins played in the NFL for 13 seasons appearing in 3, while winning two with the New York Giants in Super Bowls XXI & XXV.

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