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.

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SUPER BOWL XVIII CHAMPION 1983 LOS ANGELES RAIDERS

When Marcus Allen broke out with that famous run for LA in Super Bowl XVIII, you knew Al Davis was going to go with something similar to the past two rings…anyway Raiders 38-9 over the Redskins. Tom Flores became a great coach with not only his second Super Bowl win in 4 years. He knocked off a defending champion that was 1 game away from being labeled a dynasty.

sbxviiiHow did the Raiders kill the defending Redskins like that?  Beating the Redskins yes but dismantling them like that?  It’s still baffling some 31 years later.  The highest scoring team in history only scoring 9 points?  NFL Films shows you and tells the story. Raiders defense, Raiders defense, Raiders defense!  John Madden called the game, what more could a Raider fan want?

What most fans don’t remember was going into the ’83 AFC Championship Game, the Raiders had been swept by their division rival Seahawks during the year.  So Seattle was a formidable foe.  The game had a weird feel to it because it was drizzly and grey.  I remember Marcus Allen playing with a black eye, swollen like a boxer.  They ran over Seattle 30-14 and rewrote history.

sbxviii32Had Lyle Alzado controlled himself, the Raiders could have won that game in the 1982 playoffs (loss to Jets 17-14) and could have won Super Bowl XVII.  How do we know this?  The Redskins (who won XVII) was exceedingly stronger in 83 and that beating the Raiders gave them was epic.

Easily the strongest team in Raiders history with a mixture of old pros and young players that made up the core of this team.  Two Heisman winners on offense with Jim Plunkett and Marcus Allen.  Old pros like Cliff Branch and Todd Christensen.  Greg Pruitt was brought in to return kicks and set a league record for punt return yards.

sbxviii3Really solid defense…Reggie Kinlaw dominated from nose tackle with Hall of Famer Howie Long, the late Lyle Alzado, Greg Townsend on the defensive line were hard to move on the point.  They had the heaviest set of inside linebackers in Bob Nelson and Matt Millen. At 250lbs. each could take on and shed guards if they had too.  Rod Martin and Ted Hendricks ( the U) were the outside ‘backers with a lot of range.  Mike Davis and Vann McElroy were really solid safeties.

This defense had no real holes and then we get to Lester Hayes and Hall of Famer Mike Haynes.  One on one coverage at its finest that culminated in this performance against the Redskins receivers.

Charlie Brown and Art Monk combined for 125 receptions for 1,971 yards and 13 TDs during the season. Hayes and Haynes held them to 4 rec. for 119 yards…60 came on one play. It reduced the highest scoring team in NFL history to 1 scoring drive in the 3rd quarter. The next year in 1984 they started to give up some passing yards.  Yet Super Bowl XVIII they were at their zenith.

sbxviii5Remember that whole NFC 13 straight Super Bowl wins (19-31) and NFC dominance talk back when?  It was really worse than that.  After Pittsburgh’s win in XIV, only the Raiders won for the AFC in XV and XVIII. So it was really (16-31) that the NFC dominated but could not beat the Raiders winning 15 of 17.  Talk about carrying the torch for the conference…

 

It was also the last championship won by the Raiders under Al Davis. An original AFL pioneer who remained a separatist at heart and on all of the Raider’s Super Bowl winning rings, used the AFL “A” and not the AFC “A”.

 

Long live the American Football League, as we lost a pioneer back in 2011 when Al Davis passed.  In 2010 I attended a game in the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum and the ghosts of all those great Raider moments played out as I looked around that stadium. I met many former Raiders at the game and just missed Coach Flores but definitely would have loved to have met Al Davis.

bdavisThis is dedicated to the memories of Al Davis, along with Al LoCasale, Todd Christensen, Lyle Alzado, Earl Leggett, John Facenda, and Charlie Sumner.

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Legends of The Fall: Marcus Allen

Did you know that only once in NFL history has the single season rushing leader wore silver and black??  It was Marcus Allen in 1985 when he played for the Los Angeles Raiders. Yet when you think of Allen, you think of receiving out of the backfield more than you think of him as a pure runner.

Marcus Allen on a first half gallop in Super Bowl XVIII.

Marcus Allen on a first half gallop in Super Bowl XVIII.

However in 1985, Jim Plunkett was lost for the season and Marc Wilson just wasn’t a top flight quarterback. Super Bowl XVIII was a distant memory as the team hadn’t improved from a personnel standpoint. They started to age. Recent drafts didn’t help when the team brought in receivers Jesse Hester and Dokie Williams, who weren’t quite the caliber of past Raiders and Allen was the only offensive weapon that was in his prime.

Where the team followed up their Super Bowl championship with a wild card loss to Seattle, team brass decided to lean on Marcus and ball control to stay competitive in 1985. Why not?? Marc Wilson only completed 49.7% of his passes that year in 12 games…

For the year Lionel James led the NFL with a record setting 2,536 all purpose yards but it was Marcus that set the yardage from scrimmage record with 2,314. He led the NFL with 1,759 yards rushing as the Raiders only real offensive weapon. Don’t forget Eric Dickerson held out and missed the first four games of the season and finished with 1,234 yards for 1985. Dickerson’s 1,808 in ’83 and 1,821 in 1986 were on a par with Allen’s ’85 total.

Allen had one of college football's greatest seasons when he won the Heisman in 1981.

Allen had one of college football’s greatest seasons when he won the Heisman in 1981.

Everyone forgets Marcus was the first running back in college football history to rush for 2,000 yards when he went for 2.342 in 1981. He had gone to USC where he was converted from defensive back and had been a blocking back for previous Heisman winner Charles White. Once White graduated, it was Allen’s show. It should have happened that way in the NFL as well.

Yet starting with a fumble forced by Seth Joyner in an overtime 33-27 loss to the Eagles, the rift between Al Davis and Marcus started to widen. The Raiders subsequently finished 1986 with 4 straight losses to miss the playoffs for only the 5th time since 1967. This ended a 20 year era in which the Raiders were among the league’s elite. This is where the feud affected Allen’s play on the field and had Davis draft Bo Jackson in the 1987. They started phasing Allen out as he only carried 9, 13, and 10 times in the final three games of 1986.

He became a prisoner of Davis who wouldn’t showcase him and mandated he not be given the ball. So the only running back in history with a Heisman, Super Bowl MVP, and NFL MVP, and first to rush for 2,000 yards in college had to become a blocking back for Bo Jackson. He endured that for six years until the advent of free agency freed him in 1993.

In Kansas City, Marcus was able to be a feature back again.

In Kansas City, Marcus was able to be a feature back again.

In his first year in Kansas City, it was he not Joe Montana, who was voted the most valuable player. Allen was also the NFL’s comeback player of the year as he led the league with 13 TDs in his first season with the Chiefs.

Yet we’re left with what if again.

After that great 1985 season, Allen wouldn’t rush for 1,000 yards again. He finished with 12,243 yards rushing and 123 touchdowns. From the backfield he caught 587 balls for another 5,411 yards and 21 scores. What would those numbers balloon to if he wasn’t exiled in Los Angeles?? Would he have played 15 years had he stayed the feature back?? Ultimately, what were we football fans cheated out of thanks to the Davis / Allen feud??

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Hell Hath No Empathy Like An NFL City Scorned

Alright NFL fans, answer this question:  Who was the first NFL team to play in Chicago?? The city where George Halas, long thought of as the NFL’s founder had his team?? Yup that’s right The Arizona Cardinals when they were the Chicago Cardinals and the Bears were in Decatur Illinois. You missed that?? Well the Bears were the Decatur Staleys back then. What made us think of it was joining the Facebook group Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams and it made our CEO ponder: Why isn’t there a group asking to bring back the Cleveland Rams?? or the St Louis “football” Cardinals??

Bring Back The Rams. Booster Clubs still exist.

Bring Back The Rams. Booster Clubs still exist.

Its crazy when you find out you’re the rebound boyfriend or girlfriend, but that’s the scorn left in the wake. You weren’t the original love nor were you the person once love blossomed anew. You’re just the one without. Its happened to NFL cities and it’s ironic that St Louis and Los Angeles both sat in this cauldron of long forgotten feelings.

For once upon a time, the Chicago Cardinals battled with the Bears, who moved in from Decatur in 1920 for the hearts of the city of broad shoulders. George Halas and the Bears won that particular battle and the Cardinals moved to St. Louis in 1960. Then the Bidwell’s moved the franchise again in 1987 to the city of Phoenix.

Before the Los Angeles Rams moved to St. Louis there were fans there that missed their football team. Yet the internet wasn’t in full bloom nor was there a mass media outlet to show this missing sign of support, but it existed. Otherwise why would Georgia Frontiere move the Rams there before the 1995 season??

Then you had the Cleveland Rams who never dominated the landscape of the NFL, have a powerhouse of a team in the Cleveland Browns playing in the rival All American Football Conference. A precursor to the American Football League. This was the late 1940’s when America had just returned home triumphant in the second world war and began to enjoy pro football as entertainment that would soon rival baseball. How do we know this?? The ink hadn’t dried on the Potsdam Declaration ending WWII when the AAFC was formed in 1946. In four short years the Browns dominated and won all four championships before the league folded and were absorbed into the NFL along with the 49ers and Baltimore Colts in 1950.

Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham tries to avoid a Ram defende in the 1950 NFL Title Game.

Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham tries to avoid a Ram defende in the 1950 NFL Title Game.

In another round of “this town ain’t big enough for the both of us” the Rams decided to move to Los Angeles knowing they couldn’t compete with the champion Browns for the hearts of Cleveland. The only time a team left Cleveland and Art Modell wasn’t to blame…yet we digress. Ironically in that first season of both teams playing in the NFL, they played each other for the NFL Championship in 1950. One of the greatest games in NFL history.  It would be assumed that old Ram fans became Browns fans in Cleveland

The forgotten aspect of both situations in St Louis and Los Angeles is they were not the first city these teams played in. They were the rebound fling and Angelinos are pining for the Rams to come back west. Yet where was all this support when the Rams were in Anaheim?? In 1994 the Rams hosted the Los Angeles Raiders, in the last year both teams were in Southern California, their game drew 60 K but 2 weeks later drew a home crowd of only 34,000. Yet like a scorned love those fans wish for their lost team to come back to them and forget how little support was shown when the relationship existed.

Art Modell being presented with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl XXXV.

Art Modell being presented with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl XXXV.

St Louis had their pining for the departed Cardinals filled after just 8 years when the Rams moved east for the 1995 season. In 44 years in Los Angeles, the Rams won only 1 NFL championship in 1951, yet only made St Louis fans wait just 4 years before The Greatest Show on Turf took the title in 1999. Those fans in Los Angeles were the first to watch their former team win a Super Bowl championship in a new city. The following year it was Cleveland’s turn as they watched the Baltimore Ravens win Super Bowl XXXV. Former Browns fans watched with horror as the late Art Modell hoisted the Lombardi Trophy just 5 years after moving to Baltimore.

Here is the real issue… The NFL thrives as an entity because of the revenue generated from television more than it does from the gate. The gate is important but a team is nothing more than a company and if the gate isn’t there, it will seek greener pastures. The teams split that gate 65/35 for the home and away teams. The personal seat licenses (PSL) and luxury boxes are the revenues that a team can keep to themselves. Hence we saw the boom in new stadiums from the mid 1990’s on. The other revenue streams a team can keep to themselves are the stadium naming rights, parking, and concessions. If the team can’t draw fans to the stadium, they will fall behind their competition when it comes to financial competitive balance. You do want your team to sign that free agent tackle next year…right??

At one time it was thought the NFL needed Los Angeles, with the nation’s #2 television market, to have a team. Our CEO contended then as he does now that it doesn’t. We just kicked off our 18th NFL season without a team in Los Angeles and it doesn’t seem to bother Vance Lockett who is watching games on NFL Sunday Ticket in Columbus, Ohio. Yet to the attending fan cheering for their team living where they have the chance to go to the actual games. Go when you can. The rules are set up to get you to the stadium in the first place.  In a direct television market, NFL city with a team, you are only guaranteed to be able to watch the road games in a particular season. Any concurrent broadcast of another game on the other network, Fox or CBS, will not be shown because you belong to that team. Hence a week ago The Chancellor of Football was stuck watching the Cardinals face the Lions instead of the Manning Bowl in New York… So instead of the 3 free broadcast games you only get 2 before the Sunday night game.

You only get to see the home games in those NFL cities if the game is sold out. This is when you hear of the “blackout being lifted” in television jargon. They’re figuring is: Why watch it on television when you can go down and pay your way to see the game?” So while our CEO (in Columbus, Ohio at the time) was able to watch and record the 1992 Wild Card Game, where Buffalo came from a 35-3 deficit to beat the Houston Oilers 41-38 in the greatest comeback in NFL history, people that lived 3 blocks from Ralph Wilson Stadium did not. The game wasn’t a sell out.

Just like those forlorn fans that pine for teams that once were in Cleveland, Los Angeles, St Louis, Houston, and especially Jacksonville for that matter: Get to the stadium and go watch a game! If that team gets down financially and decides to leave, it’s gone and it’s gone forever. Ask those Houston Oiler fans or even the Rams fans pictured about the despair that replaces the cheers once the team plays elsewhere. Los Angeles is nothing more than a bargaining chip for NFL teams to leverage their present cities and our CEO doubts the NFL ever returns there. Los Angeles is an overpopulated aging decaying city that is destined to feel old.

Along with the fact there is no space and it would be cost prohibitive to build a new stadium, people in Los Angeles are front runner fans that won’t support a non winner. After the 1994 game when BOTH Los Angeles teams played and drew 65 K, the Rams attracted less than 60 K in the 2 remaining games combined. This is before we even talk about the travel restraints thanks to overcrowded freeways. Corporations know better than to take those risks and that’s what NFL teams are…corporations.

Even the Chancellor of Football moved the Taylor Blitz Times headquarters out of congested Southern California to the beautiful clean open area of Glendale, Arizona. Why take the financial risk of moving to Los Angeles, when you can get between 10-15 million in the nation’s #2 television market to purchase NFL Sunday Ticket anyway?? You’d have more of a chance moving the Los Angeles Dodgers back to Brooklyn…oops we forgot those first reasons are exactly why the Dodgers left Brooklyn 56 years ago. See?? We’ve been here before.

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Lester Hayes Belongs In The Hall of Fame

Does he have on enough stickum??

As the NFL changed the rules in 1978 to liberate the passing game, many thought the big physical cornerback would give way to smaller quicker men. Those who could turn and run with receivers after the 5 yard “chuck” zone (The Mel Blount Rule) would be highly sought after. Yet one team held steadfast to the belief of not allowing that receiver a free ride off the line of scrimmage.

The Oakland Raiders who in 1977, just one year removed from winning Super Bowl XI, selected Lester Hayes out of Texas A&M. Where the league saw smaller cornerbacks at 175-180 lbs enter the league at that time. Hayes was a converted college safety who stood 6’0 and weighed 200 lbs.

His inclusion into the Raiders organization was at the right time as Hall of Fame cornerback Willie Brown retired and took over as secondary coach. Under his tutelage Hayes became a master of bump and run coverage and with his size, manhandled receivers at the line of scrimmage. Sure a receiver could run free after 5 yards but he had to get there first.

Another retiring Hall of Fame Raider was WR Fred Biletnikoff who went against Hayes in practice. Fred ran crisp routes and was a slower version of Steve Largent or a Charlie Joiner. Going up against he and Cliff Branch, who was the one of the league’s perennial deep threats, honed his skills to that of one of the greatest cornerbacks the game had ever seen. He also borrowed Biletnikoff’s use of stickum and took it to obscene levels. Take a look at the pic on the right if you think we’re joking.

Stickum talk aside, his true coming out party was the 1979 season where he led the team with 7 interceptions, returning 2 for touchdowns in the only losing season for the Raider organization during the 1970’s. John Madden had retired and Tom Flores had taken over as Head Coach and the Raiders were a team in transition.

Most teams make a transition in personnel with a defensive leader being a linebacker or a star defensive lineman being a marquee player yet here was a cornerback just starting to make a name for himself at the helm. However he couldn’t unseat Louis Wright of Denver, Mel Blount of Pittsburgh, or Mike Haynes of New England on the 1979 AFC Pro Bowl roster. Naturally you’ll conclude they had better seasons yet Blount and Haynes made it on reputation with only 3 interceptions each and Wright only had 2. A gross injustice just because Hayes team had slipped that year.

Enter the greatest single season for a cornerback in NFL history and the greatest coaching job in NFL history…the 1980 Oakland Raiders. In the second season for Tom Flores, the Raiders became the first team to win the Super Bowl from a wildcard position. The team had replaced nine defensive starters from a Super Bowl team just four years before.

Lester Hayes intimidating style at cornerback belied his agility to cover the fastest and best route runners in the NFL.For the season, he picked off 13 passes, just one short of the NFL record by “Night Train” Lane in 1951.  Not only was that the highest total in 39 years, no cornerback has come within 2 of that performance since then (Everson Walls in 1981). He returned those passes for 273 yards and one touchdown and went on to be the Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

He was the first player to receive the award while playing for a team that didn’t finish as a top 10 defense with the Raiders finishing 11th. He did this while facing Hall of Fame WRs Steve Largent in Seattle, Charlie Joiner and Kellen Winslow in San Diego, and the electrifying John Jefferson also of the Chargers with whom he had epic battles with.

During the 1980 season teams kept testing him and coming up snake eyes. If you added his 4 interceptions during the playoffs he finished with 17 interceptions in one season. If you look at that against the year Hall of Famer Deion Sanders won his NFL MVP (1994 with San Francisco) from the same position, 6 interceptions for 303 yards and 3 TDs with 2 more ints. in the postseason, it dwarfs it tremendously. Sanders needed another NINE interceptions just to tie him!!!  You would have to add Deion’s next FOUR seasons with Dallas to total 17!! Tremendous

Oakland went on to win Super Bowl XV and the 80 playoffs began with a wildcard battle against Houston and former quarterback Ken Stabler. The Raiders prevailed 27-7 with the final points scored on Hayes intercepting Stabler and returning it 20 yards hand held high to send the Raiders to Cleveland and the divisional round.

He intercepted Stabler twice then intercepted 1980 NFL MVP Brian Sipe twice in the 14-12 upset of the Browns. In the AFC Championship against the Chargers and the Super Bowl with the Eagles, Dan Fouts and Ron Jaworski just didn’t throw into his area. How do we know this?? In Super Bowl XV Hayes was the left cornerback. Jaworski threw exclusively to his left and Right OLB Rod Martin picked off a Super Bowl record 3 interceptions in a 27-10 win.

The NFL outlawed stickum after that 1980 season in anther decision that Raider loyalist felt was the offspring from the court battle between Raiders’ owner Al Davis and commissioner Pete Rozelle. Some thought that Hayes inability to use stickum had a lot to do with his interception total dropping, when in fact quarterbacks just flat didn’t throw into his area. He never intercepted more than 3 passes in a season from that point forward.

Lester Hayes showing off both rings from Super Bowl XV and XVIII

After being overshadowed by Mike Haynes for that 1979 Pro Bowl slot, he was joined by his former counterpart in 1983 to form one of the greatest CB tandem in NFL history. In that year the Washington Redskins became the highest scoring team in NFL history scoring 541 points on their way to Super Bowl XVIII. Washington’s quarterback Joe Theismann was the NFL’s MVP and the Redskins were being hailed as the greatest team in NFL history…yet they had to defend their title against Los Angeles.

The Raiders started their charge in the 83 playoffs with a 37-10 devastation of the Pittsburgh Steelers which ironically began with Hayes getting the team started with an 18 yard TD interception return. After a 30-14 win against the Seahawks in the AFC Championship experts had the Redskins winning a high scoring game.

What took place in Super Bowl XVIII was a dismantling of epic proportions. Charlie Brown, who had caught 78 for 1,225 and 8 TDs during the regular season, was smothered along with Art Monk and held to a combined 4 receptions by Hayes and Haynes. The coverage was so superb the Raiders blitzed their linebackers and recorded 6 sacks as Joe Theismann had his worst game of the year. His stat-line?? Theismann was held to 16 of 35 for 243 yards and 2 ints. Only one pass was completed in Lester Hayes area the entire day. He won his second championship ring as the Raiders won in dominating fashion 38-9.

Hayes at this point was the best cornerback in all of football. He played in 5 straight Pro Bowls from 1980-1984 and was the player most future NFL’ers modeled their game after. Most notably Hanford Dixon of the Cleveland Browns. Everything from the three foot long towel hanging from his waist to his aggressive play against a receiver at the line. Dixon and Frank Minnifield are the tandem that Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes are most often compared to. As a combo… Dixon and Minnifield were the best tandem in NFL history. Yet the man who coined the Brown’s “Dawg Defense”, was a 3 time Pro Bowler who modeled himself to be like Lester, what would you call Hayes?? In The Chancellor’s book, he’s a Hall of Famer

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you Lester Hayeslester

Tom Flores Belongs In The Hall of Fame

Tom Flores with his team before player introductions in the L.A. Coliseum

When you think of the short list of coaches in NFL History that have won multiple Super Bowls, who comes to mind?? Of course you think of Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Tom Landry, Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh, or even Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. Throw in Joe Gibbs and his three rings.  Do you realize that there is only one eligible coach that has won multiple Super Bowls that is NOT in the Pro Football Hall of Fame??

Think about it a second, we’re talking about a coach with as many victories as six eligible Hall of Fame coaches and you don’t consider Tom Flores great?? Only Jimmy Johnson,Vince Lombardi and Bill Walsh can best Flores in shortest coaching careers who achieved 2 Super Bowl victories.  Landry, and Shula coached 29 and 33 years respectively to achieve the same number of championships.

Tom Flores and Jim Plunkett showing off Super Bowl rings.

For some it’s the fact that his winning percentage of .527 isn’t that high. However Bill Parcells is almost a shoo-in finalist this year with a winning percentage of .570. Also, before his stint as Seahawks head coach, he left the Los Angeles Raiders with a winning percentage of .610 which is better than Bill Walsh at .609. Something to think about.

It’s fair to compare him to Bill Walsh since he is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and coached in the same era. Walsh led the team of the 80’s to 3 Super Bowl wins in San Francisco to Flores’ 2 championships. Yet in head to head competition, Flores Raider’s were 2-1 against Walsh’s 49ers. Now throw in the fact Flores had a better winning percentage before he left for Seattle and it’s hard to argue his candidacy.

After following in the footsteps of another Hall of Fame coach in John Madden, some mistakenly think Flores won with Madden’s guys. Which isn’t close to being true. In today’s market of free agency we’re used to a lot of movement, yet between winning Super Bowl XI (Madden’s team) and Super Bowl XV only WR Cliff Branch and Mark Van Eeghen remained of the skill positions. WR Fred Biletnikoff, QB Ken Stabler, and RB Clarence Davis were all gone. Ken Stabler was traded to the Houston Oilers. He won with (at the time draft bust) Jim Plunkett at quarterback who was with his 3rd team. Stop and think about that.. That’s the equivalent of the Colts trading away  Peyton Manning and bringing in Matt Leinhart and winning the Super Bowl.

Furthermore 9 of the 11 starters on defense for Super Bowl XI were gone by Super Bowl XV. Jack Tatum, Willie Brown, Monte Johnson, all gone with the holdovers being John Matuszak andTed Hendricks. He won Super Bowl XV with a quarterback the world had forgotten about. A little known RB in Kenny King and 14 new players in only his second season as a head coach?? Might be the single greatest coaching performance in NFL history.

Tom Flores and Al Davis receiving the Vince Lombardi Trophy following Super Bowl XVIII

Although winning it all in 1980 was the crowning jewel of a season, his triumph in 1983 should have catapulted him to legendary status. It was his ’83 Raiders that stopped the defending champion Washington Redskins and MVP Joe Theismann dead in their tracks. The ’83 Redskins were the highest scoring team in NFL history and going into Super Bowl XVIII, pundits were hailing them as the best team ever. Yet in a dominant performance the Raiders ushered in the era of the Super Bowl blowout winning 38-9. After that game we had the string of 13 consecutive NFC Super Bowl winners. Yet if you looked at the era from 1980-1996, ONLY Tom Flores won a Super Bowl for the AFC side of the ledger and he did it twice. How is that for impact??

Yet why is he constantly overlooked for his coaching performance when it comes to greatness?? Is it because of the shadow cast by former owner Al Davis?? Even in the NFL Films Super Bowl XVIII video, they lauded Raider assistant Charlie Sumner for the defensive play that put the Redskins hopelessly behind. The Jack Squirek interception for a touchdown to make it 21-3 at the half. Why didnt they give Flores the credit for that move??

Logic tells us that a part of it could be the fact that he’s Hispanic and the sporting press doesn’t view him in the same light as fellow coaches. We hope to be wrong in this assessment yet it’s the ONLY discernible difference between he and every other coach listed above.  Tom Flores, for his career had 97 wins, 87 losses and was 8-3 in the postseason. He had the AFC’s best record (12-4) also in 1985 with MVP Marcus Allen but they were upset in the playoffs by the Patriots. To some, those aren’t great numbers but neither were Joe Namath’s 173 TDs and 220 interceptions and he’s in.

It’s about impact and contribution to the game. Being the only AFC coach to win a Super Bowl in a 17 year period qualifies for impact. Another interesting fact; Of the first 20 Super Bowl winners, his 1980 Oakland Raiders are the ONLY  team that doesn’t have a skill player in the Hall of Fame. Cliff Branch being in there is another argument for another time. Again we call that one of the greatest coaching performance in NFL history. It’s time to give Tom Flores the credit and distinction he deserves.

For induction into the Hall of Fame, I present Tom Flores

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