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Should Cliff Branch be in the Hall of Fame?
Posted Feb. 03 at 01:23 AM
I see that Jerry McDonald, the Bay Area NFL writer, is making a case that Cliff Branch should be in the Hall of Fame. Branch, McDonald writes, is more deserving than Tim Brown, who’s one of the finalists (and the class of ’11 will be announced Saturday).
I will put Branch ahead of Brown. I will put him ahead of the other three big names that are currently on the ballot (Cris Carter, Andre Reed, Shannon Sharpe) as well.
Branch didn’t put up numbers like those guys, but he played in a different era. They changed the game radically in 1978, moving to a 16-game schedule and changing blocking and coverage rules to open up the game.
Branch finished his career with only two 1,000-yard seasons, but those came in at a time when 1,000 yards actually meant something. Between 1971 and 1977, there were only ten 1,000-yard seasons in those seven years. Branch had two of them.
To read McDonald’s take on Branch, click here.
You might also want to look at Cliff Branch’s career.
Branch was part of three Super Bowl winning teams. He caught 4 TD passes in those games; that’s the same as Lynn Swann (though nobody will argue that Swann’s catches in Super Bowls were far more memorable and crucial). I remember Branch catching a key long ball early in the Raiders’ win over Washington. Oakland’s other wide receiver, Fred Biletnikoff, was the MVP of its first Super Bowl win.
McDonald points out that Branch had a key touchdown in maybe the greatest divisional playoff game ever, getting up off the ground to score a long touchdown in the 28-26 win over Miami in 1974 – that was the game that ended Miami’s run after back-to-back Super Bowls.
Branch not only has three Super Bowl rings, he also played in four other AFC Championship games. Oakland lost had lost to Miami the previous year, then lost consecutive games in the semis to Pittsburgh. After winning the Super Bowl in 1977, Oakland lost a controversial AFC Championship at Denver.
During the best three-year run of Branch’s career, he averaged 52 catches, 1,032 yards and 11 TDs. Those numbers might not seem like much, but you have to factor in that the game was completely different – 14 games and different rules. During that span, the Raiders averaged 199 passing yards, and Branch caught 34 of their 80 TD passes.
Branch was a world-class sprinter, so even when he wasn’t catching passes, he was opening things up for other plays.
Working against Branch is the reality that after the passing rules were opened up in the late ‘70s, he didn’t have any 1,000-yard seasons. He turned 30 in 1978, the same year they went to 16 games, and he didn’t go over 900 yards in any of those seasons in his early 30s. He also went to only four Pro Bowls, which is about half as many as Brown (9), Carter (8), Sharpe (8) or Reed (7), but I’m guessing they didn’t take as many wide receivers during that era.
I think he should be in there.
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