Raider Nation celebrated the long-awaited news that receiver Cliff Branch was named a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday. A senior nominee, Branch -- along with fellow finalist and former NFL coach Dick Vermeil -- will be eligible to join the 2022 Hall of Fame class.
Assuming he receives the 80% of the voting support by the selection committee, Branch will help the 1976 Raiders make history by becoming the first Super Bowl champion to boast six Hall of Famers on the offensive side of the ball. Branch would join former offensive teammates in linemen Gene Upshaw (1987), Art Shell (1989), receiver Fred Biletnikoff (1988), tight end Dave Casper (2002) and quarterback Ken Stabler (2016) in Canton, Ohio. Branch would also join former Raiders coach John Madden in Canton after Madden was inducted in 2006. Before becoming an iconic broadcaster and video game innovator, Madden enjoyed a highly-successful 10-year run as the Raiders head coach that included a 32-14 win over the Vikings in Super Bowl XI, the franchise's first of three Super Bowl wins.
Fittingly, the Raiders would break a tie with their arch rival during the 1970s: the Steelers. Pittsburgh currently has five offensive members from their '70s Super Bowl teams to earn enshrinement: quarterback Terry Bradshaw (1989), running back Franco Harris (1990), center Mike Webster (1997), and receivers Lynn Swann (2001) and John Stallworth (2002).
The '76 Raiders' offense was fourth in the NFL in scoring, third in passing, first in touchdown passes, and 10th in rushing during the regular season. They put up 31 points against Pittsburgh's formidable "Steel Curtain" defense in a come-from-behind win in their season-opener. The Raiders, who finished the regular season with a 13-1 record, finished the season by gaining 429 all-purpose yards (including a then-Super Bowl record 266 rushing yards) against the Vikings' famed "Purple People Eater" defense in the Super Bowl. Stalber's second quarter touchdown pass to Casper gave the Raiders a 10-0 first half lead. Three catches by Biletnikoff that set up Oakland touchdowns helped win him MVP honors.
Branch and Casper were tabbed as All-Pros that season, while Stabler, Shell, and Upshaw were named to the AFC's Pro Bowl roster. A four-year veteran at the time, Branch earned his third consecutive All-Pro selection after catching 46 passes for 1,111 yards (a whopping 24.2 yards per reception average) and a league-high 12 touchdown receptions. His touchdown catches of 75 and 49 yards led Oakland to a 28-27 win in Chicago in Week 9.
"Cliff Branch changed the game," Raiders principle owner Mark Davis told Hall of Fame president David Baker upon receiving Tuesday's news. "Safeties had to be aware of him."
Branch's possible enshrinement will surely be celebrated by his fans, friends and the Raiders' passionate fan base. The fact that it would result in a new NFL record would be icing on the cake.
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