The Raiders mounted a massive marketing and promotional campaign a few years back aimed at one overdue objective.
Get Cliff to Canton.
It quickly became a hashtag, with #clifftocanton representing a full-scale push to get the legendary Raiders receiver inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Many believe he deserves a gold jacket -- and that he should've received one years ago.
The Raiders wanted one on his shoulders, and decided to launch an offensive. They produced videos extolling Branch’s virtues during an illustrious 14-year NFL career, with testimonials from teammates and opponents alike. Raiders representatives stumped for him. They pitched voters, reminding them of his dominance and one inarguable point.
Cliff Branch changed the game.
The world-class sprinter could out-run anyone, and he was at times unstoppable pushing the vertical Raiders offense downfield.
“When you were across from him, there was fear there,” former 49ers and Raiders safety Ronnie Lott said in a video promoting Branch’s candidacy.
The "Cliff to Canton" movement gained steam, but ultimately didn’t get him in the Hall of Fame despite an argument that’s as persuasive now as ever.
If it wins out next year or at any time after that, Branch won’t be around for enshrinement. He died at the age of 71 on Saturday, the Raiders announced.
That’s an unfortunate turn, considering how deserving he seems to be. He has a real shot at getting in next year, with an expanded Hall of Fame class honoring the NFL’s 100th anniversary that will include 10 seniors, or players who have been retired for over 25 seasons. Branch falls into that senior category, and typically only one or two are inducted each year.
Branch was an active part of all three Raiders Super Bowl championships. He was a three-time First-Team All Pro. He went to four Pro Bowls while representing the Silver and Black from 1972 through 1985.
Branch recorded 501 catches for 8,685 yards and 67 touchdowns, with a whopping 17.3 yards per reception.
His speed and outgoing personality fit the Raiders perfectly, especially with how late owner Al Davis preferred his offenses push the ball down the field.
“He changed the way the game, and the way the game was played as a wide receiver,” Hall-of-Fame Steelers cornerback Mel Blount said in a Raiders video production. “People started going out looking for speed, and looking for guys like Cliff Branch.”
Branch was a constant throughout different chapters of a true Raiders golden era, where they won three Super Bowl titles. He was a feature player in all of those championship runs, and always was at his best in the postseason.
He leaves a lasting legacy with the Raiders organization and the NFL as a whole that is certainly deserving of enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.