John Madden’s impact on the NFL will be felt this summer at the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony. With the induction of former receiver Cliff Branch, Madden’s 1974 Raiders team will set a record for Hall of Fame representation.
Branch will become the seventh offensive member of the early 1970s Raiders teams to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio — the largest total of any offensive unit in league annals. The Raiders will surpass the 1961 Packers, a unit that boasted six Hall of Fame players on the offensive side of the ball.
Branch will join former offensive teammates in linemen Jim Otto (1980), Gene Upshaw (1987) and Art Shell (1989); receiver Fred Biletnikoff (1988); tight end Dave Casper (2002); and quarterback Ken Stabler (2016) in the Hall of Fame. Branch will also join Madden in Canton following Madden’s 2006 induction.
The ’74 Raiders led the NFL in scoring while boasting the league’s MVP in Stabler, who led Oakland to a 12-2 regular season record. Oakland dethroned the defending two-time Super Bowl champion Dolphins in a legendary playoff game before being upset by the eventual champion Steelers in the AFC Championship Game. Oakland’s 24-13 loss to Pittsburgh was the final game of Otto’s 15-year career with the silver and black.
Oakland suffered another heartbreaking AFC title game loss to Pittsburgh in 1975 before it finally broke through in 1976. Stabler led the league in touchdown passes for a second time that season while helping lead the Raiders to a 13-1 regular season record. The Raiders prevailed over the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game before overwhelming the Vikings in Super Bowl XI.
Facing a formidable Vikings defense, Oakland’s powerful offensive line spearheaded a ground attack that gained a then-Super Bowl record 266 yards. Stabler’s short touchdown pass to Casper gave the Raiders an early 10-0 lead. Three of his completions to game MVP Biletnikoff set up three Oakland touchdowns. It was the first Super Bowl win for the Raiders, who won the first-ever Super Bowl played at the legendary Rose Bowl.
The only member of this group to win three Super Bowls with the Raiders, Branch caught two touchdown passes in Oakland’s 27-10 win over Philadelphia in Super Bowl XV. Three years later, the then-35-year-old Branch caught six passes for 94 yards and a score in the Raiders’ 38-9 trouncing of defending champion Washington in Super Bowl XVIII.
“Cliff Branch changed the game,” Raiders principle owner Mark Davis said after Branch was named as a senior finalist for for this year’s induction class. “Safeties had to be aware of him.”