Saturday, August 13, 2022

Cliff Branch’s sister to deliver late Raiders legend’s Hall of Fame induction speech with ‘mixed emotions’

When discussing her late brother missing the cut for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s centennial class, Elaine Anderson fought back tears. Two years later, she cried tears of joy as her brother, former Raiders receiver Cliff Branch, was named as a member of the 2022 induction class. 

Anderson, who will deliver her bother’s induction speech during Saturday’s ceremony, shared what it felt like upon receiving a phone call that her family had waited decades to receive. Branch, who died in 2019 at age 71, had been eligible for induction since 1991. Branch was ultimately selected as a senior inductee, which is reserved for players who played at least 25 years ago. 

“I was very emotional,” Anderson told CBS Sports shortly after arriving in Canton, Ohio. “I tried to contain myself and not cry, but I just could not help it. It was tears of joy. I was very emotional and very excited and happy for Clifford. 

“I really had mixed emotions. Sad, because this is what Clifford always wanted, and now he’s not here for this grand event that he longed for. So it was very emotional … but I’m glad he’s in now, and that’s the main thing.” 

Anderson feels that her brother would have had a similar reaction had he received the call from Hall of Fame president Jim Porter. 

“I think he would have had mixed emotions, too,” she said. “I think he would have been laughing, upbeat, excited, but I also think he would have broke down and cried tears of joy, like it’s finally happening.” 

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Branch provided joy for millions of Raiders fans throughout his 14-year career. A member of the 1970s All-Decade Team, Branch led the NFL in receiving yards once and in touchdown receptions on multiple occasions. His soft hands and breathtaking speed (Raiders fans appropriately placed “Speed Kills” signs with Branch’s number in the back of the end zone) created headaches for even the best defenders, specifically Steelers Hall of Fame cornerback, Mel Blount. 

“I had an opportunity to talk with Mel Blount. I said, ‘You know, I remember your name. There’s something about your name,'” Anderson recalled. “And then, I remembered that Clifford used to give him fits, and he used to give Clifford fits, but I’m so happy that they made peace with each other.” 

They may have made peace years later, but during the 1970s, there was no love lost between the Raiders and Steelers, who engaged in one of the most vicious rivalries in NFL history. After three prior gut-wrenching playoff losses to Pittsburgh, Branch and the Raiders dethroned the two-time defending champion Steelers in the 1976 AFC Championship Game. For an encore, Oakland demolished the Vikings to win the franchise’s first Super Bowl

Branch played a key role on each of the Raiders’ three Super Bowl championship teams. A prolific playoff performer, he caught two touchdowns passes in Oakland’s 27-10 win over Philadelphia (coached by fellow 2020 Hall of Fame inductee Dick Vermeil) in Super Bowl XV. In Super Bowl XVIII, a 35-year-old Branch caught six passes for 94 yards (that included a 50-yard bomb that set up his touchdown reception) and a score in the Raiders’ 38-9 upset win over defending champion Washington.  

“Going back and looking at that footage, it is amazing some of the balls he caught, some of the plays he made,” Anderson said. “It’s amazing, it’s almost unbelievable.” 

With his induction, Branch will join several former Raiders from the team’s championship era in Canton, including his former coach, John Madden, and former Raiders owner, Al Davis. Davis, an innovator who made several long-lasting impacts on pro football, passed away in 2011. Madden, whose illustrious coaching career was immortalized in Canton in 2006, passed away last December. 

While they won’t physically be in Canton on Saturday, Anderson believes that Branch and several other former Raiders will be there in spirit. 

“Let me tell you, Clifford is going to be front and center watching,” she said. “On the left will be Al Davis, on the right will be John Madden. I know those two will be with him. There’s probably going to be a party and  invite other people, but I know those two will be right beside him, no doubt.”

Like Branch, former Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016, a year after his death. Stabler, despite being a fellow 1970s All-Decade Team member, was not inducted until his 27th year of eligibility. 

Many other players and families are going through the same trying process of waiting for the call inviting them to football immortality. Anderson, who will formally put her brother’s wait to an end on Saturday, was asked to offer up advice to players and families who are currently going through what her family experienced while waiting for her brother to receive his rightful place in Canton. 

“When it’s not your turn, you cannot force it,” she said. “When it is your turn, you cannot stop it.” 

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