On Aug. 6, 2022, Cliff Branch (A&S’71) will finally be commemorated in Canton, Ohio.
Branch, who died in 2019, played two years for the CU Buffs football team before a 14-year career in the NFL with the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders (now the Las Vegas Raiders).
At CU, Branch starred in football and track. In two football seasons, he caught 36 passes for 665 yards (18.5 yards/reception) and rushed 31 times for 354 yards (11.4 yards/attempt). He scored 16 touchdowns in 22 games. In 1971, he led the Buffs to the No. 3 national ranking.
Branch also excelled as a sprinter in indoor and outdoor track. His 10.0 seconds in the men’s 100 meters at the 1972 NCAA Outdoor Championships remains a CU record.
“Cliff came to CU as a track guy and through hard work and determination developed into a great football player — one of the most explosive and dynamic players I have ever been around,” said former CU teammate Jim Bratten (Engl’71).
The Raiders drafted Branch in 1972, where he led the NFL in receiving yards and touchdowns by his third season. A four-time Pro Bowl player, he caught 501 receptions for 8,685 yards and 67 touchdowns throughout his career.
Branch was a deep threat to the competition on the famed Raiders teams that won Super Bowls in 1976, 1980 and 1983. John Madden coached him as he worked alongside all-time greats Ken Stabler and Jim Plunkett as quarterbacks. Branch’s evasiveness helped inspire today’s vertical offenses.
“Two guys would be coming together to hit him and he’d get through so fast that they’d tackle themselves,” said Larry Brunson (A&S’71), Branch’s teammate at CU and with the Raiders. “He was a walking highlight.”
Branch was named to CU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010. Now, he is a Pro Football Hall of Fame 2022 senior selection, available to players who retired at least 25 years ago.
While Branch’s play fed the Raiders’ reputation for using speed as an advantage, he was humble and beloved off the field.
“[He] always let his play do the talking,” said Bratten. “A tremendous football player and, yet, a better person and teammate.”
Photos courtesy CU Athletics