Ex-Raider running strong
Cliff Branch, a man who used world-class speed to excel at pro football — his career with the Raiders featured four All-Pro selections at wide receiver and three Super Bowl titles — was at the Petaluma Outlet Mall in a lineman’s stance.
His balance was perfect. If you didn’t know what was happening, you might have thought he was about to fire out and hit someone.
“Back in the day, offensive linemen got down, like this here,” Branch said. “And they’re gonna drive block.”
Branch, the 5-foot, 11-inch, 170-pound wide receiver out of the University of Colorado, did fire forward, but he stopped, just as both his arms had swung forward with all the force his momentum had provided.
“Back in those days, guys would rip you with their shoulders and their arms,” Branch said. “Everything is with their hands now.”
Branch, 69, was at National Sports Memorabilia, a new addition to the Petaluma Village Premium Outlets, when he took a break from signing autographs to talk about his life in football. Branch has strong ties to Sonoma County; he lived in Santa Rosa for 26 years, and his house was lost in the Tubbs fire.
He and Hall of Fame corner back Willie Brown will be back at the store to sign autographs Friday.
Branch is still a Raider — he attends every game and travels on the team plane — and his playing career was during a time when the National Football League started changing its rules to create the game we have today.
Branch won a Super Bowl with legendary coach John Madden and the late owner of the Raiders, Al Davis. Now, with Al’s son, Mark, in charge, Branch craves another Raiders title, ideally before the franchise, along with Branch, moves to Las Vegas.
Branch’s life as a Raider started with a world-class sprint.
He ran the 100 meters in 10 seconds flat in the 1972 NCAA Track and Field Championships, and Raiders wide receivers coach Tom Flores was there to see it.
“When I was drafted by the Raiders in ’72, Tom Flores was sent out by Al Davis to give me the playbook,” Branch said. “He spent a whole week with me. The next week, that’s when I ran the 10 flat.”
Flores was Branch’s position coach and then head coach, when Flores was picked by Davis to lead the Raiders after John Madden retired in 1978.
“Under his teaching I made All-Pro for four straight years. In 1974, 1975, 1976 and 1977,” Branch said. With Madden as head coach, the Raiders won their first Super Bowl title on Jan. 9, 1977, beating the Minnesota Vikings 32-14, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
Branch said the transition from Madden to Flores was seamless because Flores was an insider. By that time, John Madden, along with Al Davis, had already established the Raiders’ culture.
“(Madden) always said guys I’ve got three rules. Be on time for meetings when you come to work. Pay attention in meetings when we’re explaining the game plan. And the third was go like hell on Sundays. Other than that, they gave us a lot of rope, man.”
During Raiders training camp in Santa Rosa, the team would routinely check in for curfew at 11 o’clock, but Madden would hear cars leaving the parking lot at about 11:30. It was the Raiders, headed out to party some more.