By Eric D Williams
Fox Sports NFL Writer
Mike Haynes was terrified.
Moving on to his first practice with his new team in 1983, the Hall of Fame cornerback prepared to face one of the fastest receivers in the league at Cliff Branch.
But as he stood in front of the former college track star, Haynes heard Branch speak from behind his face mask.
“I’m running out.”
“I’m running out.”
Cliff Branch was a classic speed receiver for the Raiders, averaging 17.3 yards per catch in his 14-year career with the team. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
Haynes said that Branch proceeded to tell him which route they would follow during their three years together. Oakland RaidersMakes it easy for both of you to hone their craft during practice.
“I felt uncomfortable breaking up the play because he told me what he was going to do,” Haynes said. “So, I just got into good shape. I realized I’d get a chance to work on my technique — my backpedal, my reading, my three-step drop reads — things like that. And that helped me.”
Branch, who died in 2019 at the age of 71, is one of three candidates nominated by the Hall of Fame Seniors, Coaches and Contributors Committee to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday in Canton, Ohio. others are former Eagles, Rams And chiefs Coaches Dick Vermeal and Art McNally, the first NFL official voted into the Hall of Fame.
They join five modern-era candidates: offensive lineman Tony Bocelli, linebacker Sam Mills, safety Leroy Butler and defensive linemen Bryant Young and Richard Seymour.
Branch was a world class runner Colorado, where he set the NCAA Championship meet record with a 10-second 100-meter dash. To add explosive momentum to his team, Raiders owner Al Davis introduced a 1972 . Selected the branch in the fourth round of NFL draft.
But Branch had to continually work on developing a softer hand to catch the football so that his speed was translated into production on the field. After some work with fellow receiver Fred Biletnikoff, Branch flourished. In his 14-year career with the Raiders, he took 501 catches for 8,685 yards and 67 touchdowns.
“I loved Cliff,” Biletnikoff said in a video on the team’s website. “Clifford was always a part of my life in football. It was like a younger brother, that’s how I looked at Cliff. Not just a little brother, but a great friend. Cliff deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.”
Branch helped the Raiders to three Super Bowl titles. In 22 appearances after the season, he took a total of 73 catches for 1,289 yards (17.7 yards per catch) – both records at the time of his 1985 retirement. The Houston native was a three-time All-Pro and was voted to the Pro Bowl four times.
Haynes is in Canton this weekend to honor his former teammate. When asked about facing as a rookie corner for Branch new England PatriotsHaynes said, “It was tough because in his offense, he had great receivers, a great tight end and great running back. Maybe I covered a guy who was as fast as Cliff in college, but nobody Not as fast as Cliff.
“I was really happy that the football field was only 100 yards long and most quarterbacks couldn’t throw the ball more than 60 yards. So, if I’m back seven yards from the cliff, and he runs a foot Wants to join in, he’ll probably be passing me 60 yards away. If I could be with him just that long, I’d be fine. It was something I had to learn by trial and error. “
Branch was the most productive in a long line of speed receivers, playing for the Raiders, including Morris Bradshaw, Willie Gault, James Laughton, Randy Moss, James Jett, Jacoby Ford and Ragib “Rocket” Ismail.
But more importantly, Branch explained what it means to be a raider. He will be joined in the hall by his good friend and former roommate, Raiders owner Mark Davis.
Haynes said he lived a few doors down from Davis and Branch in Hermosa Beach during his playing days.
“He was a great man,” Haynes said. “Fast on the field, funny off the field. He had a lot of nicknames, but we used to call him Speedy. He had a great soul. He always looked positive. And he was a guy who liked to build people up. was.
“She was just a pleasure to be with him. He was a true comrade. He was a raider through and through.”
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for over a decade, including the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN, and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. follow him on twitter @eric_d_williams,
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