One step closer to Canton for a top-speed trailblazer and a Super Bowl-winning coach.
Cliff Branch, a former Raiders receiver, and Dick Vermeil, a 15-year NFL head coach, have been named senior and coach finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022, respectively.
Branch, a former track star and member of the University of Colorado football team, was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 1972 and went on to have a 14-year NFL career that featured two 1,000-yard seasons, four Pro Bowl appearances, and three All-Pro awards. Branch rose to prominence as one of the NFL’s top speedsters of his generation, stretching defenses to lengths rarely seen in football at the time and allowing colleagues Dave Casper and Fred Fred Biletnikoff to carve out Hall of Fame careers of their own.
“Cliff Branch changed the game,” Raiders owner Mark Davis said when receiving a call from Hall of Fame president and CEO David Baker. “Safeties had to be aware of him.”
Branch concluded his career with 501 receptions for 8,685 yards and 67 touchdowns, placing him among the Hall of Famers of his generation of NFL stalwarts. With the Raiders, with whom he spent his entire NFL career, he twice led the league in receiving touchdowns and won three Super Bowls.
Branch died in the year 2019. Elaine Anderson, his sister, received the call from Baker on Tuesday.
“He dreamed of this. He wanted this so bad, he could taste it,” Anderson said on the call with Baker. “It was all he talked about — when he would go to the Hall of Fame.”
Vermeil drew closer to the Hall of Fame just weeks after seeing the enshrinement of his former standout receiver Isaac Bruce in Canton. Vermeil had success in college, leading UCLA to a 15-5-3 record in two seasons before joining the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL in 1976. In the 1980 season, Vermeil led the Eagles to the Super Bowl, where they were defeated by Branch’s Raiders.
After a 15-year hiatus, Vermeil returned to coaching in 1997 with the St. Louis Rams, leading them to a Super Bowl victory in 1999. The Greatest Show on Turf was directed by Vermeil, who led the Rams to a stunning victory over the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV, putting them among the league’s top into the new millennium. Following the victory, he retired from coaching until returning to lead the Kansas City Chiefs from 2001 to 2005, bringing them to one playoff berth before retiring in early 2006.
Vermeil concluded his NFL coaching career with a 120-109 record, including a 6-5 postseason record and a 1-1 Super Bowl record.
“I am overwhelmed,” Vermeil said, via the Hall of Fame. “I’m not sure I belong there.”