He wasn’t one of the eight inductees to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019 Saturday, but he could be joining them … and sooner rather than later.
I’m talking about former Raiders' wide receiver Cliff Branch, who died Saturday at the age of 71 and who’s a potential candidate for the Hall’s expanded Centennial Class of 2020 – a group that was approved Friday by the Hall’s board of trustees.
There will be 20 members of that class, including 10 seniors, and while Raiders’ fans everywhere mourned Branch's passing Saturday they also ramped up their calls for Hall-of-Fame voters to “do the right thing” and enshrine the former star pass catcher.
“I wish you could’ve been alive to be inducted to the HOF,” tweeted @thevisionario to Branch.
That sentiment was shared by others on social media during the Hall’s nearly five-hour ceremony, and I get it. Raiders’ fans were upset – and understandably so – that it took Ken Stabler’s death to fast-forward his candidacy, with the former Raiders’ quarterback elected to the Hall the following year (2016).
Now you have to wonder: Could the same thing happen to Branch?
It’s possible. Several members of the Hall's seniors’ committee that I polled last month supported his candidacy then. Yet while it’s true that group has discussed Branch in recent years, its members may not be part of the Blue-Ribbon panel that chooses the Centennial Class.
According to the Hall, the panel will be composed of 25 voters pulled from Hall-of-Fame selectors, Pro Football Hall of Famers, media members, football historians and industry experts (whatever that means). But there is no word on who chooses them, how they will be chosen or when they will be chosen.
So that could be an issue.
But so can this: Branch wasn’t an all-decade receiver. Drew Pearson was. In fact, he was a first-team all-decade receiver from the 1970s. Mac Speedie was all-decade, too. So were Del Shofner, Boyd Dowler, Harold Carmichael and Gary Collins.
Nevertheless, Raiders’ owner Mark Davis implored voters to act on Branch when he joined the Talk of Fame Network in January … and I can only imagine how he feels now.
“There’s never been anybody like him,” Davis said of Branch then. “He dominated the field. He opened up so many different things for all the other players … for the tight ends and the seams and everything else. He was a one-of-a-kind player, and I think he deserves his due. And I hope he’s going to get it soon.”
2. Baseball wants to speed up games. Football wants to speed up games. So why can’t the Hall of Fame speed up its induction ceremonies? Saturday’s marathon took roughly 4:50, and that’s good only if you’re flying from L.A. to New York. The program was supposed to end at 10:30 p.m. Instead, it lasted until 11:52, with five of the seven speakers (yes, seven, because the Bowlen family didn’t address the crowd) exceeding 25 minutes each and the last three topping 30 – capped by Tony Gonzalez’s 39:17 filibuster to close the program just before midnight. The event was so slow the Red Sox-Yankees game, which started at the same time, beat it to the finish line. That has to change. Speakers are encouraged to keep their speeches from 10 to 14 minutes apiece, and only one Saturday (thank you, Johnny Robinson) hit the under. The problem with is that is that 1) you lose spectators in the house as the night refuses to end (“I see the crowd has thinned out a bit,” Gonzalez said when he took the stage); 2) you lose TV viewers, tired of unscripted monologues that ramble and 3) it’s unfair to the speakers who go last. I’m not sure what the solution is, but the Hall better find one.
3. I agree with ESPN’s Chris Mortensen who said Ed Reed’s bust was “the greatest on stage.” It looked just like him. So did Keven Mawae’s and Pat Bowlen’s. But Gil Brandt? Uh, not so much.
4. Good to hear Brandt put in Hall recommendations for Pearson, all-decade safety Cliff Harris, former Hall finalist Everson Walls and former Cowboys’ owner Clint Murchison. My guess? One of them shows up on the expanded Centennial Class list.
5. Have to admit: The Hall is taking a risk by asking voters to vote up or down on the entire 2020 Centennial Class of 10 seniors, three contributors and two coaches. I understand the chances of it not passing are remote, but all it takes are 10 of the 48 voters to vote it down and the entire class is sabotaged.
6. Loved Johnny Robinson’s shout-out to Todd Tobias. Never heard of him? He runs his own website (talesfromtheamericanfootballleague.com), and he was one of Robinson’s strongest and most determined supporters for Hall-of-Fame induction … and not for years. For decades. Take a bow, Todd, You deserve it.
7. Also want to acknowledge Ty Law for delivering a “special thank-you” to our Ron Borges, the Hall-of-Fame voter who made impassioned presentations to selectors to put Law where Borges thought belonged …. in Canton. Borges took unwarranted criticism at home when Law couldn’t make the cut in past years, but he never wavered in his determination to get him in … and Law knew it. “Ron Borges was probably my strongest advocate, my strongest ally in this fight,” he told his audience. “Hey, Ron, you stood on the table for me. You let people know that I was worthy of this prestigious fraternity. I couldn’t have been here without you. So many people came and told me about the job you did in that room by pleading your case for me (that) won them over.” And he did. Trust me.
8. Thank you, Champ Bailey, for asking all of us to listen.
9. Here’s hoping young persons everywhere listened to Gonzalez, too (if, that is, they were awake), when he told them not to be afraid of adversity … but to embrace it. “It’s not about the touchdowns,” he said. “It’s not about the catches, and it’s not about the glory. The most learning you’re ever going to do is when you go through the bad times. In fact that’s part of it. So welcome it when that comes. Because I know what it’s done for me.”
10. A tie between Law and Ed Reed for most emotional speeches – each tearing up when talking about their parents. “I am so grateful to my beautiful mother,” Law said, his voice cracking. “I want everybody to know I get my competitiveness and my will to win from my Mom. I had to earn every win I got, and she talked trash with the best of them. Mom, you always had my back, even when I was dead-ass wrong. You had my back. You are my rock. We had our personal struggles. At times, we bent, but we never broke. We came out on the other side. Let’s embrace the fact that we overcame the mistakes … Mom, we are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Nobody can take that away from us. Nobody can take that away from you.”
11. Nevertheless, Reed got off one of the best lines of the night when talking about his days at the University of Miami and how people there thought the Hurricanes were so good they should move up in class to the NFL. “That was a special run,” he said, “and we were undefeated. Know they say we could’ve beaten some NFL teams, but I played in this league. It wasn’t going to happen. I would not disrespect this league. Not even those Cincinnati Bengals.” He stopped there, imploring listeners to “hold on, hold on,” before he continued. “Or the Cleveland Browns,” he said. “I have the upmost respect for those organizations. I had 30 picks between those two teams. Not my fault they changed those quarterbacks.”
12. After hearing Jerry Jones extol Gil Brandt, who helped choose 15 of the 19 players in the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor, one question: Why wasn't it until 2018 that the Cowboys inducted Gil into the Ring?
13. The more you listen to Kevin Mawae, the more you understand why he was such a strong leader and role model for the clubs he played with.
14. Ed Reed thanked a lot of people … and I mean A LOT, including his barbers (“both named Joe”). But his best line was reserved for the Houston Texans “for letting me be there a couple of months.” That got some laughs.
15. Great note from our Rick Gosselin: Gil Brandt drafted 10 Hall of Famers. Nine played for the Cowboys. The 10th was Pat Riley, who’s in the Basketball Hall of Fame. The Cowboys made him an 11th-round draft pick in 1968.
16. The night’s big winner was Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick. He showed up in three speeches – Mawae, Brandt and Law. Law even got his former head coach to smile.
17. Mawae just made a lot of friends in Raider Nation by pumping Tom Flores for Canton. “You will be on this stage soon,” Mawae said of Flores, who brought Mawae to Seattle in 1994. Flores was a Hall-of-Fame finalist this year for the first time.
18. Really wish we’d heard from someone in the Bowlen family.
19. Johnny Robinson’s speech is proof that less can be more. His pre-recorded delivery was terrific.
20. Best fashion accessory: Mawae’s lei. Mawae is the first player of Hawaiian descent to be elected to the Hall.
CLOCKING THE SPEECHES
(Inductees in the order they delivered them)
GIL BRANDT – 19:28
JOHNNY ROBINSON (taped) – 5:24
KEVIN MAWAE – 26:59
TY LAW – 28:30
ED REED – 35:38
CHAMP BAILEY – 30:35
TONY GONZALEZ – 39:17
WORDS TO REMEMBER
Kevin Mawae on Bill Belichick: “I never felt more challenged mentally in a game than when I faced your teams. I came to love the puzzle of figuring out your defense and the chess match those games became. I didn’t win all of them. In fact, my teams lost most of them. I think we were 4-13 against you. That sucks That’s awful. Still I hate the Patriots. Everybody hates the winners.”
Champ Bailey on getting traded from Washington: “The best thing in my career happened in 2004. I was traded to the Denver Broncos.”
Ty Law on Belichick: “It’s no mistake or coincidence that you are the greatest coach this game has ever seen.”
Good advice from Johnny Robinson to all those Hall-of-Fame worthy candidates wondering why they’re not first-ballot choices: “Sometimes you just have got to go through the valley to stand up on the mountain.”
Champ Bailey on his mother naming him “Champ:” “Thank you, Momma, for all that pressure.”
Ed Reed to his favorite football town: “No place like Baltimore, baby.”
Ty Law, going code blue: “Let’s keep it real. We started this s**t.”