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Branch to attend Raiders booster club Sunday

Branch to attend Raiders booster club Sunday

BY CHARLES WHISNAND

Appeal Sports Editor

Once a Raider, always a Raider. Cliff Branch is no different than any of the other greats who played with the Raiders.

Much like many of the teammates he played with, the former Raiders receiving great has always continued to be a part of the Raider Nation ever since he joined the team as a rookie receiver in 1972.

That’s no surprise since Branch said the Raiders of the 1970s were a close bunch. “We were a close-knit team,” he said.

Branch said the biggest reason why the Raiders players stayed close is there wasn’t free agency. “I’m glad we didn’t have free agency during our era,” he said.

So Branch spent his entire career with the Raiders until he retired in 1986. And there’s no way that Branch was going to become a free agent after his career as his loyalty is still with the Raiders.

Branch will demonstrate that loyalty on Sunday when he’ll attend the Carson City Raiders Booster Club’s annual picnic and membership drive at Washoe Lake State Park. The event will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The event is free for booster club members and $5 for nonmembers. There will be an additional $5 fee per vehicle for parking.

Those attending are asked to bring a side dish for everyone else to share. The event is a “bring your own” beverage event. Branch will sign autographs, pose for photos and have memorabilia for purchase at the event.

Branch said it’s been a while, but that he’s looking forward to being with the Carson boosters again. “I’ve been involved with Carson City’s Booster Club since its inception,” he said. “We do a lot of community and public relations with our booster clubs.”

It should be logical that so many of the Raider greats have reached out to their fans, Branch said. “If there’s no fans there’s no game, period,” he said. “The fans make the game.”

The support of all the Raiders booster club “and particularly the Carson City boosters” have always been great, Branch said.

His community and public relations work involves “a lot of scramble golf,” Branch said. During a recent golf tournament, he received a chance to talk to the Oakland Raiders’ No. 1 overall draft pick, LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell.

“Without a doubt,” said Branch on if he agreed with the pick. “That was a no-brainer. We needed a quarterback.”

Branch said Russell told him “my uncle used to talk about you.” Branch said he told Russell he wished he could have played with him. “I know I wouldn’t have been (underthrown) in my career,” Branch said.

During the 1970s, the Raiders had a difficult time breaking through in the AFC playoffs against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Miami Dolphins. Branch noted only four teams advanced to the playoffs from each conference back then as opposed to six now.

“It was the Dolphins and the Steelers,” Branch said. “You’ve got to be very good. It was real tough football.

But Branch knew the Raiders had one title. “We were the most feared team in the ’70s,” he said.

During Branch’s rookie year in 1972, the Raiders were done in by the “Immaculate Reception” in the playoffs when they lost to the Steelers 13-7 after Franco Harris’ controversial touchdown reception.

The Raiders came back to beat the Steelers in the playoffs in 1973, only to lose to the Dolphins in the AFC Championship Game. They came back to beat the Dolphins 28-26 in 1974 in the playoffs in the “Sea of Hands” game on Clarence Davis’ touchdown reception, only to lose to the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game.

The Raiders lost again to the Steelers 16-10 in the AFC Championship Game in 1975 on the icy Three Rivers Stadium artificial turf that favored the Steelers up-the-middle game over the Raiders outside attack.

“Back in the ’70s we were a team that was always knocking on the door,” Branch said. “We definitely should have beaten the Steelers in ’74 and ’75.”

But the Raiders finally broke through in the 1976 season when they beat the Minnesota Vikings in the Super Bowl. Branch played on three Super Bowl title teams as the Raiders also beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1980 season and the Washington Redskins in the 1983 season.

Branch played on seven teams that advanced either to the Super Bowl or AFC Championship Game. “That’s half of my career,” he said. We were very successful. Our goal was trying to get to the Super Bowl.”

The Raiders won their last Super Bowl after they moved to Los Angeles. While many didn’t like the move to L.A. from Oakland, Branch said he took it in stride.

“Teams have always moved,” Branch said. “I looked at the history. We’re still going to be the Raiders and we’re still going to wear the Silver and Black and we’re still going to be committed to winning.”

The move to L.A. was one of the factors that contributed to the Raiders’ renegade image. In the NFL Network’s Top 10 Feuds, the No. 1 feud listed is “the Raiders against the World.”

Branch, who said he doesn’t watch the NFL Network, laughed when he heard that, saying the legal battles of Raiders managing general partner Al Davis is what contributed to that ranking.

He also believes the Raiders can return to their past glory under new coach Lane Kiffin. “He’s already accomplishing a lot of things,” Branch said. “I think it should be a very popular year for us.”