Maybe we are accustomed to it? But it’s troubling to see Raiders legends such as Cliff Branch and Fred Biletnikoff continue to be overlooked. Considering that it was the late Branch’s birthday on Tuesday, we figured it was an apt time to call this trend out. A belated happy birthday to Mr. Branch and his family from the Raider Ramble family.
“History is written by the victors.”
Sir Winston Churchill’s words are ever present when it comes to the treatment of the Silver and Black. Yes, the Raiders were one of the most feared teams of the 1970s and 1980s. Unfortunately, that was nearly 40 years ago. A large contingent of Raider Nation wasn’t even alive the last time that the late Al Davis hoisted a Lombardi Trophy. The fact that the team was largely the league’s doormat save for a handful of anomalies in the 2000s plays a part in all of this.
When the casual fan thinks of “winners,” a handful of organizations come to mind. In particular, the Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, and New England Patriots – to name a few. Heck, even the Philadelphia Eagles have been a more-successful team in the 21st century than the Raiders. This isn’t sour grapes; rather, it goes to show you the NFL is a “what have you done for me lately?” type of business.
Take the recent ranking done by the good folks at The 33rd Team. They’re an independent outlet featuring several former players and coaches in their ranks. Without looking at any of the stats pertaining to the wide receivers on this chart, there’s one thing that stands out. Do you see it? They’re all teams that have had more success than the Raiders this century, arguably since the 1990s, if we’re being honest. Of course, the exception would be the Miami Dolphins. Still, it’s hard not to see an inherent bias.
The Raiders of old…
Branch and Biletnikoff’s Raiders were the “dirty scoundrels” of their time—true misfits who did it their way. Akin to the Detroit Pistons of the 80s in basketball, champions, but more often than not neglected by their respective leagues. Sort of like we “have to” recognize them, rather than we “should.” Raiders fans know this too well.
Looking back, Branch was a revolutionary player in regard to his speed, size, and downfield dominance. In many ways, he was the first “modern” NFL wide receiver. Biletnikoff himself was no slouch, and despite having been a Hall of Famer since 1988, he often gets overlooked in the pantheon of “legends.” He alone is better than half of the wideouts on the 33rd Team’s list—easily.
Sometimes, the numbers aren’t enough.
During their run as teammates, Branch and Biletnikoff scored 78 touchdowns from the ’72 through ’78 seasons. You can add 548 total receptions to the stat-sheet, which, by the way, was just the regular season. Let’s not forget they helped lead the Raiders to their first Super Bowl win as well. Individually, they enjoyed plenty of accolades during their pairing, including both All-Pro nods and Pro Bowl designations.
? for both Raiders and non-fans: has there even been a group of players more overlooked and disrespected in the NFL’s history than the squads of the 70s?
Whether from the HOF themselves or modern-day revisionists who purposefully leave them off lists and rankings, what gives? pic.twitter.com/kEBqusgQks
— RaiderRamble.com™ (@TheRaiderRamble) August 2, 2023
The point isn’t to knock any other non-Raiders legends off the mountain. Rather, you can’t help but notice trends. Many of the Raiders from that era waited for their Hall of Fame induction but never had the distinction—Branch included.
Maybe it’s just easy to dismiss the greatness of that era. Davis and those Raiders spat in the face of the establishment; they weren’t the golden boys (Cowboys, 49ers), nor were dignity and class personified (Steelers); they just won.
It’s a sad day when Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle are ranked higher than Branch and Waddle—this is what it’s come to.
*Top Photo: Getty Images