How fast was Hall of Famer Cliff Branch? He could run a 4.6 40 when he was 69 years old
The Branch family was minding its own business in Sunnyside, with not a clue oldest sibling Cliff would grow up to be the fastest man in the NFL.
One day at a company picnic, it became evident Cliff had wheels.
The whole family was there: dad the construction worker, mom the teacher, their kids. After lunch, it was time for fun. Who wants to join in a footrace? First prize: Chinese checkers.
"He really wanted those Chinese checkers," recalls his sister, Elaine. "He refused to lose that race because of that. It was the first time I knew he was so fast."
Time went too fast. Cliff grew up, got famous, left football, settled in California, and was 71 when he died, three years before he could be in Canton as part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2022.
Elaine Anderson — the sister — teared up when asked how Cliff would have felt about finally getting in.
"I think he would cry," she said in an interview with the Canton Repository. "I know he would cry."
Branch is late to the Hall because his regular-season receiving stats weren't overwhelming. He finally got in because the Raiders won so much from 1972-85, and because he made a difference in so many playoff games.
It makes a Browns fan cry that Cleveland's postseason record from 1972-85 was 0-4. Branch's was 15-7, including 3-0 in Super Bowls.
There were so many playoff games that Elaine doesn't remember one Browns fans can't forget, the "Red Right 88" game in which the Raiders ended Cleveland's 1980 "Kardiac Kids" season.
She remembers everything else about him.
As a boy, he loved playing street football in the Sunnyside community in southeast Houston. The boys played tackle. When a car came, they moved to the side.
"Clifford was the only one who wore a uniform," Elaine said. "Every year, he would ask for a Christmas present that had something to do with football. From his presents, he put together a uniform."
He was a good big brother.
"He was friendly, caring, giving and loving," said Elaine, the second-oldest of four siblings. "He talked to everybody. Everybody loved him."
Cliff played high school ball for the Worthing Colts. Elaine was a majorette in the marching band.
It was easy to overlook Cliff when he was just standing around. He was 5-foot-11 and of medium build. Heads turned when he ran.
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He wound up at the University of Colorado, where he was a major sprint star in addition to making tracks on the gridiron.
Boulder, Colorado, was a different part of the world, in the mountains, 1,100 miles from the flat lands of Sunnyside. He liked it.
"He had a car and a girlfriend," Elaine said. "He was a big man on campus. But he was always humble. We enjoyed going to Colorado to see him play, and he enjoyed us being there."
The Raiders drafted him in the fourth round in 1972. The NFL was an adjustment. Veteran receiver Fred Biletnikoff became a mentor. Cliff would call him "father." Fred would call Cliff "son."
The distance from Sunnyside t
o Oakland was almost 2,000 miles, but the family kept going to games. The Super Bowls were everybody's favorite.
"Clifford was in three, and the Raiders won all of them," Elaine said. "The first one was at the Rose Bowl. Then New Orleans. Then Florida.
"Clifford became best friends with Al Davis' son, Mark. So we would see Mark.
"Every time the Raiders would make the Super Bowl, Cliff would call and say, 'OK, everybody's coming. I'm going to take care of you.
"He would know what room we were in. He totally took care of us. We had a blast."
Elaine has been to Canton once before, in 2006, for the induction of former Raiders head coach John Madden. Cliff was alive and, of course, in attendance. Madden was his first NFL head coach.
"This trip will be different," Elaine said.
After football, Branch lived in California wine country, about 60 miles north of Oakland. He had a house in Santa Rosa for 20 years before it was swallowed by what is known as the 2017 Tubbs wildfire.
As he got older, he exercised daily, played tennis, and golfed quite a bit. He was in demand at charity golf events.
According to an account in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Branch was 69 when he claimed he could run a 4.6 40-yard dash. He took off running to back up his point.
The 2017 fire claimed much of his large stock of memorabilia, including pictures of him with the likes of Muhammad Ali, Tiger Woods, Jim Brown, and The Temptations.
The Raiders never stopped being family.
"Our blood turned black and silver the day Cliff became a Raider," his sister Elaine said. "I'll be a Raiders fan until the day I die."
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This article originally appeared on The Repository: Pro Football Hall of Famer Cliff Branch was NFL's fastest man