A top-speed trailblazer and Super Bowl-winning coach are one step closer to Canton.
Former Raiders receiver Cliff Branch and 15-year NFL head coach Dick Vermeil were selected as the senior finalist and coach finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2022, the Hall announced Tuesday.
A former track star and member of the University of Colorado football team, Branch found his NFL opportunity with the Oakland Raiders in 1972 and ran with it to a 14-year career that included two 1,000-yard seasons, four Pro Bowl selections and three All-Pro honors. Branch became known as one of the NFL's premier speedsters of his generation, stretching defenses distances rarely seen in football at that time and creating plenty of space for teammates Dave Casper and Fred Fred Biletnikoff to create their own Hall of Fame careers.
"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 finished with 501 receptions for 8.685 yards and 67 touchdowns, numbers that place him among Hall of Famers from his generation of NFL stars. He led the league in receiving touchdowns twice and won three Super Bowls with the Raiders, with whom he spent his entire NFL career.
Branch passed away in 2019. His sister, Elaine Anderson, 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 inched closer to the Hall of Fame just weeks after attending his former star receiver Isaac Bruce's enshrinement in Canton. Vermeil found success in the college ranks, leading UCLA to a 15-5-3 mark in two seasons before jumping to the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1976. Vermeil led the Eagles to a Super Bowl in the 1980 season, where they lost to Branch's Raiders.
Vermeil took a 15-year hiatus before returning to coaching with the St. Louis Rams in 1997, leading them to a Super Bowl in the 1999 season. Vermeil directed the Greatest Show on Turf, producing a thrilling win over the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV and positioning the Rams among the league's elite into the new millennium. He walked away from coaching following the win before coming back one final time to lead the Kansas City Chiefs from 2001-2005, guiding them to one playoff appearance before retiring in early 2006.
Vermeil finished his coaching career with a record of 120-109 in the NFL, including a 6-5 mark in the postseason and a 1-1 record in the Super Bowl.
"I am overwhelmed," Vermeil said, via the Hall of Fame. "I'm not sure I belong there."