Cliff Branch, a three-time All-Pro wide receiver who won three Super Bowls during his 14-year NFL career, all with the Oakland Raiders, has died, the team confirmed late Saturday.
The cause of death was not immediately known. Branch, who turned 71 on Thursday, was found dead at 3:40 p.m. Saturday in his hotel room, according to the Bullhead City (Ariz.) Police Department. No foul play was revealed after an initial investigation, and it was determined that Branch died of natural causes.
“Cliff Branch touched the lives of generations of Raiders fans,” the Raiders said in a release. “His loss leaves an eternal void for the Raiders Family, but his kindness and loving nature will be fondly remembered forever. Cliff’s on-field accomplishments are well documented and undeniably Hall of Fame worthy, but his friendship and smile are what the Raider Nation will always cherish.”
Raiders owner Mark Davis considered himself to be Branch’s “best friend,” and once served as the wide receiver’s agent while his father, the late Al Davis, owned the team.
“I will miss him dearly,” Davis said through the team.
Branch was a fourth-round draft pick in 1972 by the Raiders out of Colorado, where he was a sprinter on the track team. He totaled 501 receptions for 8,685 yards and 67 touchdowns in his NFL career, averaging 17.3 yards per reception. He earned first-team All-Pro honors three straight seasons, from 1974-76, and played alongside Hall of Famer Fred Biletnikoff.
His career totals in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches place him third in franchise history, trailing only Hall of Famers Tim Brown and Biletnikoff in each category.
In 1974, he led the league with 1,092 receiving yards and 13 touchdown receptions. At age 35 in 1983, he scored a 99-yard catch-and-run touchdown against the Redskins in Washington, which is tied for the NFL record for longest TD reception.
Branch played for the Raiders teams that won Super Bowl titles in 1976, 1980 and 1983, totaling 14 catches for 181 yards and three scores in the three games. Only five other players in the franchise’s history were part of all three teams.
Competing against the best enabled him to earn consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004 and 2010, when he became a semifinalist but fell short of qualifying as a finalist. In 2014, he made his case for being worthy of induction.
“I went through Willie Brown for seven years and then Mike Haynes for three years, and both of those guys are in the Hall of Fame,” Branch said then. “So going against the best defensive backs in practice every day made it easy for me on Sundays.”
Branch, who born on Aug. 1, 1948, in Houston, was a standout player in high school and at Wharton Junior College.