Saturday, December 23, 2006

Cliff Branch Hooks a Brotha Up!

The final Raiders home game left little to look forward to come next season. Check that, WR Ronald Curry and RB Justin Fargas had productive games, but the team as a whole with Andrew Walter at quarterback looked just what they are, 2-13. We loyal fans sucked it up while watching KC take one at our house. Most of us will be back next season to cheer on the silver and black once again. Win, Lose or know the motto.

I can at least delight in meeting a Raider Legend today. I met the man who once wore #21 for the Raiders and helped them win three Super Bowls.

WR Cliff Branch was at the Raiders Tailgate Tent before the game signing autographs and I just so happened to be wearing my #21 Branch jersey (white). When I asked CLiff to just hook me up with something nice on the back of my Jersey it almost began in disaster. Not only did the silver pen he was using run out, but he'd began the spelling of my name incorrectly, as many people do. So Cliff being the kind gentleman he is got a better writing pen then said "Tell you what, why not take off the Jersey and let me hook it up for you on a flat surface." The Jersey was off my back and in Cliff's hands quicker than you could say "Touchdown Raiders." And true to his word Cliff hooked my Jersey up with the following:

While Cliff was doctoring up my Jersey I had a fun conversation with another ole skool Oakland Raider. His name was Ted Kwalick and he'd grown up and played college football in Pennsylvania (Penn State). When I mentioned to them both that I was a 70's child watching football and my favorite player at the time was Bob Hayes, Cliff immediately referred to Hayes as "Bullit", his nickname, as we went on to discuss the speedy olympic gold medalist. I complimented Cliff by saying how Bullit just outran everybody on the defense but I remembered Cliff running the short routes and getting the tough yards as well as the bombs. Cliff didn't say anything but the smile it bought to his face told me that I'd given him an early xmas gift. Proof that recognition and appreciation for athletic accomplishments is truly what the players played for back in the day.

When Cliff handed me back the Jersey and saw my face light up with appreciation we both just stood there and enjoyed the moment as if old buddies exchanging xmas gifts. I believe we'd both somehow shared gifts with each other in the way of our exchange of mutual respect and friendship. We shook hands as Cliff wished me and my family a wonderful Merry Xmas, then threw in a joke about getting caught under the miseltoe. And throughout the day when fans asked where I got the Jersey I'd mention not only how I met Cliff at the tailgate tent but just how cool and respectable a person he is. One fan went on to tell me just how cool Cliff was when he and his wife met him one time. The fan said about Cliff all the things I'd just seen in the man. He's truly a Legend and I'm honored to have a Jersey and Game Day memory of him to hold on to.

Cliff did such a good job with his penmanship that at least two fans thought I'd bought my Jersey that way and wanted to know where they could get one. Now that I think about it that could have been the alcohol in them that caused the confusion. Either way, I learned just how well respected and admired #21, former Raider CLiff Branch was and still remains to Raider fans. I can't tell you how many times I heard a fan shout out "Branch" as I walked by. And I always turned and acknowledged that I was representin not just a Raider wide receiver, but a Raider Legend. I feel I reprented Cliff well today. So well I even ate my barbecue like a gentleman for fear of having a few red splats soak into my newly autographed white Jersey.

Now comes the big decision. Do I frame the autographed jersey and hang it up on my Wall of Fame or just retire it for the winter until next football season? Guess I'll find out come next season. For now, as I type out this proud Raider memory, I'll enjoy hanging it up at home, looking at every detail of Cliff's generous personalized autograph and telling the story over and over again to family and friends. The story of how former Raider WR Cliff Branch hooked a brotha up with a xmas gift like no other. Thanks Cliff Branch for being the man you are and the Legend you'll always be to us loyal Raider Fans.

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