Former Raiders great Cliff Branch dies at 71

Focus on Sport  Getty Images

Focus on Sport Getty Images

Branch, 71, was found dead in a hotel room in Bullhead City, Ariz., with the initial investigation determining that Branch died of natural causes.

Team owner Mark Davis, son of the late Raiders owner Al Davis, referred to Branch as "my best friend" in a statement.

"Cliff Branch touched the lives of generations of Raiders fans", the statement read. "His loss leaves an eternal void for the Raiders Family, but his kindness and loving nature will be fondly remembered forever", the team said.

"We're going to miss Cliff Branch", Gruden said after Sunday's practice.

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. He was named to four consecutive Pro Bowls from 1974-77 and led the league in receiving yards (1,092) in '74.

The news of Branch's passing came shortly before the Raiders were due for their regular team meeting Saturday night, and when the entire team gathered as one, Gruden took the opportunity to not only speak on Branch, but to show some of the three-time Super Bowl champ's game tape.

Branch, who born on August 1, 1948, in Houston, was a standout player in high school and at Wharton Junior College.

There is no doubt that Branch belongs in the Hall of Fame, and if he does eventually get in, it will be posthumously, just like Ken Stabler.

Branch wasn't shy about his desire to be join the Pro Football Hall of Fame despite several frustrating years being left out, and relayed some advice former Raiders coach John Madden gave him during a 2017 appearance on the Raiders Insider Podcast.

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