Cliff Branch meant a lot to his former teammates, current players, coaches and fans.
Branch, who led the Raiders to three Super Bowl titles, died Saturday afternoon. He was 71.
According to the Bullhead City, Arizona, police department, Branch was found dead at 3:40 p.m. in a hotel room. Police say it appears to be a natural death. Branch was in the area to sign autographs.
“He was a great teammate and my friend,” Lester Hayes said in a Facebook post.
Another former teammate, Ted Hendricks, said, “Words are not enough to soften this blow to our Raider Alumni family.”
Former Raiders coach Tom Flores of Sanger said, “My heart is broken.”
Branch was picked by the Raiders in the fourth round of the 1972 draft, coveted for his speed (in an interview with Raiders.com, he said he ran the 40-yard sprint in 4.20 seconds) but early in his career not sure-handed. He worked at the position and finished with 501 receptions for 8,685 yards and 67 touchdowns. He averaged 17.3 yards per catch, becoming one of the toughest wide receivers to tackle en route to two 1,000-yard seasons.
Branch was a four-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro and credited his success to the late Ken Stabler.
Outpouring of condolences came throughout Saturday evening.
Former Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson sent out a heartfelt message.
Branch was in Indianapolis at the NFL Scouting Combine in February at the request of coach Jon Gruden to help evaluate the wide receivers.
“It is a credit to Jon Gruden who knows the history of the Raiders and he’s all about the history,” Branch said then. “It’s a credit to him to have me come out here and have open arms and participating in this event.”
Gruden showed footage of Branch’s playing days Saturday night. At Sunday’s practice, Derek Carr, Tyrell Williams, Vontaze Burfict wore No. 21 (Branch’s number) to pay their respects.
“Terrible loss to the Raiders and football and everybody that knew him,” Gruden said. “Much of our players paid tribute to him. Our prayers are with him and his family. It’s a big loss for us.”
Former longtime Raiders chief executive officer Amy Trask said if someone think Raiders “Cliff is - and should be - one of the first who come to mind.”
“There was never an instance in which Cliff did not respond enthusiastically to a request that he spend time with Raiders fans, business partners, those who owned interests in the Raiders, municipal leaders, etc.,” she said.
“Each and every time he was asked to do so or to attend a fan event, a gathering, a meeting, etc., he eagerly did so and he represented the organization magnificently.”