HOUSTON – A native Houstonian is one the inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2022. Among the diehard, Clifford Branch is considered one of the greatest wide receivers to have ever played in the NFL, spending his 14th season career on the Raiders’ roster – both in Los Angeles and Oakland.
Yet, Branch’s start began in Houston’s Sunnyside neighborhood, where he graduated from Worthing High School in 1967. His fame already decks the halls of his alma mater, where a lifelong friend and brother remembered Branch, not only for his love of the game, but his commitment to his community.
“I was elated. I thought it would happen and I was happy for him. I’m happy for all of the guys who have been overlooked for years,” said Ralph Cooper, one of Branch’s closest friends, classmate, and teammate from Worthing High School.
Houston-based broadcaster and sports journalist Ralph Cooper is a hall of famer himself. Cooper was inducted into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame in 2020 for his years of sports reporting. Much of it was spent behind the mic at 1230 KCOH in Third Ward. Both Cooper and Branch were inducted into Worthing High School’s Hall of Fame, an accomplishment both men saw as top honor.
“He never forgot where he came from. Never forgot how important Worthing High School was to him, and he came back even after retirement from the NFL. He would come back every year for the homecoming game,” Cooper said.
Branch won three Super Bowls during his run with the Raiders: Super Bowl XI, XV, and XVII. He also played in four Pro Bowls and was the NFL yards leader in 1974.
Clifford Branch passed away in 2019.
“One of the greatest. I mean, what happened in regards to the Hall of Fame – they’re correcting a wrong that should never have happened,” Cooper said, continuing, “What kind of player was he? He was a game breaker. He had blazing speed.”
Branch’s speed remains one of his well-known advantages on the field, a trait Cooper said should have gained him induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame years ago.
“Justice has finally happened for number 21 (57) Number 21 of the Oakland Raiders, Worthing High School, the University of Colorado, is going into the Hall of Fame with Clifford Branch,” Cooper said.
The announcement of the 2022 class was made Thursday during the NFL Honors ceremony. Branch’s sister, Elaine Anderson, accepted the recognition on her brother’s behalf.
“The family – they get to enjoy it knowing that he would have enjoyed it and would have wanted them to be part of it. They would have all been part of it – all of his friends, classmates, teammates, family members, everybody would have been part of it,” Cooper said.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2022 will be enshrined on Aug. 6 in a ceremony in Canton, Ohio.