Cliff Branch: Alive in our hearts

I’ll never forget the excitement I had that day. The sports editor at my local newspaper, the Petaluma Argus-Courier, called me up and said he had an assignment for me: Raiders legend Cliff Branch was in town, go talk to him. 

My experience at that point consisted of junior college articles and high school sports coverage. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Another aspect that was difficult to grasp: why the heck would J.J. my editor, full name John Jackson, kick me this story? This was Cliff freaking Branch. But that’s what stringers are for. If I was covering the odd high school game, J.J. was buried in them. The news business is like a game of Plinko — that game on “The Price is Right,” when a puck bounces down toward its fate with no reason what-so-ever. And I got a lucky bounce. 

I was giddy. I’ve followed the Raiders since I was about 10 years old, for the majority of those years as an ardent fan. But I was a reporter now. Though I was working as a pantry and pizza cook to pay the bills. Regardless, I didn’t show up in my Raiders gear to meet Cliff, as I always imagined I would. I raced to National Sports Memorabilia in Petaluma after my shift was done, left my gray chef coat on for some reason, put on my plain black hat and my drab, warm jacket. It was December 2017. 

I walked in, and there he was. Raider greatness. Hall of Fame worthy, but wrongly snubbed. Raiders’ speed personified. He struck fear in opponents. Fans of his era of NFL football — not just Raiders fans — knew that defensive backfields had better watch for No. 21, or he’d burn them for six points before they knew what hit ‘em. The story of the NFL cannot be told without this man. 

I figured I’d get a 10-minute interview, at best. We talked for nearly two hours. 

He sat and signed autographs, and I sat beside him. I was fascinated by every word he said, entertained by his cool demeanor, and impressed with how he interacted with fans. (Including when I went back the next day for a follow-up and Cliff was talking to a young woman, in her late twenties, I’d say. He was smiling, she was giggling, and definitely leaning his way).

He answered every question of mine, though some of his comments remained off the record. It was clear he followed the current team; his insights on the history of Pro Football were invaluable; and he predicted the new owner, Mark Davis, would get the club turned around. (Cliff told me Davis was ready to take charge. It seemed like something was about to go down. I wrote a story about how Mark was acting more like Al, but nobody picked it up. Not long after our talk, Davis fired Jack Del Rio and hired Jon Gruden.) 

I wrote the story for J.J., staying up until four in the morning to do so. The excitement hadn’t nearly run out. It was a lot of work, to be sure, especially with all the material I had. But it was a writers’ dream. When it was published, I brought copies for Cliff. He loved the story and asked for more Argus-Couriers. That was one of my proudest moments and still is. 

After my story on Cliff, I figured I had some credibility and I started a Raiders podcast with my longtime friend and fellow Raiders fan, Larry Marbley. Not long after we started, The Raiders Wire noticed the show and asked us to write for the website. My current project, another podcast, only exists because of Cliff Branch and is inspired by his play on the field. For all of this, I’m beyond grateful to Mr. Branch.

I made sure to have my fan moment with Cliff in the midst of our professional relationship, showing up to another one of his signings at National Sports Memorabilia in full Raiders gear, including a jacket I’ve only worn twice. I told him I was writing about the Raiders on the internet now, and I had a podcast. He was genuinely happy for me. I thanked him profusely. I got an autographed picture from him. “Luke-Continued Success,” he wrote. I have that photo proudly displayed on my desk, as it will always be. 

He granted me more interviews over the next few years. I was constantly amazed I had fostered such a relationship. But that was Cliff: genuine, personable, and he loved to talk football. 

Through it all, It was evident Cliff felt he should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he would never say so. He only said his wide receivers coach upon entering the league, and head coach, Tom Flores, should be in. He reminisced proudly about his HOF teammates. 

But he knew his day of induction would come. He also was aware that he might not witness it in this world. He saw Ken Stabler inducted posthumously, as the entire Raider Nation did. He was still upbeat, always in motion. I texted him on his birthday, just two days before he passed. He thanked me for the birthday wishes and sent me some photos, as was his custom. 

“I truly believe it’s going to happen. I think about 2019, 2020,” Branch told me back in ‘17, of his Hall of Fame induction. “Madden said ‘It’s going to happen, so you gotta be patient — patient and stay alive.’” 

Sadly, that’s not what happened. He won’t be with us when he is finally, and rightfully, enshrined. But Cliff Branch is alive in our hearts, and he will never, ever be forgotten. 

 

A’s Khris Davis wants to stay in Oakland, says, ‘We better do good so I don’t get traded’

The Athletics gave slugger Khris Davis a healthy one-year deal this offseason, but Davis wants to stay in Oakland for longer than that. He also realizes the A’s haven’t been known for retaining their players during the last 20 years.

Davis will make $16.5 million this season, after leading the A’s to the playoffs for the first time in four years. But hitting 48 home runs and amassing 123 RBI didn’t get Davis the security he desires.

“Shoot, I want to stay here at least three more years, but that’s a long time to be an Oakland A. But if anybody can do it I guess it’s me, hopefully,” Davis said, according to The Associated Press. “I don’t think they’ll trade me as long as we’re doing good. So we better do good so I don’t get traded.”

“I’d like to be here. I hope something gets done. It’s not a good thing being a free agent right now. For my security, it’s going to impact a lot. That’s the way the business is. I’m already 31 so I don’t know if I’m too old. There’s a lot of things that run through my head. Who knows. If it happens, it happens.”

 

The Athletics are famous for their frugality. The franchise has still produced winning teams sporadically this millennium due to the leadership of Executive Vice President, Billy Beane. Beane was the club’s general manager in years past, pioneering the popular “Moneyball” method of searching for overlooked value in major league prospects. Much of the strategy involves trading players like Davis for prospects.

Making matters worse for fans, the team has been unsuccessful in finding a new stadium. There is some movement for a new ballpark in Oakland, but any new structure is at least four to five years away from being completed. Billionaire owner, John Fisher, hasn’t shown he’s ready to spend top dollar on his club, presumably until he builds a new ballyard.

So Davis is left to worry about his long-term contract situation. It’s a bitter pill to swallow for fans of the team. They’re unfortunately used to it. But Davis’ production and desire for a three-year deal, as opposed to a longer-term contract, make a deal feasible — especially if the A’s do well, as Davis is hoping for.

49ers GM updates rehab progress for QB Jimmy Garoppolo, RB Jerick McKinnon

The 49ers seemed poised for a breakout season in 2018. They had a freshly signed franchise quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo and a free agent running back to balance their attack.

But RB Jerick McKinnon tore his ACL before the campaign began, and Garoppolo suffered the same injury Week 3 against the Chiefs. San Francisco finished with a 4-12 record.

General manager John Lynch updated the rehab process of both players from Mobile, Ala., where the 49ers coaching staff is getting a close look at some of the best NFL prospects in the country.

“I know that both their rehabs are going exceptionally well,” Lynch said, according to The Mercury News’ Matt Schneidman. “Neither have had any setbacks in terms of swelling or anything like that … They’re really relying on each other.”

Both players should be ready for training camp, per Schneidman.

The 49ers didn’t get their money’s worth in 2018 with Garoppolo — he signed a five year, $137 million contract before the season began, after looking good in limited action in 2017. His cap number was an incredible $37 million last year, per spotrac, but his salary will go down to $19 million in 2019.

San Francisco is counting on Garoppolo to be their franchise quarterback and leader, so it’s a must that his rebab goes smoothly. McKinnon, whose rehab is ahead of schedule, per Schneidman, will also be counted on heavily. They’re not back yet, however, so this is a situation to keep an eye on.

Warriors break yet another NBA record in dismantling of Nuggets

The Warriors had a chance to take first place away from the Nuggets in Denver and they came through in record-breaking fashion. Golden State was on fire from the outset and scored an NBA record 51 first-quarter points on their way to a 142-111 win.

Guards Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and forward Kevin Durant were incredibly hot to open the contest. Here are their numbers in the first stanza, courtesy of The Athletic’s Anthony Slater.

The entire game, save for a bit of a run by the Nuggets in the second quarter, was a positive for Golden State. Center Kevon Looney had a career high in rebounds with 12, Thompson, the noted sharpshooter, had four dunks, and the team won its fourth straight game as the debut of center Demarcus Cousins nears.

Plus, Draymond Green had 13 assists, and Golden State set a club record with 10 made 3-pointers in a quarter.

This was the year’s best performance from the two-time defending champions, and if any fan missed this game they’d do well by finding a friend who DVR’d this masterpiece from the finest collection of NBA superstars The Association has to offer.

But if that’s not possible, here’s the boxscore, courtesy of Slater, as well as a Curry 3-point shot that left Durant motionless. Enjoy.

Report: 49ers hire ex-Broncos DC to lead secondary

The 49ers will bring former Broncos defensive coordinator Joe Woods to San Francisco to join their coaching staff, according to a report from NFL Media’s Mike Garafolo.

Woods would work under current 49ers defensive coordinator, Robert Saleh, as the defensive passing game coordinator, per the report. Saleh will enter his third season as the defensive signal caller for San Francisco.

The 48-year-old Woods was the Broncos’ defensive backs coach in Denver before becoming the defensive coordinator, which he’s been for the last two seasons. He’s also coached defensive backs for the Buccaneers, Vikings and Raiders. The 49ers’ previous such coach, Jeff Hafley, left the club to help run The Ohio State University’s defense.

Woods and Saleh have some work to do. The 49ers had just two interceptions from the defense in 2018, setting an NFL record. Nothing went right after franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL early in the campaign. With some more balance on the squad, Woods should have no problem increasing the number of interceptions for the 49ers in 2019.

Richard Jefferson says Cleveland would have defeated Warriors in 2017 if not for Kevin Durant

When Kevin Durant joined the Warriors on July 4, 2016, everything in the NBA changed.

Former NBA forward Richard Jefferson believes the move cost him a second championship ring. He says his Cavaliers, the team that defeated Golden State’s 73-win squad in the 2016 Finals, would have won again in 2017 if not for Durant, according to Jefferson himself via The Players’ Tribune, per NBC Sports’ Ali Thanawalla.

“It genuinely pisses me off that we didn’t repeat as champions. I should have two rings,” Jefferson said. “(F***ing Kevin Durant, man!!!)”

It is by no means a foregone conclusion that the Cavaliers, led by star forward LeBron James, would have won another title if not for Durant’s free agent move to Golden State. Jefferson does have reason to be confident, however. The Warriors fell apart after forward Draymond Green’s suspension after Game 5 of The 2016 Finals and squandered a 3-1 series advantage.

But those Warriors didn’t win 73 games by accident. What could have been a rematch for the ages turned into a no-contest when Durant was added to Golden State’s already deadly lineup (putting aside the fact there are no guarantees in an alternate universe where Durant signs elsewhere).

Richardson is retired now, and he’s just thinking on what could have been. But he’ll just have to be content in beating the record-breaking 2016 Warriors squad led by Steph Curry, Green and Klay Thompson. Those three players won it all without Durant in 2015, and they would have been capable of getting revenge on their own.

With Durant, however, the team turned into a dynasty that is still going. The team will go for their third consecutive NBA championship in 2019, and the Cavaliers as we know them are gone, with James having moved on to the Lakers. And that’s just what the situation is, no revisionist’s history needed.

5 takeaways from Warriors’ romp vs Bulls

The Warriors overwhelmed the visiting Bulls from the opening jump Friday and won their third straight game after losing to the Rockets in overtime a week ago. Klay Thompson hit three consecutive 3-pointers to start things off, and Chicago never had a chance, losing 146-109.

It was Thompson’s backcourt mate, Steph Curry, that hit a career milestone, however. Curry headlined the happenings from this last game of a homestand before the club travels to play Dallas on Sunday.

Steph Curry|Moving up the 3-point ladder

Stephen Curry
Warriors at Wizards 02/24/15

Steph Curry moved past former NBA guard Jason Terry into third place in all-time 3-pointers made, going 5-11 from distance. He had 28 points in 27 minutes and sat out the fourth quarter.

His efficiency in this particular game is vintage Steph Curry, and it speaks to how he could already be on the heels of former NBA guards Ray Allen and Reggie Miller. They needed far more career games to eclipse 2,000 3-pointers made, according to The Athletic’s Anthony Slater.

Curry continues to melt minds with his devastating impact on the court, all set up by his deadly 3-point shot that can be unfurled at any instant. If Curry stays on course, he’ll smash this record.