Oakland Raiders

Destiny? Tom Flores hopes expanded vote will usher him into Hall of Fame alongside Cliff Branch

Tom Flores came oh-so-close this year to enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Now, he says perhaps it was a blessing that he had to wait another year. Flores is hopeful he’ll make the Hall of Fame in 2020 alongside one of his favorite players, Cliff Branch.

Branch died Aug. 3. The day before, he had texted Flores with a link to an article about the Hall of Fame celebrating the NFL’s centennial by expanding its 2020 class with 20 extra honorees.

“He said, ‘You’re in, Coach.’ And I was going to text him back as soon as I got home and say maybe we’ll both go in together. I didn’t get a chance to do that. Now, maybe we’ll still go in together.

“It would be the ultimate.”

Flores, a former Sanger High and Fresno City College standout, was a first-time finalist this year for Hall of Fame induction. Eight of the 15 finalists received the necessary 80% vote for induction.

Endorsement from Kevin Mawae

Flores was at the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony in Canton, Ohio, this year to honor another former player, center Kevin Mawae. Flores drafted Mawae in 1994 and he went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Seahawks, New York Jets and Tennessee Titans.

Like Branch, Mawae predicted that Flores will soon be in the Hall of Fame. Mawae thanked his first NFL coach during his enshrinement speech.

Flores said he was in the crowd at Canton when he got the news of Branch’s death.

“I was devastated and still am. It’s so hard to believe that I won’t see that smiley face anymore ... and his laughter. I used to tell Cliff quiet down because we were inside a house. We’re like family, and he will be missed.”

What made Cliff Branch special

Flores was an assistant to John Madden when Branch was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 1972.

It took Branch three seasons to find his stride. In a 14-year career, he helped the Raiders to three Super Bowl victories and was a four-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro.

“He was unique, had range and a speed player that can play football,” Flores recalls. “He was a legitimate world-class sprinter and fastest guy in the world at that time when he was a rookie and he took that to the football field and we had to work on slowing him down a little bit because he can run so fast he was trying to do everything at that speed.”

Related stories from Sacramento Bee

Anthony Galaviz writes about sports for The Fresno Bee. He covers the Oakland Raiders, high schools, boxing, MMA and junior colleges. He’s been with The Bee since 1997 and attended Fresno City College before graduating from Fresno State with a major in journalism and a minor in criminology.