Each house flattened by the wildfires was in its own way a photo album. The people who lived there still see in their mind’s eye dad’s favorite chair, that swing in the backyard, that rug grandma gave them. That vacation to Yellowstone was captured by mom’s silly old camera she refused to surrender. On the wall near the bedrooms were those little tick marks with a pencil that showed the date and height of every kid who grew up in that house. Maybe there was even a little heart drawn next to each entry.
Each house vaporized was a memory inside, containing so much emotion, maybe even more than a mind could bear. Could be overwhelming. Probably is. Probably should be.
Imagine, therefore, how stuffed Cliff Branch’s head is. His ears are leaking memories.
“I am a Raider hoarder,” said the legendary Oakland Raiders wide receiver. “No, correct that. I am a professional Raider hoarder.”
In his house on Stonefield Lane in Santa Rosa there were three bedrooms, a TV room, a living room and a formal dining room. Yet, there was only one place to sit that wasn’t occupied by something, only one place to put one’s feet on the floor without kicking something. It was a chair placed in front of a television. Everywhere else was occupied. Everywhere, Branch emphasized with a certain panache.
“I used to have fun with Freddie Jensen, who owned the (now closed) Music Box,” Branch said. “I’d say, ‘Hey, Freddie, come on over and I’ll cook you dinner!’ Freddie would scream back — ‘I can’t come over. There’s nowhere to sit!’ And he was right. It was the only place to sit.”
Walking into Branch’s house, one would have to enter sideways because the wall on the right had a display case with three Lombardi trophies, replicas of the three the Raiders won in Super Bowls in which Branch played.
“Should have seen the eyes of the guy who came to fix my plumbing,” said Branch, 69.
The eyes of any newcomer remained wide open as they advanced forward. Where to start to describe? I made the mistake of saying it was like trying to describe the Smithsonian museum.
“It WAS a museum!” Branch quickly corrected.
Branch had eight Raiders helmets from the 14 years he was with the team. He had the four helmets from his Pro Bowl games. He had the football from his 500th reception.
He had 50 Raiders jerseys, all his Raiders helmets. His University of Colorado jersey, too.
Basically, if it was something he wore while playing football, Branch had it. Undergarments not included.
He wall-papered the house with pictures. Branch preferred 8x10 photos. More room for others. Like Branch with Freddie Biletnikoff. Branch with Muhammad Ali. All autographed. Like the one with Ken Stabler. Or the one with Tiger Woods. And Charley Taylor. And Paul Warfield. Jim Brown. Tim Brown. Bob Hayes. Don Maynard. Mike Singletary. Lenny Dawson. All signed.
“I even got a Barry Bonds jersey from the year he hit 73 homers,” Branch said.
There’s Branch with the Temptations. Posters. Lithographs. And so on and so on and so on …
And one special picture. Of Dick “Night Train” Lane. “He was my favorite player,” Branch said. Interesting Branch would say that. Night Train is a Hall of Fame defensive back. Branch caught 67 touchdown passes against a lot of defensive backs. Maybe it’s because Night Train played like a Raider.