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Raiders legendary wideout Branch dead at 71

AP, Reuters

Cliff Branch, one of the Raiders’ career-leading wide receivers who won three Super Bowls in 14 seasons with the franchise, has died. He was 71.

Branch was found dead Saturday in a hotel room in Bullhead City, Arizona, the city’s police department said. It said an initial investigation revealed no foul play and that Branch died of natural causes.

“Cliff Branch touched the lives of generations of Raiders fans,” the Raiders said in a statement on their website. “His loss leaves an eternal void for the Raiders Family, but his kindness and loving nature will be fondly remembered forever.”

One of the game’s top deep threats from 1972 to 1985 in Oakland and Los Angeles, Branch was an All-Pro three straight seasons (1974-76) and made four Pro Bowls. He scored 67 touchdowns through the air, leading the NFL in TD receptions in 1974 with 13 and in 1976 with 12. Branch also had a league-high 1,092 yards receiving in 1974.

He was a force in the postseason, with 1,289 yards receiving. The Raiders won Super Bowls after the 1976, 1980 and 1983 seasons — the last one in Los Angeles, where the franchise moved in 1982 after protracted court fights before returning to the Bay Area in 1995.

In 1983, Branch tied the NFL record with a 99-yard touchdown catch in a regular-season game. He stands third among Raiders pass catchers in yards receiving with 8,685, trailing Tim Brown and Fred Biletnikoff — both Hall of Famers.

Branch was a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004 and 2010.

“All my peers that I played against and that are in the Hall of Fame, they tell me that I deserve to be in the Hall of Fame,” Branch told the Raiders’ website in a recent interview. “It’s the crowning glory, just like getting a Super Bowl ring.”

Meanwhile, a $1.9 billion stadium being built for the Raiders when the team moves to Las Vegas next year is being named for Allegiant Travel Co., team and company officials said Monday.

The announcement came during a ceremony marking the installation of the final steel beam for the roof of the 65,000-seat indoor stadium just off the Las Vegas Strip.

Las Vegas-based Allegiant Travel is the publicly traded corporate parent of Allegiant Air, a low-fare carrier serving more than 120 U.S. cities, including 55 nonstop routes to Las Vegas.

Company chairman and chief executive Maury Gallagher said in a statement the facility name will “amplify” the airline’s focus on leisure and vacation travel and its own resort development in Florida.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in May the company had filed to trademark the name “Allegiant Stadium.”

Terms of the agreement weren’t made public, but experts told the Review-Journal the deal might cost up to $25 million annually in cash and in-kind services.

The Raiders are moving after the upcoming season.

Taxpayers are funding $750 million of the stadium, which will also host UNLV football and the collegiate Las Vegas Bowl game beginning in 2020.

Wagner sidelined

Seattle Seahawks All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner is out indefinitely after undergoing a platelet-rich plasma therapy procedure over the weekend, although the team is not specifying the nature of the injury being treated and is calling it “minor.”

“Bobby had a little procedure done,” head coach Pete Carroll told reporters on Monday, saying only that the targeted area was on Wagner’s “lower body.”

“He’s going to get a little break here to get right,” Carroll said. Wagner was at practice on Monday.

The News Tribune in Tacoma, Washington, reported that the PRP procedure likely took place Sunday since he took part in the Seahawks’ annual mock game scrimmage on Saturday.

Monday marked the ninth practice Wagner has missed, and it was less than two weeks ago that he set a new standard for middle linebacker salaries by signing a three-year deal worth $54 million.

Carroll at one point described the nature of Wagner’s treatment as “a little bit of everything. Here, there, it’s something that he’s done regularly and we are doing it again now at this time of year.”

The Seahawks begin their preseason schedule on Thursday night at home against the Denver Broncos, and also are home for the season opener on Sept. 8 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Carroll described the timing of the procedure, two weeks into camp, by saying it was “just to make sure we have plenty of time between games and all that stuff. We have a big two weeks coming up, 10 days coming up after this game. He’ll have two weeks before the next game.”

Wagner, a second-round draft pick out of Utah State in 2012, will be entering his eighth NFL season, all with the Seahawks. He has played in at least 14 games each season except for 2014, when he played in 11. He has started in 102 of the 103 games he has played.

Wagner has 981 tackles, 16½ sacks and nine interceptions.