The start and finish of Clem Daniels’ pro career weren’t too impressive, but in between the Oakland Raiders' running back was something special.
The 6-1, 220-pound Daniels, who died in 2019 at the age of 81, was undrafted out of Prairie View A&M and signed in 1960 with the Dallas Texans (now the Kansas City Chiefs). He originally was ticketed to play defense but wound up backing up star running back Abner Haynes.
The Texans traded Daniels to the Raiders in 1961, and when Al Davis came to Oakland in 1963 as a coach and general manager, he could see what he had in Daniels and took advantage of his skills.
In addition to running the ball, Davis made Daniels a deep threat out of the backfield in his “Vertical Passing Game,” and there wasn’t a linebacker in the NFL who could keep staying with him because of his great speed, and some defensive backs couldn’t either.
“Oakland really didn’t begin to turn itself around until Al Davis came in 1963,” Daniels told the New York Times in 2001. “Not only did he build the Raiders into a great team, he made it possible for me to show what I could do. He put me in positions to take advantage of my talents.
“And even when my career was over, we remained close. We were friends until he died.”
The Raiders had been 2-12 and 1-13 in the two seasons before Davis arrived, but he put together a potent offense led by Daniels, wide receiver Art Powell and quarterbacks Tom Flores and Cotton Davidson behind a line led by Hall of Fame center Jim Otto.
After losing four consecutive games early in the 1963 season, Oakland ran off eight consecutive victories to finish at 10-4, beating the AFL West and AFL champion San Diego Chargers for the first two times in eight meetings since the league’s inception.
Daniels led the AFL with 1,099 yards rushing, 5.1-yards per carrying, and three touchdowns, including a 74-yard TD, in addition to catching 30 passes for 685 yards and five more scores. He was selected to the AFL All-Star team and was named the AFL’s Most Valuable Player.
“He was, without doubt, the best halfback in the American Football League during his time,” said Hall of Famer Ron Wolf, who was the Raiders’ scouting executive at that time and later general manager of the Green Bay Packers. “The thing that made Clem so good was his overall athletic ability. He ran a 4.6-40 in full gear, which was amazing for a guy his size.
“He was a quarterback at Prairie View before he began his pro career, (but) we never used that aspect as part of our offensive game plans. I have no idea why except to say we were pretty vanilla when it came to running the football.
“He would hit the hole, and he could maneuver upfield. He had breakaway speed, to say the least, and he displayed power as a runner.”
Daniels rushed for 5,103 yards, a 4.5-yard average, and 30 touchdowns while catching 201 passes for 3,291 yards, a 16.4-yard average, and 24 touchdowns in his seven seasons with the Raiders.
In 1967, Daniels had nearly 600 yards rushing through eight games as the Raiders were on their way to a 13-1 record, the AFC Championship, and a meeting with the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl II.
“I think it was one of the best teams ever put together in pro football,” Daniels recalled in 2018. “And the 11 Angry Men (defense) was a unit that you haven’t seen since. They were all great athletes and they personified the principle and the philosophy of being hitters. The Raiders, we had it, and it was just unbelievable.”
However, in the ninth game of the season, Daniels was pass blocking when his teammate, tackle Bob Svihus, fell on him and caused a season-ending, and eventually a career-ending knee injury.
The Packers defeated the Raiders, 33-14, in the Super Bowl at the Orange Bowl in Miami, but any chance Oakland might have had was lost when Daniels went downs because even the Packers’ great linebacking corps of Dave Robinson, Ray Nitschke, and Lee Roy Caffey could not have kept up with him running deep out of the backfield.
Daniels was released by the Raiders before the 1968 season and signed with the San Francisco 49ers, but was not the same, and retired after the season. The injury that cut short his career probably kept him out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Daniels made his home in Oakland after being traded there, and in his early days with the Raiders, he was a physical education teacher in addition to coaching the wrestling and golf teams at Skyline High in Oakland.
Later, he became a business leader who was deeply involved within the community.
“I want to be remembered as a player who gave his all on and off the field,” Daniels told Raiders.com. “And I was as much a contributor to the surroundings of pro football while I was played and even after, who made a difference in the lives that we live in the inner city.”
As much as the Raiders missed Daniels after his injury, the City of Oakland might miss him even more.
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