State Your Case: Clem Daniels, "the best back in the AFL during his time"
Gino Cappelletti scored more points than anyone in AFL history, but he’s not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Jack Kemp threw for more yards than anyone in AFL history, and he’s not in, either. Same with Lionel Taylor, who had more catches than his AFL peers, and defensive back Dave Grayson, who led the league in career interceptions.
So should it come as no surprise that former Raiders’ running back Clem Daniels, the AFL’s all-time leading rusher, isn’t in Canton.
Granted, his 5,101 yards rushing are modest. So are his 30 rushing TDs. But that misses the point. The guy averaged 4.5 yards a carry, was named to four AFL All-Star teams and two first-team all-AFL clubs and five times finished in the AFL’s Top Five in all-purpose yards and four times in the Top Four in rushing – including 1963 when he led the league.
Most important, he’s a first-team member of the all-time AFL team.
That should count for something, right? At least a conversation among the Hall’s selectors. Or a vote. But no. Daniels hasn’t been a Hall-of-Fame finalist or semifinalist, meaning his case has never been discussed.
Of course, that shouldn’t come as a surprise, either. Cappelletti hasn’t been a finalist. Nor have Lionel Taylor, Kemp and Grayson. Moreover, none of them have even been semifinalists. Voters years ago put on blinders for the AFL, and while there’s been movement to correct those oversights (think Johnny Robinson) most of the league’s stars have been forgotten.
But my concern isn’t the league in general. It’s particular players, and one of those players is Clem Daniels.
A native Texan who played collegiate football at Prairie View A&M, Daniels started his AFL career with the Dallas Texans in 1960, the league’s inaugural year. He ran once for a loss of two yards. Traded to Oakland the following year, he first was used as a kick returner. But by 1962 he became the team’s starting back and one year later led the league in rushing, averaging 5.1 yards a carry, as well as yards per catch (22.8).
He shared that season’s MVP with Tobin Rote and Lance Alworth.
From 1962-67 Clem Daniels was arguably the best all-purpose running back in the AFL. In addition to his 5,101 career yards and 30 TDs rushing, he caught 201 passes for 3,291 yards and 24 scores. His league-leading 1,099 yards rushing in 1963 not only marked the first time a Raiders’ back eclipsed 1,000 yards; they were critical in the team’s rebound from a 1-13 season the year before.
The Raiders were 10-4, and they wouldn’t be there without Clem Daniels.
In 1966 he scored the first touchdown at Oakland Alameda Stadium and one year later, his last productive season was cut short by a leg injury, preventing him from joining his teammates in Super Bowl II. Retiring after 1968, he still ranks third on the Raiders’ career rushing list, behind Marcus Allen and Mark Van Eeghan.
“He was, without doubt, the best halfback in the American Football League during his time,” Hall-of-Fame GM and former Raiders’ executive Ron Wolf told me in an e-mail. “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 up field. He had breakaway speed, to say the least, and he displayed power as a runner … He and Paul Lowe were the class of halfbacks in the AFL. He had an innate toughness about him, and he represented the Silver and Black with great pride in the later years.”
Tell that to the Hall.
Yet for all he did on the field, what Clemon C. Daniels Jr. did off it enhanced his reputation. He was an activist who battled racism, an entrepreneur who became president of the California State Packing Store and Tavern Owners Association (CAL-PAC) and a teacher who instructed high-school students in Dallas and Oakland during his playing career.
In 1965 he was part of a group of players who boycotted the 1965 AFL All-Star game in New Orleans because of racial discrimination there. The game was moved to Houston. Two years earlier he opposed a preseason game in Mobile, Ala., for the same reason. That game was relocated to Oakland. In both instances, the moves were supported by Al Davis.
As a liquor-store owner and CAL-PAC president, he refused to budge in the face of demands and picketing by the Black Panthers. However, he negotiated a deal with the Panthers’ Huey Newton that in 1972 led to the creation of the CAL-PAC scholarship program for Bay Area high-school students.
“I want to be remembered as a player who gave his all on and off the field,” Daniels once told Raiders.com, “and was as much a contributor to the surroundings of pro football while I was here … and ever after I was here … that made a difference in the lives that we live in the inner city of Oakland.”
Clem Daniels died on March 23, 2019, at the age of 81.