Raider Nation lost a true champion over the weekend. Former running back Clem Daniels passed away at age 81.
Daniels grew up in McKinney, Texas, and played his college football at Prairie View. After a stint in the United States Army, he entered the American Football League with the Dallas Texans in 1960. The Oakland Raiders acquired him in 1961. From 1962 – 1967, Daniels was arguably the best all-purpose back in the AFL.
“I think that he was one of the first brilliant running backs in the early days of the AFL,” said author Michael McCambridge in a recent interview. “He was certainly the signature running back in the first decade of the Raiders' history.”
Released by the Texans after the 1960 season and caught up in the Raiders firing of Head Coach Eddie Erdelatz, Daniels eventually found his way onto the field for Raiders.
Daniels played in 87 games as a Raider and carried the ball 1,133 times for 5,103 yards and 30 touchdowns. He also caught 201 passes for 3,291 yards and 24 touchdowns. His 1,099-yard rushing season in 1963 was a key factor in the Raiders’ startling turnaround from a 1-13 team to a 10-4 team under first-year head coach and general manager Al Davis.
“Until he got hurt, [Daniels] was without question the best complete back in the American Football League,” Hall of Fame personnel executive Ron Wolf said. “Paul Lowe was a son of a gun though in San Diego. He was exceptional, but there wasn't anybody like Clemon Daniels.”
After rushing for more than 800 yards in the three straight seasons, Daniels was poised for another big statistical year, but he was injured in Week 9 of the 1967 campaign as the Raiders went on to win their first AFL Championship.
“I think it was one of the best teams ever put together in pro football. And the 11 Angry Men were just [a] unit that you haven't seen since,” said Daniels in a 2018 interview. “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.”
Daniels was named to the AFL All-Star team four times and First-Team All-Pro twice. He still ranks third all-time in rushing in team history and 12th in receiving yards.
“Clem Daniels is a loyal friend. Clem Daniels, I respect a lot,” said former Raider and renowned actor Fred Williamson during a 2018 interview. “Clem Daniels could (and) would play the game on one leg if he could. Didn't really matter.”
But for all his on-field accomplishments — the carries, the catches, the yards, the touchdowns, the wins — Daniels perhaps left his most endearing and indelible marks off the field as an activist, an entrepreneur and teacher.
Daniels, who battled racism and discrimination his entire life, was a key member of a group of players on the 1965 AFL All-Star team that led a boycott of the game due to discrimination in the city of New Orleans. The game was eventually moved to Houston. Daniels’ opposition to playing in a preseason game in Mobile, Alabama, in 1963 also led to that game’s relocation to Oakland. In both instances, these decisions were supported and backed by Al Davis.
“He's always been there, he's always been and willing to sit down and talk about it and to present me with options in terms of me solidifying myself and my future,” Daniels recalled of Mr. Davis. “He's never left me out there by myself, so he's always been a friend and he's been a counselor, and even now, since he's gone, his wife has done the same thing. All of my life.”
Daniels, who taught high school students in Dallas and Oakland during his playing career, opened his first liquor store in 1967 and became a member of the California State Packing Store and Tavern Owners Association (CAL-PAC).
According to Daniels, CAL-PAC had a confrontation with the Black Panthers.
“The Black Panther Party came in and said, ‘We want a percentage of your profits,’” recalled Daniels. “We made a decision that we were not going to yield to [Black Panthers leader Huey Newton’s] demands, and the next morning at seven o'clock, he had about 12 or 15 guys in front of the store stomping with signs, picket signs and all this kinda thing. Stayed out there for 32 days.”
According to Daniels, who became president of CAL-PAC during this confrontation, further conversations with Newton eventually led to the creation of the CAL-PAC scholarship program in 1972. The program awards scholarships to high school students in the greater Bay Area.
“Clem embodies being a Raider because he manifests the pride and poise that is emblematic with being a Raider,” said former Raiders tight end Raymond Chester in a 2018 interview. “And Clem, his whole life, has been one of accepting responsibility, not only for his own behavior, but for many people in the community and around them. Family, friends and whatever, that are less fortunate. Clem worked hard, very, very hard to just be exemplary as a man.”
Clem Daniels was a lot of things to a lot of people. He was one of the first superstars for the Raiders and the American Football League. He was a pillar of the community and a champion for equality. He was a teacher and a businessman.
“I want to be remembered as a player that gave his all on the field and off the field,” Daniels said. “And was much as contributor to the surroundings of pro football while I was here and even after I was here, that made a difference in the lives that we live in the inner city of Oakland.”
Our hearts are with the Daniels family. Clem will be dearly missed.