THE MODERATOR: We have Charlie Sanders, a 2007 of Hall of Fame inductee, on the line. Let's open it up for questions.
Why are you doing barbecue at the stadium? Tell me that.
That's the only food there is.
I'm just partial to it, for some reason. I grew up around it, so that became one of my favorite foods.
I had to ask. I didn't understand why you had a barbecue restaurant. After doing all the scouting and coaching, why did you go into the food business?
You know, when you’ve got nine kids, you’re automatically in the food business. May not be a very profitable situation, but you're going to have to provide food.
You've gone through all this stuff, the measuring, the voting. It's almost game time. You played a lot of games. What do you feel like with game time approaching?
You know what, I'm actually getting nervous. I mean, I have no fear in terms of getting up in front of people and giving speeches and all that.
I think when you start thinking about what the whole deal is, you know, the Hall of Fame, what's behind it, there's a fear factor, there's an unknown factor because, as I said before, I've been in front of a lot of people, I've spoken to a lot of people in a lot of different situations, but this is new untapped territory for me, so there's a sense of fear. You want to do well in terms of presenting the speech.
Then there's your peers sitting behind you. Even though they've retired, they're still evaluating you and your talent. There's a sense of, you know, doing a good job representing the Detroit Lions, the organization. So I get a little nervous when I think about it.
What does it mean to you that William Clay Ford is going to be your presenter?
You know, a lot of people asked me that, Who is your presenter? I said, Mr. Ford. To be very honest with you, I had no doubt who I wanted to ask. But, again, I was afraid he'd say no. When I did ask him, it was very humbling because he says, “I'm honored.” I'm sitting here saying, “No, I'm honored.”
I've known him for almost 40 years. I know what he represents. I know what this organization and this team mean to him. Actually it's been a pleasure just to try to win for him. I know he's committed. He was just the first person that popped into my mind because I have that much respect for him.
Have you already begun to sit down and write your speech?
Actually I'm revising it probably for the fifth time now just before I made the call.
Writing this speech, it really humbles you. It's overwhelming in terms of all the people that you realize have had an involvement in your life and what's going to happen on August 4th. You know, it just makes you realize how blessed you are. There are thousands and thousands of others that have gone before you, and here you are. You're the chosen one.
It's a very humbling situation.
You were known as a great blocker in addition to being a great receiver. What did you pride yourself more on, your blocking or your pass catching ability?
Well, actually, I got as much pride out of either one. We weren't a passing team. We were run, run, pass. Basically everybody knew that, especially your opponents.
The opportunity to shine in the receiving game wasn't there because that was just the style of ball not only for the Detroit Lions but I think throughout the whole NFL.
Whenever you had an opportunity to contribute, whenever I had the opportunity, whether it was by way of the pass or by way of the running game, it was a good feeling. I would get the applause of my teammates on a good block just as well as I would on a catch.
It was all about gratification. It was all about the approval of my teammates. Regardless of which way it came, it was a pleasure for me to do because I know it was appreciated.
What was your reaction when you got the phone call that you had made the Hall of Fame?
Well, actually I didn't get the call. I was actually in Florida. For some reason, I was talked into going down there not knowing what the outcome was going to be. I often ask myself, what was I going to do if I hadn't gotten my name called. My answer was, I'd probably have gone for a walk along the beach somewhere, wandered out too far, not to be seen again.
I saw it on television just like everyone else. Actually I didn't really respond or react initially because you want to make sure there were no mistakes and that you really did hear what you heard.
It was a delayed reaction. After that, it was just all smiles. I went into a different world. I can really say that. It was a totally different experience, a totally different feeling than anything I'd ever felt or experienced before.
Even now, you ask me what it feels like, I don't think I can or any other inductee can complete it because it's an ongoing thing. It's an area you've never been before and you can't really explain.
Do you see any resemblance in your style of play to some of the current tight ends in the NFL today?
People are making me see it whether I want to or not. I just played. There was not a direction. There were no situations where I said this is the kind of guy you are, this is the kind of ball. I just played ball. Things just happened. I've always said it was written and I just played the role.
As I look back, I would say, yes, I think basketball in my life really established and gave me the opportunity to do things on the field that a lot of other tight ends didn't do. I see that in Tony Gonzalez, I see that in Antonio Gates. I know they have a basketball background. I did not know that nor did I even try to correlate that with football until later on after I started understanding exactly how much basketball contributed to my career in terms of using the body to position yourself on the field, to shield the defender, the jumping, the sense of feel in knowing where people are without actually seeing them. I think that was a tremendous asset in my career. I can see where guys like Gonzalez and Gates stand out the way they do because of basketball.
I was talking to Greg Landry yesterday. I mentioned the vertical, going to the back. He said you were great at leaping to a spot, going horizontal.
Yeah, I don't know how I got into that actually. My concentration, for whatever reason, I don't know, I would find myself in awkward positions, but never thought about where my body was on the field. The only thing that was important to me was catching the ball. If I really had thought about some of the positions I was going to be caught in, I probably wouldn't have put in the effort.
My total concentration was just catching the ball. It had to be because I took pride in getting to the Pro Bowl. We weren't a dominant team in terms of winning or losing. You gauged yourself by how you compared with your peers. The Pro Bowl was important to me. That was a way of gauging where I stood in the NFL.
If they threw the ball four times my way, I had to catch three to even have numbers that you could even say, “Well, those are Pro Bowl numbers.” Those are not the numbers today because it's a different game. No matter where the ball was, you had to try to catch three of them if it meant standing on your head. That was important to me.
I just developed a different philosophy that if the ball is near you, you’ve got to try to catch it. Otherwise you'll be sitting at home watching someone else at that position in the Pro Bowl.
You mentioned you got your tendons repaired. Did you have to practice catching one handed?
No. Subconsciously I did it anyway. There were certain places on the field that I think Greg and I knew that I had to be. In other words, if I had to catch a flat pass, a flat rout, then I would always like to be on the left because it made my right hand the dominant hand. If I had to run a pass pattern over the middle, I had to be on the right coming across the middle because it made my right hand the dominant hand.
I subconsciously did not like my left hand because of the tendon. I had no confidence in it even after it was repaired. That lack of confidence was due to the fact that I had ripped it in high school and played two years in high school with it, two years in college. Coaches used to say that you can look so great sometimes and then all of a sudden you drop the easy one. They didn't know that the easy ones that were dropped depended on which hand was dominant. Once it was repaired, I didn't have that much of a problem with either side or either hand.
Have you ever found yourself thinking about what it would have been like if you were playing in this era?
Yes. I came up with one conclusion. And that was I probably couldn't find a position. I ended up my rookie year at 205 pounds. The next year I was 207. I'd go to camp at 230, 235, and if I was 215 pounds at the end of the year, I was big. I'd go to the Pro Bowl and guys would look at me. I had to say I had gotten sick and lost weight because I didn't want them to know that I was not that big. I wore big thigh pads, big shoulder pads. It was all camouflage.
I don't think I'd be big enough at 260 to play tight end. I don't think I'd be fast enough to move out to a wide out. I see myself as a safety on defense. Right now if I had to play today, I don't think I could have played tight end.
How many people do you expect to be there, family and friends?
Oh, well, we are having a little party. Right now we're somewhere between 350 and 400. I don't know about the quarterback club and the fan base. We're so close to Canton. I really don't know other than those that have responded to the little party portion. As I said, that will be between 300 and 400.
I'm excited about it. People are coming from my high school, players that were part of that '67 championship team, the Big 10 in Minnesota, they're coming down. I'm just elated there are people still out there that consider me a friend. I know they all contributed to where I am.
THE MODERATOR: Charlie, thank you very much.
Thank you, guys. I appreciate it.
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