Hall of Famer , one of the greatest tight ends ever to play professional football, passed away Thursday at the age of 68 after a courageous fight with cancer.
Sanders starred for the from 1968-1977 and retired as the team’s all-time leader in receptions (336). A collegiate star in football and basketball at the University of Minnesota, his athletic prowess drew the attention of the Lions who selected him in the third round of the 1968 draft. Sanders had instant success at the pro level and helped transform the tight end position from what was predominantly a blocking role into one that served as an offensive threat. He was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
“All of us associated with the Hall of Fame, the Gold Jackets, Board of Trustees and staff are deeply saddened by the passing of Charlie,” Hall of Fame President David Baker stated. “He represented the many great values the game teaches that guided him throughout his lifetime. Charlie’s legacy as a hero of the game and, more importantly, as a great man will be forever preserved in Canton.”
As a rookie, the 6’4”, 230-pounder hauled in 40 passes for 533 yards and scored one TD. His single greatest game of his career came in that season’s finale when he logged 10 receptions for 133 yards against the Washington Redskins. Sanders was the lone rookie to earn a Pro Bowl selection that season.
Opposing defenses were often caught off guard by Sanders who combined his great leaping ability, big hands, and strength with unusual speed and elusiveness to help fuel the Lions offense in the late 1960s and the 1970s.
Sanders went on to record 30 or more catches in a season seven times and amassed more than 500 receiving yards in six seasons. By the time he retired following the 1977 season, Sanders ranked as the Lions’ all-time leading receptions. His 4,817 receiving yards was second in the team’s record book. He also scored 31 touchdowns during his 128-game career.
Overall, Sanders spent more than 40 seasons affiliated with the Lions organization. His ten years as a player were followed by seven seasons as a broadcaster (1983-88, 1997), eight as a coach (1989-96) and the last 16 as a player personnel scout (1998-2014).
The values celebrated by the Hall of Fame – commitment, integrity, courage, respect, and excellence – were clearly evident during Sanders’ enshrinement speech when he recited a poem he had written as a player in 1976.
“Here today, gone tomorrow. If you don't accept it, it's a life of sorrow. Trying to use our God given talent, being brave like a knight, bold and gallant. Those who can make it feel lucky indeed. It's God's own way of letting you succeed. Our efforts we extend in hopes to win. Some play their hearts, others just pretend. So give your all and nothing less. Today we win, tomorrow we rest. You're not just my teammate, but my very best friend. Let's play together until the end. Today we hang together, just you and me. For tomorrow is a day we may never see.”
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