When Charlie Sanders was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007, the man who introduced him wasn’t a family member or a coach, it was Detroit Lions owner William Clay Ford.
That’s the profound impact Mr. Ford had on Sanders' life. In fact, he's had the same effect on most of the people who played for him or worked for him.
Mr. Ford, who was owner and chairman of the Lions since 1963, passed away at his home Sunday morning. He was 88 years old.
“Because at that point in time, I think, in my life he was the only person who meant the most to me,” Sanders said Sunday when asked why he chose Mr. Ford to introduce him at the Hall of Fame ceremony.
“He still does. I had gone through 40 years of knowing who this person was and we developed a rapport from my rookie year on. We both wanted the same thing. He loved his team. He loved the city of Detroit. There was not another person out there. He had been my employer for 40 years. I mean, I had hardly known my wife that long. He meant that much to me.
“We went through the father figure, he was that to me. He was just a perfect person and I think a lot of that has to do with why I’m just as adamant today as I was before about the city of Detroit, about the Detroit Lions.”
Sanders spent 10 years as a Hall of Fame tight end for the Lions starting in 1968 as a third-round draft pick.
After his playing days, he was a color analyst for the team, an assistant coach and is currently the assistant director of pro personnel.
Sanders has known no other owner than Mr. Ford.
“Well, I’ve always (enjoyed) being around him just to watch him laugh,” Sanders said when asked about his fondest memories of Mr. Ford.
“He was a cheerful owner, you know, upbeat, always positive. I have a lot of memories, but when I think of him I just think of a man that was very fair and enjoyed people and enjoyed people that had the same desires that he had. Most of those are centered around the Detroit Lions organization.”
Sanders said the one regret he’ll have is that Mr. Ford never got a chance to raise the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl Champions.
“I understand the fans’ side of it,” Sanders said of Mr. Ford’s critics. “They want a championship. I understand that, but so did he. I know that. I know that personally. It’s what he wanted more than anything in the world.
"So, I’m not going to let that be the one thing that I remember (about) this man because there was so much, much more that he brought to this world than the lack of a championship.”