Charlie Sanders, Hall of Fame Tight End, Dies at Age 68

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistJuly 2, 2015

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Hall of Fame tight end Charlie Sanders died Thursday after being diagnosed with cancer eight months ago. He was 68. 

Sanders' daughter, Mary Jo Sanders, confirmed his passing to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. He was initially diagnosed with cancer in November, when doctors found a tumor behind his right knee.

"Just as on the field, Charlie Sanders is a fighter and he is going to fight to the end like any game, like any journey," Sanders' daughter, Charese Sailor, told Birkett on July 1. "We are rallying around him and supporting him in that fight, and until God says differently, we're going to push on."

Sanders spent all 10 of his NFL seasons with the Lions, emerging as one of the best tight ends of his era. He was selected to seven Pro Bowls, three All-Pro teams and the NFL's 1970s All-Decade Second Team. At the time of his retirement, he held Detroit's all-time record for receptions (336).

“If there ever was an original Lion, it's Charlie Sanders,” former Lions general manager Russ Thomas told Mike O'Hara of the team's official website.

On July 8, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who coached Sanders with the Lions in 1977, released a statement on the tight end's passing:

I was in my second year of coaching when I had the honor and pleasure of coaching Charlie Sanders. He was a very hard worker and a true professional who always had a great attitude toward the team and his teammates. He was a prototype tight end that could block, run, and catch and was a mismatch player against virtually every opponent. Charlie was a pure gentleman to be around. My thoughts and prayers are with the Sanders family.

After retiring, Sanders remained in the Lions organization, working as a color analyst in radio, a wide receivers coach and an assistant director of player personnel.

“This is home,” Sanders once said, per O'Hara. “The city has always been nice. It’s been nice to me, nice to my family. I enjoy coming to work. I just enjoy the Lions.”

Sanders was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007 as a Seniors Committee choice. He is one of eight tight ends currently in the Hall of Fame.

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