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Lions Hall of Famer Charlie Sanders dies at 68

The Detroit News
Charlie Sanders is pictured in 2007 during his Hall of Fame induction.

Charlie Sanders, considered the greatest tight end in Lions history, died on Thursday after a long illness from cancer, the team said. He was 68.

Sanders, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007, played for the Lions from 1968-77 -- his only NFL team.

He played in 128 NFL games, starting 108, and made 336 catches for 4,817 yards and 31 TD.

Due to his illness, Sanders could not attend his foundation's annual golf outing in June.

"It's a noticeable absence, obviously," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said at the outing, "because Charlie is one of those guys, he's got an unbelievable infectious sort of an attitude, real positive in every single aspect. And you always would hear him laughing as he's approaching your office or coming down the hall because most folks found a lot of joy in talking with him."

Sanders was born in Richlands, North Carolina, on Aug. 25, 1946. He played college football at Minnesota and was drafted by the Lions in the third round in 1968.

He was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and was named to the Lions' 75th Anniversary All-Time Team.

Sanders had worked with the Lions' scouting department since 1998. He was also an assistant coach with the team from 1989-96, moving from tight ends to wide receivers in 1991 when the Lions drafted Herman Moore.

"When I came in, I looked at him as a father figure — and even to this day still do — and he's treated me as a son," Moore said at the June golf outing. "And it's been special for me to just have that association with him at any level, at any capacity with his family."

Sanders is survived by his wife, Georgianna; they had nine children.

"Today we lost one of the greatest Detroit Lions of all time," Lions president Tom Lewand said. "Charlie was a special person to the entire Lions family for nearly a half century. ... He was a perfect ambassador for our organization and, more important, was a true friend, colleague and mentor to so many of us. Our prayers are with Georgianna, his children, grandchildren, and the entire Sanders family. We are grateful for the considerable personal and professional legacy Charlie leaves to us."

Charlie Sanders poses for photos with first-round pick Eric Ebron in 2014.