Lions, friends carry on support of Sanders’ foundation

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Hall of Fame tight end Charlie Sanders died from cancer last July but most people at Monday's event didn’t let emotions stop the efforts to support a good cause, or to smile like Sanders always did.

West Bloomfield — As they have the past few years, several current and former Lions players went to Knollwood Country Club on Monday to support a cause close to Charlie Sanders’ heart.

With Sanders dying from cancer last July, this year’s event was a bit more somber.

“Charlie was always like Superman,” former Lions linebacker Mike Lucci said. “You don’t expect him not to be here. … I miss him.”

To honor Sanders, his friends are continuing to support his foundation and heart screenings for youth. Lions coach Jim Caldwell, general manager Bob Quinn and president Rod Wood were all playing in the golf outing, as was former Detroit mayor Dave Bing.

Bing was drafted by the Pistons in 1966, two years before the Lions added Sanders, and said the two of them stayed friends for 40 years, describing Sanders as having a “magnet” personality. Mel Farr, a 1967 draft pick by the Lions, was also in that group of friends, but died last August, making it even sadder for Bing.

“The mere fact that he stayed so long involved with the Lions organization says a lot about him also because if he wasn’t the kind of man that he was, they wouldn’t have kept him around that long,” Bing said of Sanders, who also spent time as a coach and scout from the Lions beginning in 1989.

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But, in honor of Sanders, most people didn’t let emotions stop the efforts to support a good cause, or to smile like Sanders always did.

“My Charlie stories are him saying something to me and not waiting for my response because I was the kicker,” Jason Hanson said.

Quinn said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, an assistant in Detroit from 1976-77, regularly mentioned Sanders’ skill set during draft meetings because Sanders was one of the best tight ends Belichick ever coached.

Since the golf outing started in 2012, the foundation has raised about $300,000. This year, organizers were hoping for close to $100,000.

Mary Jo Sanders, one of Sanders’ daughters, said the event was “very bittersweet” this year, but she was grateful for the support.

“He always loved to help people,” she said. “That was his heart. That was really what he was placed here to do was just to help others.”

Twitter: @jkatzenstein