Allen Park — As if expectations for Detroit Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson weren’t lofty enough after being selected No. 8 in last month's NFL Draft, the former Iowa standout now carries the added weight of shouldering the legacy of No. 88 in Detroit.
That's the same number once worn by Hall of Famer Charlie Sanders.
NFL uniform guidelines prohibited Hockenson from wearing the No. 38 he sported in college. And with four to the 10 possible choices already taken, the rookie settled for the number formerly worn by Sanders.
It’s a distinction not lost on Hockenson.
“It’s an incredible honor,” Hockenson said. “Charlie Sanders was a great player here and just looking back, him being a Hall of Famer and doing a lot for this community, a lot for this team, a lot for this organization, it’s a special number. It’s a big honor for me to be able to wear that number and just to be able to carry on his legacy. It really means a ton.”
Sanders, a third-round pick in 1968, spent his entire career with the Lions. A seven-time Pro Bowl and three-time All-Pro, he caught 336 passes for 4,817 and 31 touchdowns during his career. He would go on to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2007.
After Sanders retired in 1977, he remained with the organization in various roles, serving as a color commentator on the team’s radio broadcasts before becoming an assistant coach, scout and finally a front office executive, where he served until he died in 2015.
Hockenson, a rarity as a tight end selected in the first 10 picks of the draft, will attempt to break Sanders’ franchise record of 40 receptions for a rookie tight end.
Ink gone bad
Taylor Decker’s body is a canvas for a number of tattoos and he added a couple more this offseason, one of the back of each of his hands. But the process didn’t go as smoothly as he would have hoped.
“Whatever red (the artist) used, I had an instant reaction to it,” Decker said. “So I had raw hamburger meat on my hands for like two weeks. It was pretty gross. I finally did it and I was like, ‘Oh, this is going to be so cool,’ and it wasn’t.
“I got both hands done at the same time, then I couldn’t put my hands in my pocket, at all. So I was carrying my keys and wallet everywhere. It was terrible.”
Decker’s hands are fine now, and the tattoos look no worse for the wear. On his right hand, he got a desert landscape, and on the left, a hummingbird.
“Obviously, I live out in Arizona in the offseason and it’s just a place I really love,” Decker said when asked the meaning of the tattoos. “I feel like me and my wife have grown a lot there as a couple because we kind of took a leap of faith and moved away from everyone we know. We just have one another out there. It’s just a place that means a lot to me.
“We get hummingbirds outside our house all the time and it’s one of my wife’s favorite things, so brownie points from her.”
Ask the majority of Lions fans and they’ll happily tell you the national media ignores their team. And Vegas doesn’t exactly believe in what the franchise is doing, either. The Lions easily have the longest Super Bowl odds among the four NFC North teams.
That’s just fine with coach Matt Patricia, who doesn’t mind the extra attention being given to the Bears, Packers and Vikings.
“Yeah, I love that,” Patricia said during an interview with “Good Morning Football” on the NFL Network. “Let’s just keep pumping those guys up. I think the Bears are great. I think the Packers are awesome. And, obviously, Minnesota is always a problem. I think that’s perfect. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and those guys are great. Hopefully we’ll be able to hang in there with them.”
The Lions finished with a 6-10 record in Patricia’s first season, good for fourth in the division. Vegas is predicting a repeat of that performance in 2019, despite Detroit’s aggressive push to plug holes in the roster during both free agency and the draft.
While the Packers, Bears and Vikings all share 2/1 odds to win the division this season, the Lions are currently projected as a 12/1 long shot.