Legendary Detroit Lions tight end Charlie Sanders has died. He was 68.
Doctors diagnosed Sanders with cancer in November, after they found a malignant tumor behind his right knee while he was being prepped for knee-replacement surgery. He remained mostly hospitalized and out of the public eye in recent months.
The Free Press learned of Sanders’ death this afternoon. The Lions are expected to make an official statement shortly.
Earlier this week, his daughter Charese Sailor told the Free Press: “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. We are rallying around him and supporting him in that fight, and until God says differently, we’re going to push on.”
One of the most prolific pass catchers of his era, Sanders played 10 seasons for the Lions (1968-77) and finished his career with 336 catches for 4,817 yards.
A seven-time Pro Bowler, he suffered a serious knee injury in a preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons in 1976 that forced him to retire a little more than a year later.
Sanders also worked as a broadcaster for seven years and an assistant coach for eight years with the Lions, and has been a fixture in the team’s scouting department since 1998, most recently as assistant director of pro personnel.
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007, and Lions players and other area luminaries showed up in droves to support his foundation’s annual charity golf outing last month.